Silent Star

2016-01-12 Lillian Gish

Inspired by the luminous silent film star, Lillian Gish. I recently watched her 1919 film directed by D.W. Griffith, True Heart Susie. It turns out I was familiar with one of the stills from an old film catalog from my college film school days, but I wasn’t aware of which film it was. The pacing of the silent films takes some getting used to, but there was much that was charming in this one.

There’s something about Gish’s wistful child-woman face that I find appealing, so I had to try to draw her. I love the lighting in these old films and publicity photos, and I’ve drawn from them before, namely Marie Prevost (and here and here and here). I believe the still was a publicity shot; if it was from a film, I don’t know which one. I know it isn’t a good likeness of her, but it is a good drawing. I want to try another one soon.

(media: Prismacolor markers)

Week in Review

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Lots of things have changed…at least, the rules have changed on the job, which has thrown my whole time use/inspiration feeds into a tail-spin. I’m not sleeping as well because I lay awake at night thinking about things I used to have time to think about in daylight. To compensate, I’ve been looking at what I get out of my various surfing/social media indulgences to see where I may be able to regain lost time without losing things that matter to me. It’s probably a valuable exercise.

One thing that is definitely still important is drawing. Tired, de-motivated and inspiration-deprived, I still need to keep moving. Somehow. And I will. As the shape of my work becomes more defined, I feel more determined than ever.

Week in Review

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I’ve had a lot of weird, uneven results with my drawings this week, possibly because I’ve been doing more live sketches which can get so messed up as people move. Here are two unsuccessful efforts, odd palimpsest effects created by trying over and over to get pose and likeness.

The first went wrong because the man shifted his pose, along with the fact that I somehow made an older man look young on the first try.

The second one I rather like, except that I never got the full pose on the page. This man was quite a character. Everything about him was unsavory–his threatening tone of voice, his sidewinder pose, his appearance (a slinky, disco-tight striped shirt over dirty dark blue workman’s pants and expensive loafers, burnt-red skin tone livid against the green shirt, thinning hair greased into a nub of a ponytail). Then there was that pose. It was as if he was hiding something (or from someone), but he was in a large public lobby on a comfy couch, coiled tight, left hand cradling his phone, right wedged between his knees. Maybe Elmore Leonard or Quentin Tarantino could have used him; he was that kind of guy. I sure would like to do more sketches of him, but I’ve never seen him there before; I don’t think he’s a regular in this boutique mall with an office tower full of lawyers and accountants.

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These are the better things I made. There are flaws in this Marie Prevost drawing, but I’m enjoying the play between detail and massing of tones in this series. I continue to enjoy the watercolor/colored pencil fashion sketches; there will be more. As for the life drawings, my shading patterns are becoming more consistent and effective, but I’m wondering how I can push them toward something with a little more texture or aesthetic interest. Just a thought for the week ahead.

Week in Review

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A great variety this week… It was good to get back to sketching from life, even if I can’t finish them before people move. Doing the detailed silent movie actress drawings (both Marie Prevost) was fun, but playing with color is the best. It’s about my favorite thing to do artwise. I’d do it more often, but it takes more time than I have most evenings, especially as this flu-cough lingers. Soon…

Gloria Swanson was right


In Sunset Boulevard, Gloria Swanson’s character, Norma Desmond, is looking at some old silent films, relics of her glory days. She wants to make a point to her companion, a writer, that his trade had little use in her day. With the actor’s faces flickering on the screen before them, she says: “We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!”

They sure did.

I’ve been captivated the last few days by these silent screen ladies, especially Marie Prevost, pictured here. I knew nothing about her when I began my search–simply thinking the old screen actresses might be fun to draw–but have since found she had a very sad, short life. She started her career as a Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty, had a talent for comedies, especially under the direction of Ernst Lubitsch, and made 121 films in 19 years, earning her a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But personal tragedy took its toll, as did the advent of talkies and Hollywood’s typical demand for skinny, young actresses. She died alone, alcoholic and malnourished, two years after her last small part. And yes, it does seem true that her dog, trapped in the apartment with his dead mistress, bit her arms and legs, either to wake her or because he was hungry. Sad way to go, Marie.

But she did shine. I’ve never seen any of her films, but in these glamour shots, the lighting was exquisite, evoking a sense of mystery and drama to which her own personality seemed to add a saucy gaiety. There are a few more images of Marie I’d like to draw–and maybe a few of her peers. If you don’t know Miss Prevost, you might enjoy this compilation of her work by Basil Nelson. If you are already a fan, I hope you like my tribute.