So, hey, a new picture finally. Drew this over the holiday weekend, liked it enough to put it online.
Like my last “Pretty Girls” entry, this began as an update to an old drawing, but ended up developing its own unique character. It was really the face that I fell in love with, after which point illustration of the body became perfunctory. That being said, I actually like the way the body turned out, and really enjoy some of the lines contained therein. The skirt in particular was a real test of my willpower, since my natural instinct when drawing lines that enclose a large, open space is to fill said space with as much…”stuff” as I can logically muster. I compromised obviously, giving an indication of her pelvic triangle and detailing the hem of the skirt, but trust me when I say that limiting it to even that took an agonizing degree of restraint.
I also like this drawing because, simply put, I don’t see that many drawings of black girls floating around, at least not in this comicy/cartoony sort of style. I’m as guilt of it as anybody, but “illustration”, or whatever you would call what I do, tends to have a preoccupation with ideas of mythical beauty and idealized aesthetic perfection, ideas that tend to at least tacitly conform to the laziest, most obvious beauty standards. Part of that’s just to be expected, since illustration/cartooning/comic art is built on the idea of presenting simple shapes and sparse line work and expecting your audience to “fill in the blanks”, literally. Whether that takes the form of accepting the notion of objectively flat, 2D images existing and taking up space within an imagined 3D world, or accepting that the “gutter”, the empty space that traditionally exists between panels of comic art, represents the passage of time, illustration doesn’t work unless you can depend on your audience doing at least some of the aesthetic and intellectual heavy lifting.
Obviously, the most effective way to do that it to guide your audience along using imagery that they’re already familiar with. Blue is calming and serene, red is frantic and dynamic. Powerful beings are large, rigid and broad, weak characters are small, rounded and narrow. Young people have smooth, unlined faces, and making someone look old is as simple as articulating more of the cracks, creases and furrows in their countenance.
In case you don’t see where I’m going with this, it only makes sense that, in using aesthetic shorthand to convey ideas to your audience, it just becomes natural that light/pale/white skin tone is an obvious indicator for beauty, virtue and decency. This isn’t to say that everybody making and consuming popular illustration is a hardcore racist, but these ideas are couched so deeply in the way we understand our world visually and symbolically that their uncritical acceptance isn’t shocking so much as painfully obvious. Creating a dark-skinned character and trying to pass them off as heroic, beautiful or virtuous is just intrinsically subversive. You’re fighting against the conditioned instincts of pretty much anyone raised in or influenced by western culture (i.e. your entire conceivable audience).
Mind you, I’m not saying this drawing is a piece of radical agitprop or something. It wasn’t really created with that intention, nor do I think it’s close to being sturdy enough to bear that load. Ultimately, it’s just a simple illustration of a pretty girl, but it’s a simple illustration of a pretty girl that I think succeeds in spite of failing to draw on the obvious visual cues. I like that there’s something sweet and demure about her, that she’s not just sassy or sultry. I like that she has a large body. I like that she has African features. I like that…okay, she still has a perm, but you have to give me some leniency here (I mean, I really like the funky, retro Ronettes-esque 50s girl group ‘do that I stumbled on with her).
My favorite drawings tend to be the ones that work outside of the obvious, which is probably why I like this one so much.