Previous: Art Made in Adversity
Next: Art That Was Never Finished



View count:27,539
Last sync:2024-05-18 13:00
Cécile McLorin Salvant is a visual artist and Grammy Award-winning jazz singer, and she shares with us an art assignment. Create your own Theme and Variation Cut-Out by following the instructions below. And check out Prideland on PBS Voices!:

1. Draw a simple outline of a human body
2. Do this until you find one you really like
3. Then draw variations of that outline playing with the limbs and proportions
4. Copy your favorite four outlines to stiff paper or cardboard
5. Cut them out, tape a piece of string to them, and hang wherever you like

Share your work with the hashtag #youareanartist and/or tag us on Instagram or Twitter. Or join our Facebook group to share your work with a community of artists:

Learn more about Cécile McLorin Salvant:

Thanks to our Grandmasters of the Arts Divide By Zero Collection and David Golden, and to all of our patrons, especially Anthony Chivetta, Rich Clarey, Iain Eudailey, Tom Forwood, Patrick Hanna, Andrew Huynh, Eve Leonard, Audrey Mak Tung, David Moore, Jane Quale, Gabriel Civita Ramirez, Andrew Sheeler, Boris Silantiev, Josh Thomas, Constance Urist, and Roberta Zaphiriou. To support our channel, visit:

Subscribe for new episodes of The Art Assignment every other Thursday.
[Cécile:] Hello. I'm Cécile McLorin Salvant, I'm a jazz singer and a visual artist. Your assignment is to draw a simple outline of a human body.

Keep doing that until you find one that you really like. Then, draw variations of that outline playing with the limbs and proportions. Pick four of your favorite outlines and copy those onto some stiff paper. It can be watercolor paper, or that cereal box cardboard.

Cut those outlines out and tape a piece of string on the back of it so that you can hang it wherever you’d like.

[Onscreen words: "The Art Assignment; Theme & Variation: Cécile McLorin Salvant]

[Sarah:] When I reached out to you, was there -- did you have an idea right away of an assignment?

[Cécile:] I immediately thought of embroidery, but I know that it's a little bit involved. I think it’s less about embroidery and more about silhouettes.

Because I’ve been playing with this type of silhouette, and I think it's really fun to do...can you see it? This type of guy.

[Sarah:] The one with the wobbly arms?

[Cécile:] Yeah, or like this kind of guy. The process is usually, I’ll draw a lot on paper, and then if something catches my eye that’s worth spending 3 months, 4 months on, I’ll start to embroider.

[Sarah:] How do you think about your artmaking? How do you frame it for others?

[Cécile:] I think I’ve just been a little shy with really coming forward with my visual art. Even though the Instagram is this sort of safe haven for me, and the Internet is a place where I can just post things and not worry about them. I’ve started to, little by little, accept that I do like to make visual art. I’m very uncomfortable calling myself a visual artist, but I...that’s what I do. That’s what I do most of the day.

[Sarah:] Yeah, that was actually one of the questions I was going to ask you. Are there kinds of characters that you find yourself coming back to again and again?

[Cécile:] There are these characters -- a lot of times they’re silhouettes. Big shaped characters, usually they’re women -- usually they’re bald, fat women, and I don’t know why.

It’s just something that keeps coming up, and lately I’ve been playing with messing with the shapes a little bit more. It’s kind of like a stick figure... how a stick figure is just so clear what it is with not a lot of lines, not a lot of shading. There’s nothing.

And I really, like...I guess that’s just me being attracted to really graphic things, where with just one movement you’ve created not only a character but also a mood, like, their mood and their feelings.

[Sarah:] Maybe you can tell us about Ogresse?

[Cécile:] It’s basically like a musical fairy tale or like a musical fable. And I sing all the characters and I play all the characters and I’m also, I guess, the narrator.

The process with that -- this is the first time that I’ve really married both my drawings and my music together. I had done album covers, but it was always kind of just like “oh, we need an album cover now, let’s just do it.” This is really like, “what does the character look like?” “what do the plants look like?” “what do the animals look like?”

I had done a series of drawings that I turned into a little zine called “The Invisible Woman.” And this sort of shaped character kept coming up and I think that became “The Ogresse”. So I think it is a situation where the music was written in direct influence of drawings and ideas of shapes of people that I kept having over and over again.

I sing jazz, which is a music of theme and variations. Which is a music of like, you have a song and you improvise variations on that song and on that interpretation and on that performance. And you can vary it a little bit or you can make it this completely abstract, unrecognizable mess.

And looking at the cutouts here, what would that mean if the song is the person and my variation on it is the flower, or the butterfly, or whatever abstract weird shape that ends my variations. How can I really push it musically to the point of it being unrecognizable? I mean, I don’t usually do that, there’s still always something there and I still remain close to the theme, but how does it affect your perception to really work on, like, exaggerating or making something really small? Like, what changes when that happens?

[Sarah:] Are there any, like, practical tips?

[Cécile:] I think bigger is better because it’s just easier to cut and it's more dramatic that way. I think focus on the general lines. This is something that you’re cutting out, this is almost halfway between a drawing and a sculpture, so just remember that.

[Sarah:] So when you look at your finished work, what do you think about?

[Cécile:] To be honest, right now, I think about social distancing. [laughs] And the fact that they’re always at a certain distance from each other. Like, I’m very interested now in social distancing and I’ve been playing around with that idea, I guess, in my drawings and in my music too. This weird dance you now have with people...if you move forward, they have to move back; if they move forward, you have to move back. And so I think that’s what this makes me think of.

[Sarah:] For other art assignments, check out the book You Are An Artist, which features a wide range of voices and prompts for making art.

You should also check out Prideland, a new PBS Digital Studios show premiering on their documentary channel, Voices. Prideland explores LGBTQ+ life in the American South and is hosted by Dyllón Burnside, from the FX show “Pose”. He recounts his own coming out experience, and travels throughout the South to meet people breaking down barriers.

Follow the links in our description and subscribe. Thanks to all of our patrons for supporting The Art Assignment, especially our grand masters of the arts, David Golden and Divideby Zero Collection.