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Rachel Gonzales - 100 Days of Contour Drawings

About Rachel Gonzales:

Rachel Gonzales is a creative, free-spirit who resides in Montrose. Educated and experienced in both architecture and fine art, she cultivates her artistic gifting with spirituality and a profound appreciation of the ephemerality of life, human connection, and play. (Bonus trivia: she is also the artist of the banner image on this blog site.

What is the story behind your art?

I recall sitting in class as my art teacher told us to draw a live figure without looking on our paper, without lifting our pen.  This was called blind contour drawing.  She then asked us to do it again and glance at our paper intermittently, pausing our pens while doing so, still without lifting them off the paper. This was called partially blind contour drawing. Ever since then, I naturally picked up this drawing exercise as a great way to train my eye to slow down and see values as shapes without fretting over how it turned out in the end.  I had always felt at ease with this technique, but I had not picked it up again until several years later while traveling alone in Italy.  I was wandering around Venice by myself in the fall of 2014 and stumbled upon an artist named Anton. We chatted for hours, he made me a bowl of gnocchi, and I grabbed a stick of his charcoal and created a contour drawing of him while sitting at his small wooden dinner table. In exchange of my contour drawing of him, he drew me a montage of various architectural forms in Venice. It turns out that we had both studied architecture, but he didn't work as an architect and dived straight into art upon graduating.  I found it funny that he was so far removed from the field that he was not even aware of the Architectural Venice Biennale going on at the time. It is strange writing this now as I have just left my full time architecture career to become a full time artist. 

From left to right: my drawing of Anton in charcoal, Anton's drawing of Venetian elements in charcoal , my drawing of Lily in ink

From left to right: my drawing of Anton in charcoal, Anton's drawing of Venetian elements in charcoal , my drawing of Lily in ink

Fast forward to last year, I picked up a book at Whole Foods called The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion written and illustrated by Elle Luna who launched the ever-growing #100dayproject in which people commit to making something for 100 days.  This artistic movement inspired me to embark on #100daysofcontours this year because I figured that drawing contours of people would be a good creative practice of making something each day without having to set up with several materials such as canvas, paint, brushes, an easel, water, and rags as I usually do with my acrylic paintings.  All I would need is subject matter, a pen, and paper. 

I also had been wanting to teach a blind and partial blind contour drawing workshop at the Women's Home and had been randomly drawing my friends at the time...I was naturally called to do it! Above is an image of my friend Lily at Agora one night.  After posting this image on social media, several people liked it. I continued to do 3 more drawings of friends by request and then continued to receive more requests.  The requests were starting to overwhelm me, and I realized that what really inspired me to draw someone was a genuine human connection with the person, and I could no longer draw anyone for the sake of fulfilling a request. I had to be more intentional with my subject matter.  I was creating a visual journal of human connections. If I happened to draw a friend or family member, it was because I sensed a human connection with that person on that particular day. Below are a few examples of family members and friends I have drawn.

All of these are partial blind contours in which I never lift my pen off the paper and glance at the paper once in awhile, but not drawing or moving my hand or pen while glancing.

Danielle , pen on paper,  11 x 14 in

Danielle, pen on paper, 11 x 14 in

I drew Danielle after connecting with her at a weekly community group. We had been checking up on each other every Sunday. I would ask her about her family life, and she would ask about my 12-week spiritual creative practice called The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron that I was implementing at the time.

Rhodora  ,   pen on paper,   11 x 14 in

Rhodorapen on paper, 11 x 14 in

The second one is a drawing of an old nursing school photograph of my mom Rhodora.  I find that we take each other for granted at times, and I wanted to show gratitude for her that day.  She is a beautiful and compassionate person who doesn't draw much attention to herself.  Drawing her was a way of being present to all that she is in my life right now with an air of nostalgia about how she was as a young nursing student in the Philippines.

