Tuesday, December 21, 2010


A while back I decided to experiment in pen and marker to make some minimalist self portraits.  My natural tendency is to do lots of shading, and these are essentially reduced to line and color.

One was inspired by some printed paper I had on hand from a gorgeous paper shop in Rome.  I only had a red marker and a pen--not so much to work with--so I wanted to keep it simple. Though I've always been a brunette, in these two pictures I experimented with color, first red, and then black.  The last one does away with hair altogether.

"Self Portrait with Spade" Pen, red marker, and printed paper. Copyright 2011 Jessica Boehman
For this image I juxtaposed two patterns of the paper to produce the desired result.  There's something Baroque or Rococo in feel to this one that I really enjoy.  The paper records part of the opera "Pagliacci" by Ruggero Leoncavallo.
"Self Portrait, White as Snow" Pencil, red marker, pen. Copyright 2011 Jessica Boehman

This one was a challenge in pattern.  I wanted to do a play on the idea of a sleeping Snow White, with black hair, white skin, and red lips.  The skin of the face is composed of a snowflake.  The background I made into a pattern of apples and vines. I especially like how they mirror under the neck, creating a sort of collared shirt that also becomes the background.   I continued the idea of flat patterning in this next self-portrait.

I've always had pretty much a hate-hate relationship with my large Italian hair. It obeys some of the time, if weather conditions are perfect. Most of the time it feels out of control. I imagine that Medusa felt much the same way.  The snakes in the hair are repeated in the flat pattern motif of the fore- and background.

"Self Portrait with Green Eyes" Ink and green marker. Copyright 2011 Jessica Boehman

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Lucas, or, how inspiration strikes

Last night we visited family in Long Island as part of our first attempt of dividing the holidays between families.  An unexpected delight was meeting a little boy named Lucas, the son of my sister-in-law's sister.  Lucas is half (full) Irish, half (full) German, but speaks with a brogue (and I imagine that he speaks German with a brogue as well).  He was four, blond, curly-headed, and delightfully grumpy in a very grown-up sort of way.  I quickly won him over with a game of thumb war that I threw (though he didn't know that.)

We began our conversation telling each other things. He couldn't tell me the name of his hometown but could tell me how to get to school.  He told me his favorite color (light green), about going to Germany for visits and about how he could turn into a monster.  When I replied I had also lived in Germany, he remarked (in brogue), "I know that already! I know EVERYTHING!"  I asked him if he had any pets. He replied, "Of course I do! I have a cat, a dog, and a bear."  A bear? And not just any ordinary bear, but a bear that was ten, no, fifteen, well actually, infinity, but not so old that he needed a walking stick. His name was Jen. I heard a lot about Jen that evening (and eventually about the bear's friend, Jennifer). I left town with images of kindly, elderly bears (of an infinite age) who have finally needed that cane.  To the drawing board I go!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Ponte Sant'Angelo at dusk. Photo by the author. Copyright 2011 Jessica Boehman
I specialize in the study of Italian 17th-century sculpture. In my many trips to Rome and during the year that I lived there, my favorite place was always the Ponte Sant'Angelo.  This ancient bridge was the site of many a papal procession. It was also touched by miracles: the legends have it that a vision of St. Michael alighted on the topmost crenellation of the Castel Sant'Angelo, then better known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian. At that moment, the Eternal City was in the midst of a virulent plague, and when Michael sheathed his sword, the plague stopped. They erected a statue of him there, which has since been replaced.  That statue was said to bow to a miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary as it was carried across the bridge in procession, on the way back to St. Peter's Basilica by way of the Via della Conciliazione.  At nighttime, when the vendors have left and the pedestrians rule the way, it is a place of peace and beauty. Lights shine on the angels erected in the 1660s by Gianlorenzo Bernini, et al.  The Basilica, lit from afar, shines like a jewel over the Tiber River. 
Basilica di San Pietro at  night. Photo by author. Copyright 2011 Jessica Boehman
The procession down the bridge, whether by day or night, is a virtual tour through the final moments of Jesus. Each angel holds a relic associated with the Passion; we'll see the column and whip where Christ was scourged.  Other angels hold the Sudarium, the cloth used by Veronica to wipe his face free of sweat and blood as he carried the cross, the nails, the cloak and dice, the cross, the sponge, and the spear.   It is a pilgrimage bridge that takes you from torture to death, but in the most elegant way. The angels are serene, comforting. 
I've twice used the bridge as a source of inspiration. One was for a drawing for my mother.  This is a sculpture that I know intimately, The Angel with the Cross by Ercole Ferrata. I wrote about it in my dissertation, as its author was the subject of my project.  A drawing can't show the technical difficulties in carving from marble a figure holding a cross aloft, so instead, I concentrated on the challenge of rendering the folds in the cloth, the curls of the hair, and the grace of those fingers that gently support the cross.

