At left is a study that I did for the angel of the 27th Mansion of the Moon, Atheniel. This was last Monday. The image is described as “a winged figure, male to androgynous, carrying a sieve or perforated vessel.” Atheniel helps with increasing harvests and ending illnesses, but prolongs prisons and hinders construction, according to the magical theory that goes along with the Mansions.
Last Monday I was feeling sick, and given that the Moon was in a waning phase, and I was interested in draining my sinuses and ending illness, it seemed like a good idea to call on him… her? I got a sense that Atheniel is simply Athena dressed up in Christian/Islamic clothing, and given a nice image to go with her. In which case, are the wings supposed to be the wings of an owl, and is the perforated vessel being used to water an olive tree? Things to think about.
With this in mind, I made a drawing of Atheniel again, my take-2, as it were. This one was in pencil, though some of the glitter from the first version wound up stuck to the paper. The first one was done with “pens” that worked and applied like lipstick. I took off a cover, twisted one end of the pen, and a tube of soft, glossy paint rose out of a plastic tube. You wouldn’t have wanted to paint skin with such garish colors, but it was like painting with a grease pen. Unfortunately, the color palette was limited, and you couldn’t do much else with the lipsticked surface except apply glitter. A friend of mine insists that glitter is the Herpes of the arts-and-crafts world — once you have it, you never get rid of it.
The third angel is (Crayola) crayon, over a pencil sketch (Don’t let anyone tell you crayons can’t be a serious artists’ tool). As I have on many of my other Mansions pieces, I framed the whole within an arch, and then further delineated the mansion with a banner with the prayer of the Mansion across the top, and the name of the Mansion across the bottom. I gave the figure a shovel — seemed an appropriate tool, somehow, in conjunction with the watering sieve. The colors were much more firmed up by this point: a sky shading into night, the perforated vessel held to one side rather than directly in front of the body. I think in the final version, the figure will be smaller; if I can figure out how to draw an owl in flight across the sky, I will; but I think I’ll also add wings back onto the figure.
So often, we ask kids to create work rapidly, and then move on to the next thing. But my friend Daniel says that it’s important to finish out each prototype, in order to be able to do the next thing better. You need to make all the mistakes in one model, before you can move on to the next. Along the way, you learn about materials, and tools, and technique. All this learning has to be filed away somewhere. It’s not just about accumulating content; it’s also about accumulating technique by the slow mysteries of practical experience.
A kid today, trying to duplicate a diagram I’d made on the board, finally said, “you’re a really good artist, Mr. Watt.” The thing is, I don’t think of myself as a good artist, and I didn’t get to be a ‘good’ artist by starting out ‘good’. I got to be … whatever kind of artist I am… by trying, in lots of different ways, to be the artist. It’s not that I’m awesome. It’s that I keep at it.
How do we teach our students to do the same, whether as artists or scholars, or athletes or just plain human beings?