Blog

What’s in my Moleskine: Ashley Holtgraver

Jan 09 2017

“I have been drawing complicated women in the evenings lately.” Cambridge software designer Ashley Holtgraver reveals the secrets of her notebooks.

Moleskine Joan

Joan Crawford, a truly self-made woman

I’ve always loved drawing. I had cool, encouraging parents who’d do things like let me draw an invitation to my 6th birthday party, then go make copies of it so that I had personalized cards to send out.

I remember discovering my mom’s college sketchbook in the basement when I was a teenager, and feeling like it gave me a window into who she was at that time of her life. I started keeping sketchbooks in 10th grade, and have managed to hold on to almost all of them since then.

Moleskine Nico Big

Nico from the Velvet Underground

In my career as a programmer, I live and work inside my computer screen. My professional body of work can sometimes feel so ephemeral—everything I’ve ever made could be wiped out by a really strong magnet. So it feels really nice to have some solid, double-layered bookshelves and bins full of sketchbooks to step back and look at sometimes.

Lately, I’ve been drawing complicated women in the evenings. A woman’s physicality is so much more political than a man’s—and to me, this makes it so much more powerful. A woman has more expectations placed on her physical looks—her clothes, her hair, even her expression—and that only makes it that much more of a provocation when those expectations are thwarted.

Moleskine Fran

Bobbi Flekman, a character in Spinal Tap played by Fran Drescher

When I was a kid, I’d spend hours drawing Ariel from Disney’s A Little Mermaid. I'd sometimes catch myself unconsciously copying her expression with my own face. Even at 9 years old, I’d feel a little embarrassed when I felt a big, fake grin on my face. I liked Ariel and her gadgets and gizmos aplenty, but I wasn’t like Ariel. I was faking it.

Then in high school, when it was time for my exciting locking-myself-in-my-room-and-drawing-self-portraits period, I had to shift into thinking intentionally about what my face was doing while I drew from the mirror. I found that whether I was trying to make a specific kind of face, whatever came out ended up feeling like a character. And that somehow felt instantly more powerful than just the image in the mirror.

Moleskin Myra

Raquel Welch playing Myra Breckinridge, a truly provocative moment in film history

The women I like to draw now capture some element of that feeling. They may not be the definition of self-possessed, they may or may not be confident and composed, but they are self-aware, and in control of what they are putting out into the world. They may be performing a little, but they're doing it on their own terms, for their own benefit.

They’re from noir movies and punk bands. They’re artists, journalists, wastoids, and dweebies. I like to think they lived for themselves and as themselves—the most provocative act there is for any human. I admire them and want to see myself in them.

  • Ashley Holtgraver

    Software Designer, IDEO Cambridge
    Ashley is a developer, designer, and synthpop musician. She enjoys writing code and words, and finding humor and beauty in the absurd.

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