"Angel with the Cross" Pencil drawing. Copyright 2011 Jessica Boehman

The other was for a drawing for my husband, long before we were married. This renders a wider view of Paolo Naldini's Angel with the Cloak and Dice.  Foretold by prophets that no man would divide Christ's garments when they stripped him for execution, the soldiers instead cast lots for it. The angel becomes a double for the Roman soldier who won the bet.   It was this drawing that actually gave me the inspiration for the Christmas card of the Annunciation to the Shepherds, seen below.  When faced with the background, I knew I wanted it black. One reason I love the Baroque is the rampant use of chiaroscuro, allowing me to sink into the image's inky blackness.  Only here, I decided to make the sky a combination of textures composed of angels and feathers. 

"Angel with the Cloak and Dice" Pencil Drawing. Copyright 2011 Jessica Boehman

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Dream Flight

2010 has been a difficult year, full of love and loss. When dogged by stress and difficulty, I turn to drawings. More often than not, the drawings will take me someplace happier, someplace easier, which for me usually means back to childhood, when we just didn't know any better.
In times of stress, my dreams kick into full gear. It's like having a movie theatre in my head (and generally, those dreams are not very happy). This dream, however, wasn't my own flight of fancy.  My little sister, a talented artist studying animation in her freshman year of college, told me about this dream she had when she was younger.  She dreamt that she was flying through the sky on the back of a rhino...not the sort of vehicle one might expect to ride in a dream.  I was in the process of making drawings for all of my family members, and I thought this one might be perfect for her. Though I am sure the image does not match what she saw as she flew through the sky in her dream, it's how I saw her.  I've made the rhino pulling high up into the sky, above the cloud line, the way a plane flies. I love sitting in the window seat of planes and watching the world pass by.  It's the way I've visited places I'll likely never get to on foot, like Russia, Elba, and Greenland.  My sister is in pajamas, which look less like hers and more like a pair I own. She rides the rhino with ease, bareback, her curly hair blowing in the wind. I imagine it's dawn, and that she sees the rising sun painting the clouds pink and gold. I remember watching the sun rise over the Atlantic once as I flew alone to Italy. The sea was pure gold. It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen, and this way, I made sure that she could see it, too.

"Dream Flight" Pencil Drawing. Copyright 2011 Jessica Boehman

Friday, December 10, 2010

'Tis the season

"The Multitude of the Heavenly Host" Pencil Drawing. Copyright 2011 Jessica Boehman
Every year for the past eleven years I've drawn my family's Christmas card.  Because the cards represented the entire family, we always kept the subject, generally proposed by my mother, religious in nature. This year, newly married and so no longer drawing for the family, I was able to go secular, but my friends will have to wait until they get theirs in the mail, the old-fashioned way. Above is a card I made a few years ago. We'd done nativities but never the Annunciation to the Shepherds.  From Luke 2:13-15:
"And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying: Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will. And it came to pass, after the angels departed from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another: Let us go over to Bethlehem, and let us see this word that is come to pass, which the Lord hath shewed to us."

What would a multitude of angels look like? I tried to capture the entire sky filled with angels, their wings composing the very fabric of the sky, astonishing those humble shepherds.

"Madonna of the Pears" Pencil Drawing. Copyright 2011 Jessica Boehman

For another card, I decided to dedicate the image to my mother. Re-imagining the traditional depiction of the Madonna and Child, I rendered Mary as a new mother taking pride in her child.  Renaissance images of Mary always show her with a hint of sadness, suggesting she had knowledge of her son's future martyrdom. It robs Mary of her pleasure in her baby, which I am sure she had.  I surrounded the pair with borders of holly and the pear tree.  The partridge in the pear tree seems to be a symbol of Jesus, while the berries and sharp leaves of the holly represent the Passion of Christ.  I based the image off an old photo of my mother with my oldest brother when he was a small baby.
"Angel Annunciate" Pencil Drawing. Copyright 2011 Jessica Boehman

Last year I was given very short notice for the card.  Hard on the heels of teaching a full semester of Renaissance and Baroque art, I decided to give a nod to the most devout Renaissance artist, Fra Angelico.  This angel is a feminine reimagination of the Angel Gabriel at the moment of the Annunciation.  I kept this card very simple and linear in order to print cleanly, but the simplicity also allowed me to play up the patterns I've been toying around with since living in Rome.  There, I was inspired by the intricate mosaic work on the floors, fa├žades, and columns of churches.   

