Feature Blog Post by Program Director, Anna Ojascastro Guzon
“Art Is Life and Life Is Art,” headlines the website bio of the 24-year-old, St. Louis artist, Davion Coleman. Working from his downtown loft as an independent graphic designer and illustrator, Mr. Coleman was generous enough to donate his time and artwork to the YourWords STL students at Marygrove Children’s Home. “In my career, I learned not to work for a dollar because the thing you get is a dollar,” he told the students. Coleman presented slides of his commercial projects, gave a live demonstration of his artistic process, spoke on the realities of an artist’s life, and described his thought processes in illustrating written descriptions of fictional characters, created by the students.
By Davion Coleman
The boys were asked to write a detailed account of a main character in the science fiction short stories they’ve been working on this semester. They were told that a professional artist would create a visual representation, based on their writing, so they should be as specific as possible. Building on their work with figurative language, we asked that they write metaphors and similes, as well as details of colors, textures, and shapes. As inspiration, we read the vivid accounts of characters from The Hobbit, The Hunger Games, and Harry Potter. As each brief passage was read aloud, the students shouted out the character being described, without other clues to the source of the passage.
By Davion Coleman
“He wears clothes that are from his older brother and a little torn and faded but look right when he wears them. His shoes are an old pair of sneakers that are a little to big but work to his standards. He is young around the age of 19 and he is a very compassionate and out going kid. He never bothers people that don’t want to be bothered. He always wears a backpack no matter where he goes it is like his safe haven. He has no use for weapons he is more of the person that solves conflict by good and helpful conversation. His family background was not the best he was put into foster care with his older brother when he was five and he has not seen his real parents since then.”
“You have to be punctual,” Coleman told the students. Certain about not idealizing an artist’s life, he told them that in spite of what is happening in one’s personal life (Coleman had been in an auto accident just weeks earlier) one has to produce the work on time. “You’ve heard of a starving artist before…it can get hard.” He pointed out that, on the other hand, as an independent designer, one can choose one’s projects and take on jobs about which one is passionate.
“Does it pay the bills?”
“How many pieces do you make in a month?”
“So you have to be disciplined?”
“How did you get your first jobs?”
“When did you become interested in art?”
“How much is one of your pieces?”
“Do you use pencil first?”
“How long did it take you to do these illustrations?”
As a young African American male, who graduated from South County Tech and Meramec Community College, Coleman could relate to the boys, and vice versa. One student pulled out his own pencil sketches drawn on loose pieces of paper. I held my breath, hoping for nothing but encouragement from Coleman. “Now this is really good,” he said. “This is how I started out. In school, I didn’t have my own stuff, so I used other people’s stuff. I drew pictures in other people’s notebooks.”
I asked another budding artist if he brought his sketchbook but he shook his head “no.” “I used it all up. I don’t have any pages left.”
By Davion Coleman
The students began the class sitting toward the back of the room, but on Coleman’s urging, they ended up standing, encircling Coleman and his artwork. At the start of class, I perceived a slight Let’s see how good this guy really is mood, but as the illustrations were revealed, subtle amazement and pride in their own writing edged out signs of pessimism.
Each student received anonymous copies of the fiction pieces. They would then have to match the illustrations with the written accounts. As Coleman projected the drawings onto the screen, the class was able to not only select the matching fictional passage but also, they were able to identify the authorship. Coleman pointed out details in the shoes, pants, hair, eyes, and smile of the characters, all based on the writing. And he recognized that the accuracy of the drawings also reflected the skills of the writers. Coleman said he thought he was just drawing from “plain old fiction.” However, it was apparent that his art also reflected the personalities of the writers.
As in all art, some of the characters were based on real-life, while others were created from wishes or nightmares. Often, writing may be a self-validation, especially when one receives less acknowledgment than others… who might go home to loved ones at night, and receive questions like how was school and where have you been. In a sense, those detailed sketches informed the writers: every word you wrote matters.
The illustrator and writers had no introduction prior to last Monday’s session, yet they collaborated and succeeded in bringing their art to life. At the end of class, Coleman told the students that they could keep their illustrations and he signed each sheet before handing it over. The boys strolled back to their seats to gather their things, checking out their own drawing, smiling in recognition.