Sunday, November 30, 2008

From the Archives: A Bitter Pill to Swallow illustrations, 1996-2000

I've saved the best for last in my November From the Archives series. These are illustrations for my novel A Bitter Pill to Swallow. It is the novel I worked on the longest. Almost as much time was spent on illustrating it as was spent revising it. In fact, I had so many illustrations that I had a hard time choosing which ones to post. It all began with this illustration of my main character, Janina, crying:

It was an enlarged version of a drawing I'd done while taking notes in class in 1996. (By now, you probably know I like to do that) It measures about 11"x14" and was drawn with pencil in a sketchbook. From there, I began a series of drawings of the characters. In this one, she and boyfriend Devante share their first kiss:

By now, as I describe over at my other blog, Tragedienne, working on my story had become an obsession. In an effort to make the illustrations look more "real," I decided to make dolls of the characters from polymer clay. Because I didn't have the skills or the right camera to photograph my dolls the way I wanted to, I turned to digital technology. I put them in my parents' flatbed scanner and taught myself how to use the Corel Photo-Paint software that came with it.

So. I experimented. And sometimes, experiments fail.

But I learned from my mistakes.

After taking a class in web design, I thought about creating a web site for my novel. I still have a few illustrations I designed for it:

A Bitter Pill to Swallow
is the story of two teenagers who meet under difficult circumstances.

After witnessing the drive-by shooting death of his friend Monica, 15 year old Devante develops post-traumatic stress disorder and attempts suicide.

His parents send him to a mental hospital that treats children and teenagers, where he meets 14 year old Janina, who has been there for four years. She has spent most of her life too preoccupied with drawing and living in her fantasy world to care about anything else, until she meets Devante.

What happens next has been the subject of numerous revisions. And I am still planning a few more. So far, I can tell you that things are not what they seem. Beneath the surface of this beautifully designed facility, which was intended to be "a place of healing, not of punishment," something sinister is afoot. And Janina and Devante must overcome their personal problems in order to solve it. I can also tell you that I even started a sequel, which is a little crazy considering the fact that I kept changing all the things the happened in its predecessor. It's called Psindrome. Here's the cover for it, designed in 1998:

And there's also a weird little clip for a trailer I'd planned to make for it, designed in Kai's Power Goo:

If you're interested in reading excerpts from my novel, I'm sorry to say that I have no excerpts online right now. But I have posted two prequel short stories on my other blog. The first is entitled "A Little Fall of Rain" and the next one is called "A Reason to Die."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Going Postal: new assemblage, "Priority Mail'

So many of the odds and ends I've been gathering for The Doll Project have come from eBay and Etsy. Many of them arrived via US Priority Mail. I saved the boxes to make this unpainted assemblage. "Priority Mail" is very dimensional. I love being able to make new pieces from the byproducts of other pieces. This way nothing is wasted.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Yasmin, Kennedy, and Lolita: How Bratz and My Scene inspired the next part of The Doll Project

I'll never forget the first time I saw Yasmin. With her caramel latte skin and full lips, she looked to me like she could be representative of a number of different ethnic backgrounds. She wore wide-legged pants, platform shoes and a kerchief on her head and looked like she came right out of a graffiti art mural, or an ad for JNCO's.

When I picked up the box and read about her friends, Sasha, Cloe, and Jade and their "passion for fashion," I knew Bratz would be the next line of dolls I would collect. There was something fresh, edgy, and current about them that Mattel's rival Generation Girl line just couldn't touch. This was in 2001.
Not to be outdone by this upstart toy company, Mattel introduced the My Scene girls. And I collected them, too.

Over the next few years, I saw the 10 inch fashionistas wearing clothes that were shorter and tighter every season. The makeup grew heavier. They wore black fishnets. They looked like they should be dancing on the set of somebody's music video.

And Mattel, not to be outdone by MGA, tarted up the My Scene girls as well, most egregiously with the Bling Bling line.

My new favorite series of dolls to collect jumped the shark. By the time the Bratz Babyz line was introduced, I thought the Bratz girls had all become teen moms. By this point, it wouldn't be hard to believe.

(Later, I realized they were supposed to be the Yasmin & co. as toddlers) By the time the My Scene Roller Girls line was introduced, they reminded me of Heather Graham's porn star character in Boogie Nights.

I began to find more and more of Mattel and MGA's offerings offensive. I felt even worse for the little girls the dolls were marketed to. What kind of message were they getting? Of course, we cannot deny the link between Barbie dolls and pinup girls; Barbie herself is based on the German Lilli doll, a novelty item never intended to be a plaything for children. But for the most part fashion doll companies have reserved Lilli's modern-day counterparts for collectors. Case in point, the Mattel Silkstone lingerie collector series.

