THE AMERICAN DREAM, AGE 5

The American Dream, Age 5 depicts a young child, meant to be the androgynous personification of youthful wonder and curiosity, in an American astronaut suit floating in the vibrant depths of space. Inside the helmet, two dreamlike, chimerical fish swim in circles as the child looks up in awe. I chose to draw this piece using an illustrative realism style to make it feel grounded in reality, while also giving the viewer the feeling that anything could be possible in this surrealistic landscape. The rich colors, gentle curves, and whimsical shapes of the composition complement the outstretched hand, reaching to discover and understand the mystery of the unknown. 

 

This piece is meant to bring the viewer back their own childhood, evoking pure feelings of fascination, marvelment, and excitement from a time in life when the universe was limitless and all dreams could grow up to become true. To a child, there are no logical boundaries or logistical implications to the fantasies we conceive or the aspirations we pursue. It is a time in our lives when we can be completely ourselves, boundless, infinite, full of potential and imagination. The American Dream, Age 5 alludes to both the subject’s and society’s craving for the uncharted, to find the edge of the universe and discover what lies beyond. 

 

As we grow older, practicalities replace daydreams and reason starts to confine our goals to “things possible in our lifetime.” Our dream of traveling between the nebulas and supernovas gradually fades as space agencies are defunded and human astronauts are removed from space missions. The Space Race is over and so, for some reason, is our collective curiosity for what exists in the space between the stars. Now that knowledge is closer within our reach, science becomes less of a magical exploration of the universe and perspectives shift into “Someone else will figure that out,” or “The scientists already know what they need to know.” What happened to the Age of Dreaming? The desire to venture deep into those unexplored realms? We have faith in a future where we travel throughout the cosmos, yet we don’t sufficiently fund, value, or teach about pushing the boundaries anymore.

LINE DRAWING

I start every piece with a light line drawing (usually in 2H or F graphite - I find this to be the clearest lead to see while still being easy to erase).

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COLORED PENCIL - DETAILS

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I like to begin with the areas that will be compositionally or color-wise the focal points of the piece so that I can adjust the rest of the values to fit into the fore, middle, or background accordingly. In this piece I begin with the fish and the American flag patch because they are the brightest parts of the main figure. Then I layer the graphite for the suit, giving form to the rest of the figure. 

Because this is my first piece to use colored pencil to render skin and hair tones, I save those for last and do them in light layers with sharp pencils to avoid depositing unnecessary wax onto the paper. 

BACKGROUND

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Lastly, to gives the illusion of stars, I dip a paintbrush in slightly watered down white acrylic paint and tap it against my finger close to the paper's surface to create a splatter effect. For additional depth, I vary the amount of paint I put on the brush and how close to the paper I tap the brush against my finger to create various splatter sizes.

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I start by laying down a general color blocked background. I use layers of light pressure built on top of each other to eventually cover the paper in a thick, paint-like layer of colored pencil.

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Once I have the colors blocked off, I use a white ink pen to create clouds and develop a sense of depth in the background. I draw the edges of the clouds with the pen (to make the brightest whites) and use my finger to smear the ink in the direction I want the clouds to recede. 

FINAL

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I give the piece a few layers of finishing touches (particularly on the graphite areas where some of the values have rubbed off) and add highlights to the colored pencil sections.