Take Me to the Lakes where all the poets went to die, I don’t belong, and my beloved neither do you, I want auroras and sad prose I want to watch wisteria grow right under my bare feet, ‘cause I haven’t moved in years.
-The Lakes by Taylor Swift from Folklore album. 

As I turn on the lights in my studio, my eyes adjust from the transition from darkness to the light, the first thing that catches my gaze is the wall covered with drawings and paintings. Some of the pieces adorning the walls are mine, while others belong to my studio partners and friends. I make my way to my easel, that holds a panel I crafted from scratch to support my toned paper. The paper is now coated in charcoal, ranging from thin layers of dust to the deep, compressed marks in the dark value areas. I am on the cusp of completing this drawing, a piece that has seen weeks of diligent work. Every aspect of the drawing was meticulously planned, and the journey of creating it feels deeply fulfilling. I engage in a silent dialogue with my drawing, plotting my next move to get it to a finished state. I place the earbuds in my ears, put on the audiobook I am currently listening to, and take a deep inhale and exhale. With the compressed charcoal pencil in my hand, I begin for the day. 
Moments in my studio are both frustrating and meditative as I converse with my drawing. This space is special because it is where I channel my artistic spirit, build my panels, tone my paper, and embark on the hard work of finishing a drawing. That is why I chose Taylor Swift's song "The Lakes" to describe my studio space. In the song, she discusses the Lake District in Cumbria, England, a place where poets such as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Southey gathered to write and theorize poetry. It was an almost sacred place where they could escape from society and focus on their craft. In my studio, I often feel a similar sense of retreat and creative immersion. Through time and effort, I have found ways to access the flow state in my space, though it was not easy to achieve. My studio process reflects a hard-won series of internal battles. My time in the MFA program was marked by near-constant creative struggle, but it was from this labor that my work evolved and eventually blossomed.
This evolution began in 2021 with my drawing Vendetta (Fig. 1), inspired by the captivating story of Saint Olga of Kiev. Exploring artistic depictions of her, I uncovered a recurring theme: she was often portrayed as aggressive and fierce, accompanied by sparrows and pigeons—birds she famously employed to set her foe’s territory ablaze. This narrative deeply resonated with me, sparking a desire to offer a contemporary interpretation of her story. In my version, the model wears modern clothing but confronts the viewer with an intense stare derived from older artistic interpretations of Olga. I am deeply attracted to the beauty and intensity of female rage and sought to capture it in charcoal. The intense black of the charcoal contrasts against the white of the paper, while the smokey environment and the frantic flapping of bird wings build a climactic scene. Vendetta became the cornerstone of a series of drawings focused on narrative storytelling, featuring women, plants, and creatures from the natural world. Drawing inspiration from Saint Olga's tale, I delve into themes of strength, resilience, and the profound interconnectedness between humanity and nature in my artwork.
My drawings celebrate the beauty of femininity and inner strength through designs incorporating elements from nature. I depict female figures immersed in biophilic relationships, showcasing a harmonious and affectionate bond between women, plants, and creatures from the natural world. The women in my drawings are often surrounded or gently embraced by elements of nature—this theme likely stems from my childhood experiences. My mother curated our backyard to be a sanctuary for butterflies, birds, and bees, which deeply influenced my subconscious artistic expression. From a young age, I've always felt a profound emotional connection with animals, far surpassing my connection with humans. Despite experiencing stress and anxiety in my childhood, I found solace and comfort in connecting with animals, a relationship that continues to inspire and influence me. As a result, my drawings, reflect my love and admiration for the plants and creatures that make appearances alongside my fearsome and beautiful female subjects.
As the work progressed, I drew inspiration from my own struggles with anxiety. I often hear voices listing off reasons why I’m not good enough, replaying insecurities and past indiscretions. I've always wondered what it would feel like to be free from the toxicity of worry and anxiety. Féath (Fig 2) represents my interpretation of experiencing serenity and freedom from anxiety. In this drawing, the subject is posed in a relaxed position, with her head craning back, shoulders down, and her mouth slightly open to symbolize a calming exhale. Meanwhile, Canadian geese appear to flee from her head, representing the departure of fears, worries, and anxieties. The figure experiences a sensation of pleasure as she is liberated from these burdensome thoughts and emotions.