But this distinction was never made for the Bratz and My Scene dolls. In a world that markets thongs to first-graders, should I have even been surprised? In a world where the lines are so blurred that British superstore Tesco placed stripper poles in the toy department because they thought they belonged there, (probably next to the newer Bratz and My Scene dolls), I suppose this sort of thing was inevitable.

Is this a case of life imitating art or art imitating life? Were the girls of My Scene and Bratz just following fashion, their rise to popularity unfortunately timed to coincide with the vogue for low-rise jeans, midriff-baring tops, casual outfits inspired by provocative lingerie, and a profusion of sequins and glitter?

Even if that were the excuse their manufacturers chose to use, there is still the matter of appropriateness. But people seem less and less aware of that these days. Look at this example from Simon Doonan's Eccentric Glamour book where he writes about an encounter with a group of inappropriately dressed aspiring models:

These gals do not understand that clothes have meaning.
They were told to "dress to express," and that is what they did, randomly and without any sense that they might have the option top express something other than slutty availability or a general commitment to the porn industry. I feel bad for them. They are ill equipped to survive in the big city because they simply do not understand the significance of any of their fashion choices. Unless I intervene, these gals are doomed to go through life dressed like a bunch of third rate hoochie dancers, all the while thinking that they look perfectly normal and respectable.
Maybe I can be the one to open their eyes. I decide to give it a shot...

"Don't you see, your clothing, what you choose to wear every day, it speaks volumes about you. It is a form of communication! You have to make sure that your clothing is in sync with who you are."

From the puzzled looks on the faces of these attention junkies, I realize that this is a notion that has never ever ever occurred to them before. They are marching through the world, shopping, shopping, shopping, impulsively wearing all kinds of freaky ensembles, and never once have they stopped to think that fashion might be playing such a powerful role in all of our lives.
I continue:
"What you wear says everything about who you are. Long before you open your mouth, people are drawing conclusions about you based on your appearance. If you dress like a stripper, Carrie, people will assume that you are a stripper, which is okay only if you are in fact a stripper."

Popular media has become so fraught with double-entendres, double standards, and mixed messages that it is becoming more and more difficult to determine what is age-appropriate. It has led the of sexualization of girls. The American Psychological Association (APA), in their report on this very subject, says that sexualization occurs when

  • a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;

  • a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;

  • a person is sexually objectified—that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or

  • sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.

Also, it is important to note that "all four conditions need not be present; any one is an indication of sexualization." And we must keep in mind that "when children are imbued with adult sexuality, it is often imposed upon them rather than chosen by them."

As for Bratz and My Scene dolls, the researchers say:

"Although these dolls may present no more sexualization of girls or women than is seen in MTV videos, it is worrisome when dolls designed specifically for 4- to 8-year-olds are associated with an objectified adult sexuality. The objectified sexuality presented by these dolls, as opposed to the healthy sexuality that develops as a normal part of adolescence, is limiting for adolescent girls, and even more so for the very young girls who represent the market for these dolls."

And this part really helped me to link both aspects of The Doll Project together:

"related research suggests that viewing material that is sexually objectifying can contribute to body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, low self-esteem, depressive affect, and even physical health problems in high-school-aged girls and in young women."
In addition to these issues, the researchers also found that sexualization leads to self-objectification:

"Psychological researchers have identified self-objectification (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997; McKinley & Hyde, 1996) as a key process whereby girls learn to think of and treat their own bodies as objects of others’ desires. In self-objectification, girls internalize an observer’s perspective on their physical selves and learn to treat themselves as objects to be looked at and evaluated for their appearance.Though portraying oneself solely as a sexual object to be looked at is sometimes viewed by girls and women as exercising control over their sexuality (e.g., at some social networking Web sites), presentation of the self in this way can be viewed as a form of

YouTube's motto is "broadcast yourself," and cameraphones and webcams make it possible for girls to quickly disseminate provocative self-portraits to an unseen global audience.

And there are plenty of recent stories of teen celebrities whose reputations have been scandalized because of cameraphone photos. Youthful indiscretions are now given a public audience. Producers of videos like the Girls Gone Wild series are profiting from them. And intentionally or unintentionally, toy companies like Mattel and MGA have helped to plant the seeds of self-objectification in the little girls who play with the dolls they made.

So I could think of no better model that My Scene's Kennedy for the "Broadcast Yourself" series. She has the distinctive Barbie face, with the unsettling addition of bedroom eyes, and cherry red slightly parted lips. Combined with her girlish ponytails, she channels a myriad of forbidden fantasies and desires. I decided to use a different doll's body, which I couse for its suggestive pose and sheer red nightie. Perched atop her head are red Lolita sunglasses. The only light in the room emanates from her computer screen. It illuminates her body.

She is using the built-in webcam on her little laptop to share images of herself with the world. She makes a digital slide show for her social networking pages using a song by The Pussycat Dolls. The lyrics of the song are about wanting fame and attention, and being called sexy by boys. She knows no better way to express herself that to take photos that expose her breasts. She is not thinking of the consequences of her actions, especially what kind of influence this could have on her little sister Ana.

