Why Are People Staring at Me? Or My Experience as a Portrait Model

IMG_2290

Oh, hey, it’s me!

I recently hung out with a friend who does improv and loves it. On our train ride into the city for a show, we got to talking about our summers. She told me more about her improv shows, and I told her about the activities (paper marbling, sketching, and copy editing, among others) I was making time for.  Her reaction was, “Wow, you do a lot!” But I never think I do. And then later that night I told her how I used to bartend and that I was also an honorary member of my alma mater’s theater department back in the day. OK, maybe I have done a lot…

This past weekend, I got to add one more experience to my ever-growing list: portrait drawing model. I’m a member of the Center for Contemporary Art in Bedminster. I’ve taken a few classes there, but lately, I’ve been taking advantage of the open studio time.

During one of those studio sessions, I was asked if I’d like to be a model for portrait classes. I accepted, and this past weekend was my first gig!

I’ll be honest: I had no idea what to expect. I mean, I knew there’d be pencils and that I’d have to sit still. But otherwise? No clue.

In reality, it was both an exhilarating and surreal experience. In nitty-gritty reality, I sat still for about five hours (minus breaks and lunchtime), and my shoulders hurt somethin’ fierce by the time I drove home. In reminiscent reality, I actually learned so much. Yes, I had to sit perfectly still, but I also got to hear the teacher lecture. I got to walk around and see sketches during my breaks. It was a crash course in seeing myself how others see me, and it was…eye-opening? Thrilling? Scary? Pretty freaking cool? I can’t put one word on it.

The first half of the class was dedicated to getting a sketch of the model (me) that would be refined in the latter half of the five-hour course. The teacher showed the students a method of measuring the spaces between my features using a pencil and his thumb. When it was the students’ turn, I took all my strength not to giggle at all the thumbs and pencils I saw pointed in my direction. From a different perspective, here were eight students of all ages (literally high-school students to elders) who were practicing their craft side by side. It was heartwarming and inspiring.

During my breaks, I walked around to see half-drawn, rough sketches of myself. But they were distinctly me! This was the surreal part. I walked around, talking to the students and taking pictures, all the while thinking, “Woah, that’s my nose!” or “That’s totally the curve of my lower lip!” I’ve experienced the thrill of getting a feature just right when I draw, but to walk around and see a room full of “me” sketches was unreal.

IMG_2285IMG_2288

IMG_2289IMG_2286

After lunch, we all convened again, and the students added more detail to their drawings, trying to make them appear three-dimensional. If I thought the drawings from the first half of the class were great, these were even more spectacular! It was so cool to see each student’s take on how to render my form. One student drew me as a graphic-novel-type heroine. In another, I thought I resembled Joan of Arc, with a very stately pose. Yet another drew me with very undefined lines, making me look almost like a watercolor painting. It was fascinating!

IMG_2294IMG_2295

IMG_2291

The teacher and a student

IMG_2292IMG_2296

IMG_2297

The teacher’s final rendering

 This experience made me recognize all of the little idiosyncrasies of my face that I don’t normally pay attention to. It also made me realize that I can sit stone still for a pretty long time. Being on the other side of the drawing pad was a great experience, and I met some really great people. One student even took a photo of me beside the drawing he made of me. Even though my face rested while I posed, I left the class smiling!

What experience with art or writing has left you with a smile?

Artist’s Spotlight: Chris Ernst

10175015_10100206596820453_1739561008174813061_n

I’m delighted to introduce you to Chris Ernst, pop art painter extraordinaire! I met Chris in December at a craft fair put on by The Center for Contemporary Art. His work is so funky fresh and innovative. So without further ado, here’s Chris!

Roaring Out: How long have you been creating art and in what types of media?
Chris Ernst: I have been a constant doodler for as long as I can remember.  I completed a few paintings in high school and knew it was a passion I would eventually follow but I first took a ten year break between college and grad school.  Once I graduated I began to pursue painting more seriously.  It wasn’t until 2011 before I really dove into painting and it wasn’t until 2013 before I actively began pursuing selling my art.  Now I can’t imagine a future without drawing/painting/creating.

