Hello, My name is Yi-li Chin Ward. I'm a visual artist with a fine arts degree from Mount Saint Mary's College in Brentwood,California. I presently have well over 300 paintings and framed large scale charcoal drawings piling up in our garage, and have decided to start this blog to introduce them to the public.
Many of these were shown in public at the 57 Underground gallery in Pomona, California. However the gallery has been disbanded, at least temporarily, and I feel it's time for me to create other, newer ways to show my work.
Here is an example of my charcoal drawings. Most of these are 20" by 24", which is the size of a common sketch pad used by artists in charcoal. These pads are rather expensive, because the paper has to be acid neutral, or it will yellow over time. For years we have been drawing models in the studios of friends in downtown Los Angeles. This has, of course, stopped because the the covid epidemic.
As you can see, I also use charcoal as a part of my regular paintings. This is also a tricky proposition, because the paint is applied over the charcoal on the gessoed canvas, the then color is applied in layers of paint. In the process, the original charcoal sillhouettes are semi covered, and near the end of the process, the original sweeping charcoal work has to be re duplicated, or at very least sharpened up.
Outside of drawing models in Los Angeles studios, I also work on still life in our house near Riverside, California. You can see a flower in this image of the studio wall there. Next to it, part of a painting of a rock formation done near Joshua Tree National Park in the huge Mojave Desert east of L.A. We go out there usually with several artist friends.
One time, we all got stuck in the sand, and it took almost until dusk to dig our Vanagon out. We had to let out air and make the tires almost flat, so they wouldn't spin in the loose sand. Fortunately, we had to drive out of there (at 10 miles per hour) right past "Pappy and Harriet's": a music bar in Pioneertown. We were all exhausted and discouraged. The men played pool, and everyone became happy and silly once again.
This photo was taken on the way up, before getting stuck. To the right of me is Mike Dommermuth who has the studio in downtown Los Angeles where most of the model drawings are done. On the other side is son Cameron, and behind him my husband Doug. Beside Cameron: Maria Leon: a sculptress and ceramicist with a studio and kiln just below Sunset Boulevard near Echo Park. Her husband Andrew Kovner is taking the picture. He is a Carnegie Mellon trained painter who has for years owned a sign shop, also on Sunset Blvd, conveniently adjacent to Maria's studio.
Here is another charcoal drawing. Note the smudges and gradations in the charcoal. The model crowds the frame, and you sense her body crowded and isolated, like a person trapped inside a box. She was drawn with utmost concentration. "She" is the essence of her particular form before our eyes, drawn hurriedly and in some panic. She is really as much a landscape, as she is a human. I am very pround of this drawing.
This model was drawn in charcoal, but then painted over most of that as I began to see her as discrete chunks of light. The charcoal has nearly disappeared beneath the paint. She looks even more like the rocks in the desert piece on the wall above. The feeling is calm, serene, detached.
This model Helen spent several years going back and forth to an Ashram in India. She took a buddhist pose. She had a wild young life. Now she is older. I sensed that she was meditating and so drew her face that way and chose colors to emphasize that trait.
This is another model, done in shades of pink, white, orange, burgandy, and blue. Where the blue and orange overlap, the viewer sees a greenish hue. In this case, I took greater care to model the hands and hairstyle. This particular model is young and robust and seems happy with her life.
This model is probably Parker. Parker is another model that regularly spends part of each year in an ashram in India. She is a strict vegitarian, a gardener, and an astrologer. She's thin, but muscular. Long ago she filmed her life and the lives of other models at work and put these together into a small documentary.
You can see the marks I made to catch the arc of her torso. I left some of the sketch's architecture in this particular pose. The colors are simple: pink, yellow and pastel green. I use an acrylic extender to keep a coat of it liquid for a time, then I can use a another color over that. The colors then mix. If thick they act like oils do, or if thinner: behave like a watercolor wash.
This piece was painted in the studio at our house near Riverside, California. I had a pot of some orchid looking kind of flower that was really flourishing. My husband thinks its gaudy, but I think I caught the spirit of wild flowering going on in that pot.