Inspiration often strikes me at unexpected moments—I love listening to audiobooks when I’m driving, working in the studio, or when I’m by myself and need sound to cut the silence. I particularly enjoy books about mythology that predate Judeo-Christian doctrine, finding inspiration from the rare female heroines, unsung female creatures, and the misunderstood femme fatales of Greek mythology. One of my favorite books on Greek mythology is Stephen Fry's Mythos. One chapter, in particular, resonates deeply with me—the origin of honey and honeybees. The myth describes how the character/creature Melissa created honey-nectar of the gods and how she demanded Zeus to provide protection and workers. She ended up gaining the stinger and assistance to make the honey. The ideal characteristics of bees being protectors stuck with me and became the central theme of my drawing, Melanochrysus (Fig.3). 
In this drawing, I envisioned the bees mimicking the appearance and function of armor, symbolically safeguarding the female figure's chest and head. Drawing inspiration from the golden color of bees and honey, which holds significance in Greek mythology and within the narrative of the artwork, I incorporated faux gold leaf for the bees that caress her and the highlights that adorn her hair. Additional inspiration came from the scientific name of honeybees, Apis Mellifera, which translates to "honey-bearing bee." This served as the basis for the title of the drawing, Melanochrysus, derived from the Latin words for black and gold, mirroring the hues of the bees and their significance in the artwork.
The driving concept of each drawing develops as the work evolves. Earlier in my practice, I thought that I had to start with a strong and impactful message. I have since shifted that way of thinking—I now focus on the design itself, trusting the natural evolution of the work will reveal deeper psychological insights into the subject. My concepts come from a deeply personal place—they can be deceptively simple, like a girl surrounded by ivy, but I find complexity in achieving visual harmony. As I play with the design, a concept starts to form. The more I draw and interact with the figure, the more I develop an empathetic connection with her. She starts out as an abstract shape within the space on the picture plane. As I build more detailed shapes, render and resolve, I begin to see her. I get to know the figure in the image. I could tell you who she is. She is beautiful not only because she fits into the space of the panel, but also because I empathize with her. I hope the viewers will too. She is a person, not merely a beautiful object to fill space.
Design plays a critical role in all my drawings, as seen in Ivy (Fig. 4). I encourage viewers to explore the entire picture plane, not just the figure, as every element is intentionally placed. My fascination with ivy, its deep green hue, and its tendency to envelop everything it touches, likely inspired this piece. My exposure to ivy in various forms of literature, including Greek mythology, herbology, poetry, and literature, further fueled my interest. In creating Ivy, I consulted Fez Inkwright’s book, Botanical Curses and Poisons, to delve into ivy’s characteristics, duality, and symbolism. Ivy is often seen as both a parasite and a structural part of the environment, yet it also symbolizes love and connection (151). This contrast intrigued me, especially in the context of love.
As I came up with the design for Ivy, I found myself humming Taylor Swift’s song “Ivy.” In particular the chorus “Oh, goddamn, My pain fits in the palm of your freezing hand, Taking mine, but it’s been promised to another, Oh I can’t, Stop you putting roots in my dreamland, My house of stone your ivy grows, now I’m covered in you.” The lyrics of the song speak to the parasitic quality of love, using the metaphor of being covered in ivy to represent being attached and attracted to someone that you are prohibited from loving. Like in her song, the ivy wrapping itself around the figure’s limbs and neck in the drawing is meant to show the invasive and parasitic quality of ivy. 
Taylor Swift’s Folklore and Evermore albums provide the soundtrack to my studio practice, and her lyrics often influence my drawings. These albums, released in 2020 during the pandemic lockdown, deeply resonated with me because her songs explored themes of escapism, love, tumultuous relationships, and the beauty of nature, all from her female perspective. Her lyrics articulate experiences that I struggle to put into words, and her use of imagery helps shape the visual ideas for my drawings. Her music is both autobiographical and observational of the human condition. Her lyrics are very narrative and highly visual. When listening to them, I can relate to the characters she sings about, I can also vividly picture and imagine the healing quality of being lost and consumed in nature.