Wishing everyone a beautiful holiday season!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A bit about me and Hans...

I came to art as a very young child.  I remember asking for a sketch book for a birthday or Christmas present when I was maybe six or seven. My mom bought me a small, grey-covered ringed sketchbook. In fact, I still have it. It's filled with marker drawings of superheroes of my own design and pencil sketches of my dog.  Though it was the first of many, I will always keep the first evidence of my love of art close to my heart.  

One of my first memories about art was during the brief appearance of Halley's Comet in the winter of 1985. I had just turned eight.  I remember my dad waking us from our beds in Killeen, TX, to bring us outside in the cold winter air. (Even in Texas, it did get cold in the winter). We peered up into the clear night sky with my dad's binoculars, looking at that fuzzy-tailed smudge of light a million miles away. At that time, I was head-over-heels in love with astronomy. I had read every book in the elementary school library about the stars and planets. I remember being so excited to have seen a comet that I stayed up for an hour or more after seeing it to draw a pastel image of it, seen through the black borders caused by the binoculars. I wish I still had that picture, because that was the day that I knew I wanted to be an artist. After that, there was no stopping me from drawing.  I eventually graduated with a degree in Studio Art and Art History, with a concentration in Illustration.

In contrast to my early discovery of art-making, I came to be an art historian much later, but it really started with a love affair with Bernini and Michelangelo in the ninth and tenth grades. I didn't know it then, but flipping through some art books was going to change my life.  The love intensified in college under two wonderful professors who encouraged me and taught me to teach through their own actions.  After many years of toil, a year abroad in Rome, and after meeting many wonderful friends, I eventually earned my master's degree and my Ph.D. in Art History. I now teach college-level students in New York City to find the beauty and humor of art. 

Though I work by day as a professor of Art History, my first love will always be creating art. When I'm drawing, I feel like that child again.

As for Hans, our story is twenty years old.  I had always loved fairy tales and myths as a child.  One of my favorite books is still the compilation entitled, "The Magic Tree and other Tales."  I was first introduced to "Hans My Hedgehog" through Jim Henson's The Storyteller series that briefly ran on TV. The script was so gorgeous and the visuals left an indelible mark on me.  The next year, we moved to northern Germany with my father, who was stationed there. One day I was playing with a friend at a nearby park and we saw something moving in the grass. It was a little, spiked ball.  I knew immediately what we were seeing, and at that moment, I do not think I had ever been more excited. We picked up the tiny hedgehog and carried him home. Looking back on it, we never should have done that, for a myriad of reasons, but he was soft and adorable and I was 12 and didn't know any better.  We only kept him for a few days before returning him to nature. Ever since then, I have loved those prickly little creatures.

"Hans-My-Hedgehog" Pencil. Copyright 2011 Jessica Boehman

This illustration came to life in Rome. I had a pad of paper and a pencil and no other art supplies except for a pen and one red marker. Here, I rediscovered my love of drawing, and decided to illustrate a scene from my favorite Grimm's tale:

"When Hans-My-Hedgehog had them, he said, "Father, go to the blacksmith's and have my cock-rooster shod, then I will ride away and never again come back." The father was happy to get rid of him, so he had his rooster shod, and when it was done, Hans-My-Hedgehog climbed on it and rode away. He took pigs and donkeys with him, to tend in the forest.  In the forest the rooster flew into a tall tree with him. There he sat and watched over the donkeys and the pigs. He sat there for years, until finally the herd had grown large. His father knew nothing about him. While sitting in the tree, he played his bagpipes and made beautiful music.  One day a king came by. He was lost and heard the music. He was amazed to hear it, and sent a servant to look around and see where it was coming from. He looked here and there but only saw a little animal sitting high in a tree. It looked like a rooster up there with a hedgehog sitting on it making the music."

So that's how I've rendered him, in that moment of making magic with his pipes, up in the tree, calling a siren song and a lullaby to donkeys, pigs and kings.