Sam  ,   pen on paper,   11 x 14 in

Sampen on paper, 11 x 14 in

Sam is a beloved friend of mine who I met while working at Swirl yogurt in Rice Village.  I was studying architecture at Rice, and he was a dedicated violist at University of Houston. I had visited some family in Massachusetts for my birthday this past May, and Sam greeted me in Boston South Station when I snapped this photo of him. He has always been an inspiration to me as a musical artist, following his heart and making his dreams happen.

Brent  ,   pen on paper,   11 x 14 in

Brentpen on paper, 11 x 14 in

Brent is a friend I met at a Crystal Castles show in Houston. He studied architecture as well and ended up working in NYC.  We met up in Chelsea Market, grabbed some sushi, and ate together on the High Line. After our meal, I snapped this brooding image of him as he was checking out a stranger at a coffeeshop.

Abby and Jordan  ,   pen on paper,   11 x 14 in

Abby and Jordanpen on paper, 11 x 14 in

Abby and my uncle Jordan recently got married in Columbus, Ohio, and I found this lovely image of them during the reception.  I had brought my pen and paper with me, and I gave them this contour drawing of the photo as a wedding gift.

Dan  ,   pen on paper,   11 x 14 in

Danpen on paper, 11 x 14 in

Lastly, Dan is fellow artist and designer friend of mine who has always been supportive of my dreams to pursue art as a full time career.  He worked at an architecture firm across the street from my office downtown, and we would have lunch breaks every now and then.  This lunch was memorable in particular because of the conversations we shared about unrequited love, true love, and the beautiful drama that may unfold. He has always been an encouraging friend, and I sincerely hope for fruitful relationships to grow in both of our lives.

Judy , pen on paper, 11 x 14 in

Judy, pen on paper, 11 x 14 in

The most exciting connections that I have made while creating this project are with perfect strangers.  I volunteered to be a RAMP (Rice Architectural Mentorship Program) mentor for architecture students at Rice, and a woman named Judy graciously hosted the RAMP meet and greet event in the comfort of her own art-filled home.  She is on the board for several of Houston's public art projects, loves to give back to support the arts and outreach programs, and has a warm energy about her.  I had spoken with her about art and this contour drawing project of mine, and she let me photograph her to be a part of it!  After I emailed her two contour drawings,  she commissioned one to be executed with minimal line work to be printed on her own notepads.  I was thrilled.  She also wanted to compensate me for the original drawing.  I spent my following nights after work filling an entire sketchbook with one drawing after another until I finally achieved this one version with very few lines.  When I delivered it to her in person, she encouraged me to follow my passion for making art, create an online site for my work, and then she said that one day I would be doing this full time.  I will never forget that moment. 

Mr. Masala Wala  ,   pen on paper,   11 x 14 in

Mr. Masala Walapen on paper, 11 x 14 in

Mr. Masala Wala is the owner of an Indian restaurant in NYC.  My favorite dish was the bhangara baingan, a savory peanut flavored eggplant dish.  It was so delicious I had to eat there again before I returned to Houston.  He had a gentle smile, and always spoke with his guests from table to table.  He asked for me to review him on Yelp after snapping a photo with him, so now I intend to post this image of him on Yelp with a glowing review.

Lissane  ,   pen on paper,   11 x 14 in

Lissanepen on paper, 11 x 14 in

Lissane is a sweet roommate of the friend I was staying with on the upper east side. She is from Germany and was a very kind host.  I was happy to know that my friend Rocio had found a perfect match as a roommate in the diverse city of NYC. We all enjoyed eating at Masala Wala as well.

Laura  ,   pen on paper,   11 x 14 in

Laurapen on paper, 11 x 14 in

Laura was a barista at Empire Cafe. She had surprised me with heaps of butter cookies that day.  I told her about my #100daysofcontours project, and she gladly accepted my request for her to be a part of it.  She mentioned being an artist as well.  I haven't seen her at Empire in a while and wonder about where she is at now. 

Dana  ,   pen on paper,   11 x 14 in

Danapen on paper, 11 x 14 in

Dana and Fabian are both representatives for interior architectural products.  Dana randomly called me up one day, introduced herself, took me out to lunch at Ibiza the following week, and I snapped a photo of her.  We connected over quirky eyewear, yoga, massage therapy, college essays, career transitions, and carpet design. 