Related Reading:

LITTLE GIRLS: Pink, Purple & Bling from The Revolution of Real Women Blog
Pushing Buttons from (cameraphone scandal story)
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls (PDF)
Hot Tots, and Moms Hot to Trot by Judith Warner
Study: Girls would rather be sexy than smart
Too sexy too soon?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

From the Archives: Raven's Song, Circa 1998

A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser.

--Edgar Alan Poe

Before my unfinished novel Raven's Song begins, that quote from "The Cask of Amontillado" is the first thing you see. Raven’s Song is the story of Raven, a 15-year old girl who has been sent away to a boarding school by her parents in order to safely hide her away from her stalker ex-boyfriend Tiyon. Raven is miserable because she is interested in art and the school she has been sent to specializes in math and science. She also feels ashamed that she ever got involved with Tiyon, who had a long history of emotional problems. One day she discovers that Tiyon has sent her a letter at school. One of her friends had been tricked into giving him her new address. Now realizing her cover is blown but not wanting to transfer schools again, Raven decides to take things into her own hands. She will get revenge. She will stalk him. But will her obsession with getting revenge take over Raven’s life?

This novel has been abandoned since 2002, but you can read some excerpts from it over at my fiction blog, Tragedienne.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

a preview of coming attractions: dolls gone wild

I am still working on a statement to accompany the next phase of The Doll Project. So in the meantime, this slide show will have to do. Click the little speaker to hear the music.

the doll project: a new bedroom for Ana

Here are some new photos I've added to the "My First Diet" series this weekend:

The Doll Project: Ana reading in bed, a skeletal figure clinging to life and her "How To Lose Weight" book

The Doll Project: Ana reading in bed, a skeletal figure clinging to life and her "How To Lose Weight" book
The Doll Project: Ana reading in bed, a skeletal figure clinging to life and her "How To Lose Weight" book
The Doll Project: Ana reading in bed, a skeletal figure clinging to life and her "How To Lose Weight" bookView more photos from the series in my Flickr set.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

From the Archives: My Island, New Paya

I've had a fascination with people getting shipwrecked on tropical islands almost as long as I can remember. I blame it on the animated version of Gilligan's Island that I used to watch on Saturday mornings. When I was 10, I began writing a series of stories about the adventures of Miriam, whose family was stranded on an island for 3 years on 2 different islands after their cruise ship exploded and sank in the middle of the ocean. Miriam was stranded on an island with her father. And incidentally, Miriam lives in the same parallel universe as Roxy. I named my character Miriam because as a little girl in Sunday School, I liked the Old Testament story of Miriam and Moses. Perhaps because I am an older sister of a younger brother I could relate to her. Somehow she manages to be a good big sister while still getting rid of her little brother. (Chris, if you're reading this, you know I'm just joking, right?)

By 1992, I had stopped writing about Miriam, but I decided to try out my new style of drawing by doing a few illustrations of her. So the result is the faint, insecure rendering drawn by the hands of a self-conscious 13 year old. It's an unfortunate phase many young artists go through. I was so afraid of making a mistake that I drew very lightly so I could erase it more easily. I had to enhance the contrast just to make it viewable on the computer.

Miriam saved the cute little baby bird in the picture, in addition to an orphaned fox. She and her father built a beautiful stone cottage with a thatched roof, which you can see in the background.

By 1999, I was in college and taking fiction writing classes. I returned to my old story and re-tooled it as a Young Adult novel entitled "My Island, Nueva Playa." (Not sure if the syntax of the Spanish in the title is correct.) Miriam was now Rima, a biracial 16 year old who did not want to be rescued from the island because she felt like it was the only place where she truly belonged. I stole the name Rima from a character in the novel Green Mansions. And I was still learning how to create digital illustrations on the computer. This one uses a girl from a Delia's catalog and a stock photo of an island. The novel is still unfinished, but you can read an excerpt from it over at my other blog, Tragedienne.

Watching Gilligan on Saturday mornings proved to be a source of inspiration for me. And the Gilligan's Island cartoon was the gateway drug that led to me watching the Gilligan's Island live-action series from the 60's, which led to repeated readings of Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and Lord of the Flies, and my current obsession with the TV series Lost.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

please don't feed the models

I started seeing this phrase turning up on t-shirts about a year or two ago. And then I found it in Ana's size. I think seeing her wear it gives it a whole new meaning.

The Doll Project: "Please Don't Feed The Models" Skeleton Ana wears a t-shirt proclaiming her refusal to eat

See more pictures from The Doll Project here:

Monday, November 10, 2008

Everything looks better in the gallery

Here are pictures of "Smother" and "Adaptive Reuse" on display for the ArtsFest last Thursday. I love the eerie glow of "Smother" under the gallery lighting.

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