Beini Huang

Beini Huang

“There’s a lot of courage gone now and a lot of guts and a lot of clearness — and a lot of Artistry too.” 

 Charles Bukowski

One of the devils we have to face with creative pursuits is daring to lose control and letting that loss take you somewhere new. To me that’s what Bukowski meant by courage and guts — the terrible choice of letting your art possess you and keeping your eyes open all the while.

With client gigs, you’re in someone else’s ride and their limitations give you direction. As professional creatives we’re trained for this — we plan seven steps ahead, taking into account all the parameters like budget, style and deadlines from the start so the project has the best chance at succeeding.

This is great and necessary and all of that.

But somehow this system of planning and forethought doesn’t translate into personal projects. The soul revolts. You know what it’s like. The stuff you make when you plan is different to the stuff that makes itself through you. When we plan and control, we already know — to a greater or lesser extent — what the outcome is going to be. The results might be clear but there’s nothing daring there.

I’m going to try and let go of that kind of willful planning with this personal project. This project is to turn a Bukowski poem into eight to ten illustrations that will be compiled into a website.

This is my second attempt at this project — I first tried to do it about a year ago. I created five images before running out of steam and scrapping the whole thing. I’d spent too long hemming and hawing on each image and allowed too much time to devour all inspiration.

Talking with friends makes me suspect this is not a unique struggle; it’s probably the norm. So I’d like to invite you along to witness the guts of this body of work as it unfolds.

Dipping Into Chaos

The go-to for any illustrator, animator or designer is the reliable thumbnail.

Solve the thumbnail and everything else falls into place. But I wanted to invite a little more chaos into the process – especially at the beginning – and I thought even thumbnails were a bit constraining. You have to have a pretty solid idea of what you’re committing to the page before you start thumbnailing.

So I took a step backward: pre-thumbnail, pre-form, back into the precosmogonic chaos of wet, fat mediums like chunky charcoal and ink:

(Fat charcoal scribbles!)
 
When my fingers tired of material filth I repeated this random splattering in Photoshop:
 
(Photoshop scribbles!)
 
I saw in these blobs mountains, aerial views, women next to Venetian blinds, bullrings. I wouldn’t have consciously envisioned any of these things and then sketched them out. Instead, I “discovered” these scenes. This is similar to Max Ernst’s frottage technique:
 
“When I intensely stared at… the ‘dark spots, and others of a delicate, light, semi-darkness,’ I was by the sudden augmentation of my visionary facilities with contrasting and superimposed pictures.” — Ernst
 
It’s also a way to stop prematurely thinking “I don’t have enough technical skill to draw that scene”; you see the scene before you have time to worry about whether you’re going to be able to create it.
 

Giving Form to Chaos

Mountains and Venetian blinds came out of my brain, but these blobs must learn to speak good English or miss being misunderstood. With Sumi ink and a flat brush I worked to shape my more interesting blobs into solid, readable characters:
 
(Bulls)
 
(More bulls — monkey? — bull)
 
I really enjoyed doing these —there’s a looseness and boldness I love.
 
Then I re-read the poem and began to think… this is a poem about women — what do these bulls have to do with women?! So I inked some women too…
 
 
These proved difficult — maybe it was because I felt like I had to draw them; there had to be women because the poem is about women. I lost that looseness I had with the bulls and began clamping down on how I thought these women had to look (beautiful, sensual — because wasn’t that what Bukowski was talking about…?)
 

Taking stock

Starting with chaos proved eye-opening. I couldn’t have predicted the bull motif and while I’m not entirely sure it will stay, it’s certainly a direction I would never have cooked up rationally. There’s actually something quite easy and dark in framing the poem as a bullfight; it’s an idea worth exploring.
 
I wasn’t too pleased with how the women turned out; maybe they’re too “fashionable” (which makes sense as I was referencing Helmut Newton polaroids).
 
We’ll see how this develops.

Beini is an artist based in New York. Her clients include Carnegie New York, International Center of Photography, and National Geographic, among others. Sign up for the newsletter below for upcoming talks.

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