My husband played with the photo of this piece. He made the areas around the drawing whiter in order for people to focus on the figure and not the charcoal dust. He thinks anyone should focus first on the essence of the figure, but in reality: the drawing is about the color of the inside and has marks and smudges around it.
This is what Faye looks like (off canvas) at Mike Dommermuth's studio. I don't remember everyone in this picture, but Faye is next to me, and my husband on the other side, with Cameron, our son.
Standing next to my husband is Tom Castellazo, a teacher/administrator at the Los Angeles Unified School District (where my artist-husband spent a few years). Tom has two girl children and a Chinese wife, like myself. He's also a productive artist with a wide portfolio, including films. My husband is really enthused about his covid series, recently, while the schools were closed down. He painted one piece a day for a month or two: mainly his wife's lush, carefully tended plants and other views from his backyard studio.
I can't name the other two artists in this shot. Maybe Mike can help. Will try to revise this when I find out.
Andrew had everyone's permission to take this picture. Models have control over studio pictures. Taking pictures of a working artists' model sometimes require paying extra fees for the photography . It's complicated: artist models (often artists themselves) are probably as poor as the artists who pool their money to hire them. Corporations pay "supermodels" tons of money to pose for photos. Someone with commercial intentions could take a photos of a model during warm up, even ask for poses, then sell those photos somewhere.
This is a piece I painted probably 20 years ago. It seemed to both of us, less than spectacular at the time. But over the years, I still imagine the tight red bulbs floating over the dim stalks and leaves down below, almost like underwater seaweed. Something like: you "can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need".
Another piece probably 20 years ago. Looks like I mixed layers of pearlescent pigment in the space between tne two versions of that model. I can't look at it to be sure. All our paintings are stacked at least 4 feet high on plywood boards across the rafters of our garage. Trying to find any one of them, is like an archeological dig.
Anyway either the model changed positons slightly during her breaks in long pose, or I moved the easel slightly one way or the other. She is turning away from my perspective in the first version, and is a complete side profile on the second, which makes her look a little fatter. This is also true for anyone looking at themselves in the mirror. So, the next time you take a "selfie", remember you can play with this.
Another one minute pose, another set of instantaneous decisions. How to do the hand, for instance. What can be fit in and what to leave out. What to suggest. In this case I suggested the hand, somewhat bizzarely. Still when choosing from hundreds of short poses in our flat files, I chose this one to show. Something about the diagonality of the figure from lower left to upper right. Something in the continuous lines there. Something to do with the truths about a healthy female's body stretched out.
One more entry in this series. By "this series", I don't mean the blog. I just mean just the second of thirty two folders each with about 10 images of my work. My husband had the computer fill each with about 10 random selections from my 40 years of artwork. We removed photos of pieces we decided didn't make the grade, or were otherwise problematic, before the computer was turned loose.
Most of these pieces are up in the garage rafters, on the walls of our house, or in one of two large flat files (one shows: far right of the studio pic, beginning of this blog). Also, about a dozen drawings and paintings have been sold during these years and I'm not sure we culled all of these out.
So ... if you like a piece, especially a drawing, I can only try to dig it out for you.
Here's the last piece out of folder two: it's a model who came late, or we came late, or I was in some kind of a creative funk. So its a drawing on a canvas with a base coat of acrylic wash. Halfway from the drawing stage to the painting stage. I did not center her using the architectural method, but rather drew and drew over again as I went. The result is a neat blurring of the model's personality and her place in physical space, with a hint of light blue as center of gravity.
This is a woman with slitting on a blanket that also drapes around her. She appears to be brooding over something.
She has no facial expression at all.
Her face is a shaded globe with purplish hair draped over like a skein of yarn. Her torso has a buish and a yellowish side, not communicating with her arms: grading from pink to the barn door red of the blanket/towel she is sitting on and has tucked under one misshapened arm. Her most dominant feature are her breasts, each a different color . There is a definate "X" at her midriff, fomed by her misshapen legs.
What was I thinking?
Was she actually scowling, brooding... or was she just ordinary, and all of these odd and mismatched colors hand forms coming out of me: mad at someone or something?