As part of my exploration of beauty, I've departed from using standard-sized rectangles for my drawings. Throughout my artistic training, I had primarily worked within the confines of rectangle-shaped picture planes. However, during a trip to Paris, I was inspired by paintings by artists including Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Alphonse Mucha, and Giovanni Boldini. Their use of elongated rectangles and circles intrigued me, prompting me to experiment with different shapes for my own drawings. With non-traditional shaped panels, I've been able to add a less conventional aspect dimension to my drawings’. Working with different shapes has allowed me to play and experiment with design, as well as explore the figures relationships to negative space. This has offered me myriad new avenues for creative opportunities.
 Féath marked my first official foray into circle pieces, setting off a snowball effect in the number of circular drawings I created. However, with Ukiyo (Fig. 5), the concept of the circle panel evolved and became conceptual. During a difficult time, I chose a circle-shaped surface for the panel, aiming for a mirror-like effect. The figure is posed as if she is gazing at her reflection, contemplating her sadness and anxieties. The koi circling her neck serves as a reminder of beauty and goodness amid grief and loss.
In Pushing Up Daisies (Fig. 6), the elongated rectangular panel is designed to evoke viewing a human body in a coffin, aligning with the piece’s theme of death and memento mori. My intention was for viewers to feel as if they were looking down at a peacefully posed corpse, without the often-gruesome connotations of death. Symbols of death permeate the drawing, including the figure's position lying flat with arms across her stomach. The bed of white daisies emphasizes the woman’s youthful presence, and the spread of butterflies throughout is a sign of rebirth from death. Themes of loss and change fueled and expanded the concept of death in the drawing. Inspired by the trials I faced in my personal life, I sensed a profound inner change, akin to a rebirth within myself and my series of drawings. I selected my sister to play the part of the young corpse because she was affected by the same string of losses. I felt that she would be the most suitable for this part because she could relate to the pain that I was feeling during this period. 
In all my drawings, women are intended to be the focal point, even when they appear to retreat or be hidden in their environment. Whether I use white chalk, high contrast, or environmental elements to draw attention to the figure, my goal is for women to stand out from their surroundings, even when those surroundings seem to engulf them. The environment doesn’t hide the female figures, instead it signifies their inner worlds. 
My drawing You Didn’t See Me Here, You Never Saw Me (Fig. 7) is inspired by Delia Owens' book Where the Crawdads Sing. The main female character finds solace and safety in the marsh. The marsh serves as an oasis for animals, plants, and the main character who resides in it. It symbolizes her resilience and acts as a metaphor for growth and transformation throughout the novel. Taylor Swift wrote a haunting song for the motion picture adaptation of the book, titled “Carolina.” While designing this drawing, a part of the lyrics kept running through my head: “Carolina pines, won’t you cover me? Hide me like robes, down the backroad, muddy these webs we weave.” 
Taking Inspiration from the book and the song, in the drawing You Didn’t See Me Here, You Never Saw Me, the figure is nearly swallowed by branches from the environment, inviting viewers to interpret the reason behind this. Because I wanted the figure to blend into nature, I used soft edges on the right side of the figure as part of her shoulder and the back of her head fades into the darkness. The light shapes on the left side of her upper facial planes are the markers that make her visible to the viewer. The incorporation of the owl eye butterfly, a master of camouflage, and the branches as a nest-like entity cocooning the figure, are meant to symbolize nature as a protective barrier rather than a threat. The figure is swaddled and protected by nature. The branches are meant to convey a sense of disordered security, and the figure is a totem of resolve and calm in the chaos. 
In the past two years, my work has undergone a significant transition. Reflecting on my drawings and paintings before my time at MFA, I noticed a recurring pattern of finding simplicity and comfort in having little to no environment around the figure. Thinking that was mundane, I convinced myself to evolve and create drawings that I have always wanted to make, no longer held back by fear and intimidation. I am now generating narratives in my drawings that explore duality, being concealed versus revealed, and chaos versus resolve. I have chosen this narrative focus to expose and express the duality I find in myself and within my female models. Inspired by both historic and contemporary artists, I aim to illustrate their complexity, inner strength, and resolve amidst turmoil and chaos.

Try to see what Beauty is in itself…If you succeed you will see God Himself, the Beauty which dwells in all beautiful things. 