Fabian  ,   pen on paper,   11 x 14 in

Fabianpen on paper, 11 x 14 in

Fabian had attended a Product Runway private auction event that I painted at.  As I was painting a piece to be auctioned in support of the event, he asked me about creating something special for his wife's birthday.  When he started working with me on a project weeks later, he brought a lot of cool tile designs because he knew I was artsy.  Unfortunately, I had to return them because they were "too artsy."  He always made me laugh in the office.  When I told him about my contour drawings, he commissioned a portrait of himself and another one of his family! I'm so glad he was happy with it, and I am grateful for his support.

The last and most meaningful group of people whom I have drawn are angels.  Sometimes I have a human connection with someone who has passed away after hearing about their death, mourning their death, missing them terribly, or fondly remembering them years after they have passed.  I drew Prince and Paul and Jo after shortly learning about their deaths, I drew Vivian and Christina while mourning over their deaths, and I drew my dad while missing him and fondly remembering him as someone who valued me so much.

Prince  ,   pen on paper,   11 x 14 in

Princepen on paper, 11 x 14 in

Prince was a creative spirit who wrote his own story as he was living it.

Paul and Jo  ,   pen on paper,   11 x 14 in

Paul and Jopen on paper, 11 x 14 in

Paul was the principal in charge of my architecture firm's worship and education studio.  He had health problems, and his wife Jo had passed away last December due to health problems as well.  I made several prints of this contour drawing of them for coworkers and framed four of them, one for each of their children. 

Vivian  ,   pen on paper,   11 x 14 in

Vivianpen on paper, 11 x 14 in

Vivian Guan was a dear friend of mine whose possibility to give back to the world was cut short after a tragic metro rail accident on July 22, 2013.  She inspires me to live awake.  Her greatest fear in life was being too comfortable, and she would exclaim, "I want to live life shamelessly, mischievously, and infectiously awake!"

Christina Grimmie,    pen on paper,   11 x 14 in

Christina Grimmie, pen on paper, 11 x 14 in

Christina Grimmie is another beautiful young soul who was gunned down by a stranger while signing autographs after her concert in Orlando.  Her death alongside several others in Orlando after the Pulse nightclub shooting and alligator attack in Disney World was emotionally traumatic for me because it triggered the loss of Vivian almost exactly 3 years ago. 

Christina Grimmie and Vivian shared several traits such as their strong spirituality, unwavering faith,  desire to help and connect with others, acts of service, goofy personality, amazing talent, and continuous pursuit of living into their fullest expression.  They did what they loved and loved what they did.  The Pulse nightclub shooting highlighted the fact that there is deep suffering and evil in this world and animosity toward others who are perceived as different, and the loss of a toddler's life to alligator attack was a tragic reminder that accidents beyond anyone's control may happen without any bad intentions whatsoever.  A young soul happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I mourned and could not sleep for several nights.  I watched Christina's YouTube videos over and over again, and realized that she touched the hearts of several people all over the world, reading comment after comment.  It made me present to the fact that we are living and breathing moments of pure expression here. 

Dad and I  ,   pen on paper,   11 x 14 in

Dad and Ipen on paper, 11 x 14 in

What we do matters.  It will be remembered by those who make a human connection with us.  I am writing my own personal history of human connections through this project for others to discover.  I am recording a memory of a person, human interaction, and intentionally remembering each one.  When I am done with 100 people, I will scan each image into a book and write about how I happened to draw each person.  #100daysofcontours will be my own visual journal of human connections.

What is the most influential book you have ever read?

The most influential book I have read is The Little Prince, because it is a nod to everyone's inner child and explains how ties are made when the prince meets the fox and remembers his rose.  It is a story about the heart and is a reminder that every day is a gift in spite of sadness. The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron is not so much a book, but a tool to unlock one's spiritual creative energy. I highly recommend it for creatively blocked artists. For me, it is the holy grail of creativity and self-love. I speak more about it on my friend Nicole's artyogaplay blog:


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