Bruce Buns 1.1

Bruce Buns 1.1 – Acrylic – 12″ x 12″ – 2014

RO: What first inspired you to art?
CE: I think it probably started with my grandfathers.  Both were woodworkers and one was an illustrator to boot.  During the period of their lives when I knew them they were both at a point where they could concentrate on their passions.  I remember being amazed at my paternal grandfather’s work ethic – he would disappear for hours in his workshop.  I remember being very inspired by the process and care he put into the wooden banks he would create.  From a personal standpoint, I vividly remember being given a drawing assignment in the fourth grade and immediately tackling one of the hardest assignments available.  It was of a church steeple and I went all in – making sure I captured all the details, including every shingle.  The accuracy wasn’t there but the scope and fearlessness were evident.  I remember it was chosen as a work of the month and placed on display in the school.  My mom, who has always nursed my creative impulses, was so excited to see it in the school hallway and eventually framed the piece.  It is still hanging in my old bedroom.  All around it was a very exciting experience and something I can look back on and say, “That was the spark. . .”

RO: What types of media are your current favorites and why? Is there a different type of medium that you would like to try in the future?
CE: Acrylic painting is by far my favorite medium at the moment.  I love the immediacy of it and I am a huge fan of color so the wide palette is something that is very appealing.  I have also begun working on turning more of my drawings into paintings over the past year.  I am a big fan of lines and seeing them evolve from a simple pencil drawing to ink to an acrylic painting is a process I can study over and over.  I took my first screen printing class about a year ago and have enjoyed that as well.  There is something about being able to run 20 prints in a row that really speaks to the pop artist in me.

Mario Muertos

Mario Meurtos – Acrylic – 24″ x 24″ – 2015 (it will debut at my solo show at Trentworks)

As far as future mediums are concerned I have a solo show opening at a great gallery called Trentonworks.  The show is called “Urban Pop: 1989-1990” and it will be up in the gallery from February 2nd – 28th with an opening reception at 6 PM on Thursday, February 5th.  I have been working with a team to bring some pieces alive three-dimensionally, more as an installation, so I am super psyched to see how that ends up.

RO: Could you please talk a little about your creative process?
CE: I believe in the deconstruction of pop art through the process of human fabrication.  The original inspiration for my process came from studying Andy Warhol during a high school art class.  Early in his career he would take an image, project it onto canvas, trace it out and then hand paint it.  As he moved along he got into screens and then had engineers and was removed from the process from a technical perspective.  However, I am inspired by that nascent period when he was still painting.  I believe that capturing the “artist’s hand” adds to each piece, from the slight imperfections to the balancing of colors.

Of course, the artist’s hand doesn’t touch the work without the original inspiration.  Lately I have been finding my inspiration in tons of influences from my childhood – everything from early 90s skate graphics to Star Wars to early hip hop.  My favorite pieces of the past year have combined something from these early influences with my own personal flourish, most often through the abstraction process of hand drawing and then painting the image I am chasing.

Tongue Tied 1

Tongue Tied – Acrylic – 40″ x 30″ – 2014 (currently up at VAM Art in Metuchen)

RO: What is the longest time you’ve spent on a piece of art?
CE: I had to look this up because I keep a pretty detailed journal.  I knew immediately which work it was but wasn’t sure on the time to complete.  The winner is “Tongue Tied”, a 40” x 30” acrylic painting I completed in 2014 that is currently on display at VAM Art in Metuchen through the end of March.  It started off as a doodle at work and grew from there.  When all was said and done it was 30 hours of work and I was tired of painting but love the outcome.

RO: You’re part of a collective called Fresh Milc. What is it like to be part of an art collective and how has that influenced your art?
CE: MILC started off on a lark.  I was with a group of friends at a club in Brooklyn and there was another group there with matching t-shirts.  We were a little jealous so we decided to create our own.  I crafted a painting and then we turned that into a vector and eventually our own t-shirt.  We liked the process so much we decided to press up a bunch and sell them.  MILC was born.

The impact has been twofold.  First of all, I have had the opportunity to collaborate with some great friends, thanks for everything, Noah, Adrian, Bobby and Laron.  Sorry, I just had to give them a shout out.  Having them as a soundboard and fellow crafters of our vision has been an inspiring experience.

MILCY Doom

MILCy Doom – Acrylic – 12″ x 12″ – 2014

The second impact has been finding our mascot, MILCy D, as a muse.  As Warhol had his celebrities and Campbell’s soup cans I have MILCy.  I have completed well over twenty paintings of him at this point and launched close to a dozen t-shirt and sweatshirt designs with him.  Speaking of which, I need to get cracking on our Spring 2015 t-shirt.