—Robert Grosseteste (Janega 39)
The idea of wanting to depict beauty is not revolutionary, but it is a concept I have always been drawn to. Thinking of Robert Grosseteste’s quote, I asked myself a set of questions—what do I find beautiful? What and who motivate me to create? Why am I attracted to the objects of beauty? 
I am aware that almost entire generations of male artists have focused on idealized beauty. I take great personal inspiration from the Pre-Raphaelites and the Art Nouveau movement, even though the artists who defined them were mostly men. I enjoy the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood for their emphasis on narrative imbued with conflict and drama, conveyed through exquisitely rendered and beautifully idealized female figures. The Art Nouveau movement extended and modernized the Pre-Raphaelites' integration of nature with the female figure. Artists in both movements paid an equivalent amount attention to designing the environment around the figure, so the two would harmonize. Of the two groups, I appreciate most John Waterhouse, and Alphonse Mucha, though I feel their legacies are tainted by their depiction of women solely as objects of beauty.
While browsing my digital collection of paintings by some of my favorite artists from the 19th and 20th centuries, one image immediately captured my attention: John Waterhouse's painting Boreas (Fig. 8). This scene depicts the almighty power of the Greek wind god Boreas. Waterhouse's skill in using visual cues, from the figure's pose to the bending of the pink and white daisies, effectively conveys the intensity and force of the wind, an otherwise invisible phenomenon. However, it was the shape design of the shawl around the woman's head that intrigued me the most. The shawl serves as both a design element in the narrative and a shape within the composition. It creates a conch shell shape within the painting, complementing the vertical elements of the trees throughout the composition.
Waterhouse's paintings, including Boreas, demonstrate his skill in conveying ideas, moods, and atmospheres without relying on explicit narrative content. This quality allows his stories to resonate with viewers, even those less familiar with the myths or literature that inspired him (Peters). I feel a deep attraction and connection with Waterhouse, particularly his perfectionist tendencies and design sensibility.
In essence, my composition Into the Clouds pays homage to Waterhouse's ability to infuse his works with both narrative depth and visual allure. I aimed to emulate the pose and gesture of the model in Boreas, capturing the sense of movement evoked by the wind. I chose a cloud jacket with puffy sleave in my drawing as a modernized version of the shawl, mimicking its folds and the conch shell shape of the hood caused by the wind. The figure in my drawing leans back, attempting to balance against the wind, while also observing the aggressive nature of the swallows, which together form a curved element in the composition. I also borrowed from Waterhouse's background of gathering clouds to depict the impending storm. My goal was to juxtapose the drama and tension of an impending storm with the serene figure. 
Mucha has inspired many of my circular compositions. For example, I borrowed the composition for his Portrait Sketch (Fig. 10) for my drawing Ukiyo (Fig. 5).  Like Mucha, I incorporate elements from nature to create prints and drawings that celebrate beauty. I have long admired Mucha's masterful use of line. I am captivated by his graphic and semi-flat stylization of figures and environments; however, I render my figures like Ukiyo with more nuance. I take joy in ensuring that my figures are anatomically proportionate and my modeling depicts the beauty of the flesh and form of the figure.
During my academic training, I became acutely aware of the normalization of male artists’ interpretation of idealized female beauty in art history. Members of both the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and Art Nouveau movement prominently featured beautiful women in their art. As I learned more, I noticed that artists from these periods were often associated with controversial and sometimes misogynistic views on women. While there is very little information about Waterhouse and his views on women, Nic Peeters theorizes that “Waterhouse deified women, while another part of him was afraid of their spirituality and sexual potency” (1). Unlike him, I perceive women as possessing complexity beyond conventional archetypes. In my drawings, I aim to capture not only the external appearance of the model but also her inner essence. My holistic view of women is also at odds with Mucha’s visual interpretation of women. Mucha’s son Jiri claims that his father saw women as “decorative objects.” Jiri said that “A woman, for him, was not a body, but beauty incorporated in matter and acting through matter. That is why all his female figures, however solid, are not really of this world. They are symbols, unattainable dreams…” (Thompson 162). Mucha’s artistic focus was on creating idealized women for commercial purposes, often catering to male fantasies about female beauty. He exaggerated features such as hair and hips to enhance the women's attractiveness and sexual potency in his prints, to promote an illusion of the ideal beauty standard of his day. Art historians have noted that the artists in both movements created works that served as anti-suffragette propaganda. (Thompson 167)
To navigate my discomfort with their position on women, I often turn to art historian Catherine McCormack for insight. McCormack suggests that rather than censoring or dismissing art from the past that clashes with modern feminist perspectives, we should analyze these works to reconsider the narratives that have shaped our views on power and gender (256). This approach encourages me to critically examine the context and intentions of the male artists I admire, leading to a more nuanced understanding of their work. It also inspires me to use their art as a reference point, while updating the depiction of women in my own drawings. 