So here is something in an entirely opposite mood. I was painting calla lillies, and the fragrance was filling the room.This is as precise as I get. in painting anything Almost no exaggeriation, just appreciation of color and form. Even tried to suggest their jungle smell. Sharp on that sunny shiny table in the studio, they soon became "flowers in the fog".
The model is Parker, introduced earlier. Self contained as always, yet curious about things. A study in bowns, reds pinks extended by white into fleshy color. Bracketed by a curious blue headband and a green blanket.
The charcoal architecture of the first rendition hovers around the final one like a spiritual penumbra. Its curious to see how she shrank. Still, she is weighted to the right, to the appendage she's leaning on:
One giant hand, totally out of proportion and running straight off the canvas.
This is a view looking north along the Pacific Coast, probably around Laguna Beach. We went with Andrew and Maria, and all painted in the "Plein Air", which is a French term for setting up your easles in the countryside.
As usual the others got these sunny views with lots of detail. When I get in the plein air, I tend to get fearful and there are intimations of things lurking off canvas and of angry forces. I can't help it. It is in almost all the landscapes I make. In this one, the gay thatched purgola and palm tree are not symbols of gay, rest by the sea. They seem to be about to fall of the cliff into the wave foam below, The cliffs were actually rocky and gullied. I painted them like the furry claws of a stirring animal.
The distance gets darker and darker. It was actually the middle of the day.
This is a notable aistist-model. She was a child actress, and referred to the casting couch with a slight shudder. Then she became a young model of the earliest contrarian female, in the 1970's, as a throwback to the 50's, wearing hormed rim glasses and dark cropped hair. She was admired by the Malibu Canyon crowd. Neil Young played at her birthday party in the local cafe there. When Hollywood dried up to her, she became a painter and artists' model. We have a piece of hers: ropy thick rivulets of oil paint, straight from the tube running in ridges and swirls across a small canvas. Her name is Simone Gad.
This seems to be my blue period section. Another study in blues, with underpainting in blue, and with other colors including blue and green mixed with white, laid on after. She almost looks like a Harlequin, motley pinks across the top and thick leggings of two different colors
Remember, these images were mixed by a random computer program from all images we have from my career as a painter. Each folder has about 8-10 random images. I am presently on folder 3 of 32.
A rather weary looking model with nicely tied back hair. I was obviously in recording mode for this one. Nothing out of the ordinary. Hands are just hands. The towel, blanket is not menacing, nor does it have a color of its own. Some of the architedure of the first charcoal drawing peeks through. Looks like there wasn't time enough to embroider, or passion enough.
She looks a little llike a woman on a grecian urn, says my husband. Must be that dirty yellow background.
This is an interesting early piece. FIrst of all, it's about 6 feet high. I looks like goddess seen from the ground, that is mad and powerful: commands the winds or storm clouds. She also has a fireball in her womb. Perhaps about to give birth. I don't know what I was thinking. These things just came out in the transition of a neat swirly drawing to the huge canvas. Lots of room for sweeping gestures with paint. Less motivaton to rrecord details of the human anatomy. Note the missing appendages.
This is another large canvas, horizontal this time. Dancing femaile figures. This is a close up, and then the whole canvas below to fit the screen.
Here we are back at Joshua Tree Natonal Park and its surroundings. This is a Joshua Tree. It can't escape my sense of darkeness and dread in painting landscapes. You can see through it to the mountain range. In front of that is a light green patch which signifies the desert floor. The Joshkua tree seems agitated. It was painted under full desert sun, but there's no evidence of that. The desert floor looks green as a lawn: a little patch of bright in the looming darkness. The sun tries to break through the clouds, but it is no use.
This is the start of folder 4 out of 32. Random images from my collection of paintings and drawings.
This is a really neat piece actually. By accident, she's sitting on a cloud. You can see the cloud depress under her. This was a total accident because the cloud was a wet brush underpainting, probably a very diluted Paines Grey which I made very complex in this occasion. The model is highly fit, which I may have exaggerated slightly, but her head's literally in the clouds, and so is her seat.
My husband says she looks like she's underwater at first glance, but I don't see that.
This is at the tail end of a recent series of dancing figures for a show at 57 Underground in Pomona, California. To do it, I took a fast drawing I liked and reproduced it with acryic paint. Including the charcoal: stroke by stroke.
