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