I navigate this complex legacy surrounding beauty with introspection and a healthy dose of self-doubt. I am aware that the Western art tradition often typecasts women as beautiful objects, vessels for male artists to project both their creativity and their lust. Alternatively, I strive to reach a broad audience of modern women viewers—my intention is to communicate each woman’s beauty as an individual and to represent her character in a way that encompasses physical beauty without being bound by it. My subjects are not merely physical specimens, they are wholly realized human beings whose outward beauty I find compelling because it hints at the inner, private world of the hidden self. 
I also want to acknowledge and celebrate the female artists who take a similar approach. Since discovering Julia Margaret Cameron’s photographs, I've been captivated, collecting every image and article related to her. An early pioneer of photography who used “unorthodox techniques,” she is known for her Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic. I admired the theatrical quality of her composition off of famous pieces of art, characterized by stunning contrasts in value structure and a captivating storytelling aesthetic.
I am enamored with her series of photos of women interacting with flowers or being adorned with botanical elements for symbolic purposes of her narrative. Cameron’s photo Alathea (Fig. 11) sparked my interest in the relationship between women and nature. This photo often came to mind while I was working on my drawing Magnolia Majesty (Fig. 13). I was intrigued by the psychological aspect of Alathea, mostly the female figure finding comfort, security, and connection within nature. 
Cameron's inspiration often drew from literary and biblical figures, aiming to convey qualities such as innocence, wisdom, or passion through her models. One of her notable statements that resonates with me is her aspiration “to ennoble Photography… by combining the real and the Ideal and sacrificing nothing of the Truth by all possible devotion to poetry and beauty” (Met Museum). Like Cameron, I seek a spiritual depth in my drawings that invites viewers to linger and contemplate the images. 
Amaya Gurpide has been a significant inspiration for my style, particularly in terms of her sensitivity and painterly rendering of the human form. She has also influenced how I think about design, particularly in terms of shape abstraction. In the summer of 2020, during the nationwide lockdown, I joined an online workshop that she led. I soaked up every aspect of her process—how she preps her surfaces, utilizes her materials, contemplates design, and takes influence from other artists. Gurpide's approach to art involves connecting the conscious with the subconscious. Her drawings are not exact replicas of her references, but rather evoke her personal perception of the subject. Like her, I strive to move away from merely copying photographic images and instead create artworks that resonate personally and emotionally with my viewers. Gurpide has inspired me to think about my drawings in painterly terms—I want to do more than just apply and manipulate charcoal with a brush. Instead, I manipulate and model the light on the figure's form, exploring the interplay of light and shadow in a more nuanced and delicate way than I did before.
Gurpide’s drawing Void (Fig. 13) inspired my ideation and value design for Pushing Up Daisies. At the age of four, Gurpide's sister passed away. Memories of the tragedy resurfaced during her pregnancy, leading to the creation of Void. She describes Void as exploring “the idea of vast density of the unconscious and the suspension of memory.” This sentiment resonates with the series of deaths that haunt my memories. Parallel to Gurpide's concept, the portrait of my sister is the most important part of Pushing Up Daisies (Fig. 14), and she is vital to the meaning of the drawing. I emphasize her importance by using white chalk to create the highest amount of contrast for her portrait against the stark black background. This deliberate contrast gradually dissolves as the eye moves away from the portrait, creating a dynamic visual hierarchy and experience. The use of contrast additionally symbolizes the fleeting nature of memory and life.
