Campus community lends hand(s) for student's art project

Release Date: 6/12/2012

Sometimes in art, limitations can be a good thing. When Carlos Ramirez decided during spring break to begin a new art project, he chose an interesting set of boundaries for his new work. "I had done a set of portraits previously, and one thing people kept commenting to me was how difficult it must be to draw hands," said Ramirez, a senior art major from Zacatecas, Mexico. "My response was that I didn't know if they were hard to draw or not. I had drawn things before which included hands but never focused on them. So I decided I would."

Ramirez is doing a long series of still life portraits of U of O hands. "Detail so important in these," he said. "A vein popping out on the hand, a ring, a watch. When I do portraits I am much more minimal in the detail."

Ramirez plans to fill two large sketch books with hand sketches in time for his senior art show next May.

Carlos Ramirez

U of O art student Carlos Ramirez has begun a year-long project drawing the hands of the Ozarks campus community. The results will be displayed during his senior art show next spring.

"That should a total of around 50 sketches," he said. "So far all the people who have sat for me have been students, faculty, and staff. I am asking each person to pick two colors for me to work with - I'm using color pencils and pastels - and to sit still long enough for me to draw their hands. Naturally the sitting still would also be a formal constraint on whomever I was drawing. They have to sit there for half an hour and let me draw, but you can't use your hands. They would inevitably have to end up talking to me, and I thought that would really round out the idea. Hanging out and talking as part of the art process."

The final results will be put on display during Ramirez' senior show next spring in their original form as notebooks, not framed and hung on the wall, so that each visitor must stop and peruse the pages.

"I wanted the viewer to have the experience of turning the pages and looking at them one at a time," he said. "I was reading something by the artist M. C. Escher once, and he said one of the worst things that can happen to an artist during a show is where you get people just sort of walking through and glimpsing everything, works that took hours or days to complete. I want people to slow down a little, at least for this."

Ramirez said one thing that drew him to his new project was use of a certain color. "I started thinking about some of the drawings I'd made for Drawing II class," he said. "There we drew using sanguine color, a reddish chalk. When you look at the classical drawings from the Renaissance, many of the sketches were in that same color. That was what they had most available, that and charcoal - it isn't until the Baroque period a couple centuries later when the pencil as we know it came about. Using sanguine gave my sketches a dimension I really liked. A limitation like choosing one of two colors allows you to concentrate more on other aspects of the work."

And it was those same Renaissance sketches that led Ramirez to his next step, he said. "I had been thinking what I could draw and what would be expressive so I could have a 'full project,' but this was different because almost everything I'd been working from previously was from a picture, a computer screen, a photograph. We had done some drawing from life in classes, but now I wanted to do that more. The Renaissance painters did their sketches so they'd have something to refer to when they were painting. For me, working from photos or screenshots was good practice. However, it was not a comparable experience with drawing from observation."

He added he had recently been studying technical books on art, and that one point had caught his attention especially. "They make the argument that our eyes are better than a camera lens," said Ramirez. "It's true! We have two eyes, our focus is better. When you take a picture, it flattens out right away. I was researching that aspect of drawing but hadn't pursued it. Doing these hand sketches is another step in that direction."

Ramirez spent time in the spring touring Italy as part of a Ozarks Study Abroad program and seeing many of the works he'd studied in class.

"I thought of working on my hand project while I was there in Italy, but I had to choose between drawing time and seeing all those amazing places. In the end I decided to focus on people here to sit for me," he said. "I ask each person to sign their sketch and add a meaningful quote. Interestingly, no one has turned me down to sit for me, but the part about the quote seems to throw people. 'I'll have to think about that,' they always say."