RO: In addition to being a part of Fresh Milc, you are a staple in the New Jersey gallery and art fair circuit, including the Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market and the Center for Contemporary Art’s Holiday Boutique. What would you say is the most important lesson (or lessons) that you’ve learned about the business side of art as a result of participating in these ventures?
CE: I was a business major in school and have always believed Warhol’s adage of “good business is the best art”.  So I have never had an issue with the “art vs. business” conversation.  If people see something they like and want to own it that is a beautiful thing, regardless of the impetus behind the creation.

The biggest lessons I have learned center on having multiple price points for your work and knowing your audience.  In particular, it is important to have price points that can provide an entryway into your art.  Being accessible from a pricing perspective is important to generating interest at fairs.  If you are priced too high it is a non-starter.  Knowing your audience is also very important.  You list two great examples in the Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market and the CCA holiday boutique – two very different crowds.  Knowing your set up and which works are most likely to appeal to the appropriate crowd are important.  Of course, one of the most rewarding experiences is having work that is universal and sells to both crowds.

S&M - Acrylic - 12" x 12" - 2014

S&M – Acrylic – 12″ x 12″ – 2014

RO: I noticed that much of your work is in the pop art genre. What drove you toward this style of painting?
CE: It is a style of art that has just appealed to me aesthetically and, the more I delve into it, from a philosophical standpoint as well.  Warhol laid the philosophy but I think Roy Lichtenstein is the perfect embodiment.  His work with benday dots is pretty close to perfect but I also get the mindset.  I look at all the punk band stickers that are plastered on the stop sign outside the Court Tavern in New Brunswick and I just think it is fantastic – those stickers will wear and eventually fade away to only be replaced by the next layer of stickers.  It is disposable and permanent at the same time.  I love that.

RO: Is there a subject you have yet to approach/wish to approach in the future?
CE: Right now I am in grind mode prepping for my solo show at Trentonworks so it is hard to think what is next after the very next project.  I have another installation in Jersey City in March and I am hoping to incorporate a Jersey rock theme.  I will be doing different variations of a logo from an 80s punk band called The Circle Jerks but with a Jersey twist.  After that I am not sure, maybe do a series of more abstracted paintings and some political work.  These feel like nice touch points but will probably get thrown away once I have my next job in front of me.

DOC 1 (8 Bit Bullet)

8 Bit Bullet – Acrylic – 12″ x 12″ – 2014 (it will be in an upcoming show at Blank Canvas Gallery in New Hope, PA)

RO: Is there anything handmade that you own that is particularly meaningful to you?
CE: Great question – three things immediately come to mind.  At home I have a wooden bank and a jewelry box that were in my grandfather’s workshop when he passed away.  They mean a lot.  At my parent’s house in Manasquan I have a truck bed made by my other grandfather.  It is in a bit of disrepair but I can’t wait to have it refinished and let my kids use it.  I also have several Christmas ornaments that my fiancée made and I love bringing them out every year.  Oh, do handwritten notes count?  I have a lot of those that mean a lot to me and provide me strength and encouragement.

RO: If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
CE: Invisibility, but I wouldn’t desire it for any nefarious reasons.  I am just curious.  I would love to be a fly on the wall for important meetings – what is a presidential cabinet meeting like?  How are NFL draft choices really made?  What about important NASA meetings?  I think it would help me win more bar arguments.

RO: To conclude, what is a lesson you have learned from creating art that you would like to share with others?
CE: A lesson I have learned is to have a great support system.  My fiancée Jamie is a great co-creator, sounding board and all around positive force.  I wouldn’t be where I am at without her or my family.

Also, some advice I have found along the way from some other folks.  Jack Kerouac wrote “what do I really know about it except you’ve got to stick to it with the energy of a benny addict” about writing and I think it applies to art.  Also, and I am paraphrasing, but one of the guys from Vampire Weekend used to get hung up on criticism.  But then he realized when people don’t like something they will just move on.   You don’t play music or look at art you hate over and over. But if they love something it will stick with them forever.  Art is like that.

Frank N Furter

Frank-N-Furter Has a Posse – Screen Print – 11″ x 8.5″ – 2014

Thanks for sharing your art and your insight, Chris! Love your style.

If you’d like to follow Chris and his art on the web, check out his Facebook, Instagram, Etsy shop, and blog. And if you’re in the area, come out to his solo show reception at the Trentonworks Art Gallery on Thursday, February 5 from 6 – 8 pm!