I respond to art that explores the magical, mystical, and fantastical capacity of visual design. Another significant influence is Alessandra Maria, known for her exquisite charcoal drawings on walnut-toned paper that explore beauty and depict women as celestial beings engaged with objects from the natural world. In her drawing Clementia’s Vision (Fig. 15), the figure is serene amongst the chaotic array of butterflies. In a similar way, the female figure in my drawing You Didn’t See Me Here, You Never Saw Me is a sangfroid object amongst the chaotic twigs.  While Alessandra is often described as a Neo-Romantic artist, she does not fully agree with that classification and instead considers her work a “devotion to beauty and craft.” Each artwork is a unique investigation around beauty for her. I resonate with her approach—my work doesn’t commit to an overall narrative or specific theme but offers a holistic view of the beauty of an individual. While my drawings may share similar features and include repeating symbols and models, each one represents a separate investigation of beauty. 
Stylistically, Maria and I both work with soft black drawing materials. We both employ the sfumato technique to give our figures a highly blended and soft exterior form, and we work on paper that we tone by hand. My drawings differ from hers by combining charcoal and white chalk, enhancing the lights contrast and form on the figure. I envy and admire Maria for her skill and ability to incorporate 24k gold into flowers, halos, butterflies, and fabric that surround or adorn the figure. I too experimented with adding gold leaf to my drawing as seen in Melanochrysus (Fig. 3). Her use of 24k gold gives her figures a celestial energy, conveying a sense of divine strength and beauty that I also aim for in my drawings. 
I love and revere the way she describes the characteristics of her female characters. In a 2021 online magazine article, Maria said this of the demigoddesses that populate her series titled Rite, "If animal, human, and nature occupied the three different points on a triangle, the demigoddesses in Rite’s mythology would be as soft as spring, as contemplative as a serene lake, as vicious as an earthquake, or as unrelenting as a tidal wave” (Beautiful Bizarre). I aim to portray the women in my drawings with a similar duality, with a soft and delicate appearance, yet possessing undeniable strength. We both focus on the beauty of female power and divinity, challenging traditional notions of feminine beauty as solely virginal or maternal. 
Being part of this program has encouraged me to reflect, investigate, and identify the artists who influence me and my work. This task has been challenging because I draw inspiration from many sources. Beauty is universal, but within this universality is a maddening ambiguity—even my own understanding of beauty is complex and ever-changing, and I appreciate the many ways to interpret it. 

“I’m still a believer, but I don’t why, I have never been a natural, all I do is try, try, try.” I love this lyric from Taylor Swift's song “Mirrorball.” It beautifully reflects the essence of my artistic journey that has been shaped through countless hours of practice, trial and error, and deep introspection. This lyric has become a mantra for me in that I've never considered myself naturally gifted, but rather as someone who is deeply passionate about the skills and techniques of drawing—an addiction that compels me to persist and improve, despite setbacks or challenges. 
When I entered the MFA, I had ideas for potential drawings, but there appeared to be a miscommunication between my drawings and my ideas. To help me realize my ideas, my mentor James Thistlethwaite had me create twenty thumbnails based on a single idea. This exercise presented the various design choices I could make surrounding a single idea. Afterwards, I decided on the best thumbnail image that encapsulated my intention. My advisor, Ananda Featherston, reminded me about the beauty of design. She encouraged me to push James’s exercise even further by drawing additional thumbnails focused on shape abstraction and negative/positive space relationships. 
Design plays a significant role in my artistic practice. Initially, You Didn’t See Me Here You Never Saw Me and Amidst Magnolia Majesty were not intended to be a diptych (Fig 16). The original concept of You Didn’t See Me Here You Never Saw Me focused on the duality of chaos and resolve. After a suggestion from my mentor, I created Amidst Magnolia Majesty as a sister drawing. With it, I began to consider other variations of duality to make a profound connection between the two drawings. I incorporated visual cues to duality, such as contrasting spring and winter, warm and cool tones of the paper, and concealed versus revealed elements. 
Before charcoal even touches the paper, meticulous planning and strategic thinking are essential to my process. I never start a drawing without a detailed plan. Using my iPad and the Procreate app, I create a series of small thumbnail studies. For example, the thumbnail for You Didn’t See Me Here, You Never Saw Me in Fig. 16 inspired the final drawing. I selected this thumbnail because I was attracted to the angular and curvy design of the branches and because the thumbnail conveyed a message of duality. The chaotic branches in the background visually contrast with the figure who serves as a symbol of calm. 