I lost the spontaneity of the charcoal and the grain, but gained something else I didn't expect. Note the red inside the body of the model, and the red outside. At first they look the same, but then, you see that the indside is brighter. Or do you?
After awhile it can start pulsing on you, and the model gets a cartoon like attitude and comes alive.
Here is the working area as the piece above was made. Note the projector for blowing up a photo of the two drawings turned into acrylic paint.
On the walls just above: a couple pieces from the 57 Underground show of dancing figures. One of this series has also been inluded randomly among the images above.
Copying things was a new idea for me. It seems cut and dried. Make a sketch, blow it up and trace it onto canvas. It wildly more than that, starting with the magnification and bluring of the lines. Small gradations in color disappear, but your body is wildly making them up and trying to be sweeping and spontaneous. Meanwhile your eyes are right up agains the work, and you see things, and make tiny revisions. Its truly a dance to make these things. Its only fitting that they are dancers.
So here's the real thing, out of charcoal. Back to normalcy. This is a very clean piece, probably immediately sprayed with fixative. Almost too clean, but the drawing is also immaculate. Not one hesitaton. the lines are almost continluous. You get a sense of self possession in the model, even in one minute's time. It's Parker, of course.
Its a horse! No, it's a cat!.
This is somethng of type of layered painting that produced all the cocentration in my uncle, the heart surgeon's waiting room.
This is also a very early college work. Changing light in rooms do strange things with some of these pieces. Even bright colored abstracts with little pieces of "not normal" work well in low light. The purpose of any art piece is to have the viewer hover over it and think, Picasso was a mster of this.
This is a model drawing that has been through the eraser wars. Ths means, someone tried (probably my husband) to make it smudgeless. Whether this was on the photo or on the original is not entirely clear. Would we rifle through hundreds and hudreds of these fragile pieces in the flat files to fine out?
No, not right now. But if you're curious about this piece email us at the link in the footer of this long, long scrollilng page. Remember, this is only folder 4 out of 32. If we have our way, and the site builder (Nicepage) holds out. It appears to get slower and slower the more images and text we add!
This is another of the dirty yellow background phase. Some modeled figures beg to be put in sillhouette. I don't know how the model kept a frozen pose like this for 20 minutes at a time between breaks. Probably she was purched on a bench, which I didn't include.
Looks like the middle of a dance. Anyway, the effective use of the completely random background coat peeking through the charcoal that defines the model's body, is very satisfying and cool.
Looks like the entire cosmos is emitting from her figure.
Lets look at another model drawing. This model is perhaps older. She seems either thoughtful, or tired. Her body responds to gravity more completely than a younger person's body. Every part, every piece of flesh finds a lower equalibrium. I love the way her right hand fades as she uses it to maintain balance. So does her head.
What she's thinking is a mystery, yet her figure makes sense. This is a very good drawing. There's almost nothing I could have done to make it any more meaningful. Even the squiggly line on the front leg makes sense. It provides a sense of lumpiness and tentativity.
Lets take a close look at this acrylic, while I'm in the mood. There's something off kilter in it from the start. Her head is too small for the body. It is off center from the shoulder blades. On monsterous leg goes out of the frame lower right. The whole color scheme is a sickly green.
Yet look at her face. It's resting, even sleeping, and at ease. Truth is: she doesn't own the body. It belongs to someone else. It doesn't seem to disturb her that much anymore. She accepts it is part of some larger reality.
This is a feeling I have had.
One more drawing and we're at the end of folder 4.
This drawing's image was pulled out as we made a hurried decision about which to include and which to reject.
Why? She looks almost frog- like around the legs. Her torso makes an unlikely bend from 90 degree right facing to 180 degrees at the head and neck. By the way: what head? all she appears to have is a neck covered by a hairdo. Fat sags unconvincingly both front and rear. Why does the line of her forward leg line cut throug the stomach fat without joining her torso in some manner?
WIts a truly bad drawing. What was I thinking??
A model in constant slow motion is hardest of all warm ups. Everyone takes a blind stab at creating the illusion of a moving human being. My only excuse is that out of the corner of your eye, it works. You see her look left and turn her body that way. Her body twists.