Next, I gather and organize photo references. For this diptych, they included images of the model, branches, butterflies, and magnolias. On Procreate, I collage these reference photos until they embody the image I envision. The photo reference design of Amidst Magnolia Majesty (Fig. 18) felt strong because it complimented the composition of You Didn’t See Me Here, You Never Saw Me (Fig. 17). Both drawings feature the same model, but with different hairstyles and lighting. Amidst Magnolia Majesty, includes magnolia flowers to enhance the idea of spring and positivity. You Didn’t See Me Hear You Never Saw Me has relatively bare branches to convey a sense of winter. Once my compositional decisions were made, my confidence in the diptych was restored, and I began preparing my panels and started the drawing. 
Initially the bright white paper often intimidates me. However, because I have settled all the design issue in the photo, I can attack the white paper with no fear ⎯ making purposeful and impactful marks with my willow charcoal stick. Willow charcoal, made from natural burnt uncompressed willow rods, is always my first utensil for a drawing. I sharpen the willow stick to a fine point, using it to create the construction lines of my drawing. I am enamored by how smoothly it goes on the page, and fortunately, it only lightly stains the paper. This allows me to make mistakes early on and soothes my perfectionist self that is constantly assesing my drawing. 
Willow is also great for covering large shadow shapes. Using a bristle brush, I burnish the charcoal dust from the willow into the paper for the shadow shapes. To lift the charcoal dust or to manipulate the edges of a contour line I use other various brushes. Using a multitude of brushes allows me to make the edges of line and shape soft or lost. This gives my drawings a painterly effect. This technique was vital for the diptych because both figures are meant to be emersed in their environment of twigs and flowers. I only move onto compressed charcoal when I am ready to enhance the darks and refine details. 
White paper is not the only surface my drawings reside on. Tone paper plays a big part in my body of work because it sets the mood of a drawing and can match the color of the objects I depict. I hand toned the paper of You Didn’t See Me Here, You Never Saw Me with light and semi-transparent coat of sepia watercolor to give the twigs and the overall environment a warm tone. In Amidst Magnolia Majesty, there is no tone on the paper to stay true to the color of the white magnolia flowers and to provide a cooler temperature shift. In my drawing Ivy (Fig. 4), I wanted to stay loyal to the lovely blue-green hue of English ivy, so I toned the paper the same color to match the ivy leaves.
Toned paper is great for accentuating my favorite drawing material, white chalk. In Ivy, I employed white chalk to separate the figure from the tone of the paper and the dark charcoal defining the environment. The white chalk also breathes life into the figure allowing her features and anatomy to appear soft and delicate. I always use hatch marks when applying white chalk as shown in a close up of Ivy (Fig. 19). The hatching adds contrast and enhances the figure’s form. The closer and bolder the hatch marks are, the lighter the white chalk appears, resulting in the focal point area. This hatching technique creates a visual hierarchy, enhancing the importance of the figure in the drawing. In rare cases, I use white chalk to highlight other important details in a drawing. For example, I use white chalk to emphasize the three butterflies that are triangulated around the figure in Ivy and draw viewers’ attention to them. 
All the techniques and skills I employ in my process have been passed down from mentors and teachers. I remain curious about the potential of my drawings. I doubt I'll ever be fully satisfied with my process, as I constantly seek to push its boundaries. Currently, I'm exploring new ways to work with charcoal and experimenting more materials that can complement charcoal and white chalk on toned paper.

During my bachelor's program, my focus was on developing and refining my skills and techniques—I dedicated myself completely to the craft, but I still struggled with the conceptual aspect of the work. Joining this master's program was the paradigm shift I needed to investigate, explore, and experiment. I have come to know my identity as visual designer. 
Looking back at my older work, I see a reliance on photo reference and hesitance towards invention. In contrast, my current drawings have a visual language of their own, informed by my taste and imagination. Recurring symbols such as flowers, butterflies, and birds allow me to layer meaning into my drawings, while compositional design reinforces the psychological impact of the subject. I now articulate my intentions, helping me grow as a writer and an artist. Entering this program, I was like a ball of untouched clay, rich with potential and yet unformed. Every daunting assignment, every nerve-wracking discussion, and every failed drawing have contributed to shaping me into the artist I am today. As I approach the end of my master's program, I see that I have grown, but now that I am leaving I am ready to flourish.

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