Goatwater is a column which explores the mystifying, joyous and liberating concept of Carnival through the New York born and raised, Caribbean-American perspective of poet and artist Tiffany Osedra Miller.
How to Draw a Caribbean-American Carnival
(Or anything you want, really)
A single, hand-drawn line of any color, with any medium, is the artist’s walking stick, horizon, conducting baton, magic wand, livewire, open road. A single line can become a rendering of a gorgeous, garish human being, an unfamiliar landscape, a scene that begins in purgatory and ends in paradise. Essentially, the universe contained in a drawing, begins with a single line.
To draw is to conjure. I can recall sitting beside my father, who was convalescing, yet struggling to unwrap a piece of candy, while my consciousness – which I thought my caregiver stress had irreparably injured with exhaustion – conjured an image of me floating inside of a clear, single teardrop over a deep, vast, breathtaking paradise, beyond description. And the silence! It was so silent that I could finally hear the wisdom of other things. Then came the peace. The feeling that everything will be alright.
How to draw this image, as much as I desired to? How to draw the memory of that exquisite teardrop that carried me? How to draw any of these experiences? And why?
Whether you lay down a line of descriptive verse or a line that says, I am here to bend to the will of your imagination, drawing begins with the laying of the line. Much the way laborers laid down lines of railroad tracks across an industrializing America. Or the way Caribbean Carnival Makers, laid down labyrinthine lines of tracks, like Christmas tinsel, for Carnival trains.
Therefore, we must ask ourselves, not what to draw with! Ask, what to draw from what to draw on!? Yes, draw with pencil, charcoal, pen, ink. Yes, draw on a piece of paper, canvas, wood. But to draw on the ancestors, the master artists – and Master Artist who created me and you – for their wisdom and technique, is to draw with the responsibility of portraying the raw emotions of the human experience and to draw these emotions with unconditional love.
But why should an artist who draws, concern themselves with love, when an artist simply wants to render an image accurately and skillfully? Why would anyone desire to draw or create something from nothing? Is it not to feel the unconditional love inherent in the powers of creation, which eternally say, I Am, and through the birth of a drawing, realize that the True Artist within the artist will never cease to be?
The origins of my drawing life began before the age of 10, when a teacher publicly chastised me for drawing outside the lines. I recall that the color of the crayon was purple or dark blue. I felt the humiliation of that experience everyday beyond that, for many years, hardly daring to draw a thing. Before that, I drew because I wanted to be like my older brother who drew portraits of imaginary superheroes in sketchbooks. They were magical! To just sit with a pencil and with a few strokes, encourage a character to emerge like that. I drew expressively, at that time, invoking what I felt rather than any concrete thing. Drawing was a way for me, a shy, sensitive child, to explore myself, without judgment, in order to not feel so invisible. Yet, I was judged. Such is life!
If the writer, Ralph Ellison could, through such artfully rendered lines of literature, so vividly and generously draw a picture of The Invisible Man, that we could finally see him, in all of his blackness, drifting, isolated, cast aside, aimless and run amuck across the pages of Ellison’s novel – as though he were in the flesh – what can’t we draw on, let alone, from?
So, I learned to draw, in a literary sense, through lines of poetry, invoking the peculiar patois of the dreamscape. My intention was to describe images so that they emerged as vividly as an expressionistic drawing or painting.
It never occurred to me, until years later, after experiencing many manifestations of Caribbean-American Carnival, dancing with several devils, masked men and other revelers covered in blue paint or white chalk, accompanied by women carrying baskets of universes on their heads, that the surreal scenes I saw, the costumes, masks, floats had to have first been created by someone, somewhere, let alone designed and drawn up as blueprints for these Bacchanals.
How many Carnivals have been hand-drawn in a Carnival Maker’s head long before they committed their ideas onto the thin, theatrical stage of a piece of paper?
Perhaps, we are all drawings, experiencing various degrees of animation. Drawings, who simply become Drawings who eventually demand to draw, by any means necessary, a reflection of ourselves, despite any judgment. Knowing that we will be judged, regardless, we must draw anyway, to continuously see what we have become so that we may improve the drawing. So, there was always a plan to delight us – despite how unpredictable these carnivals of life can be – a plan to enchant us, to take us deeper into the wilderness of ourselves, beginning, behind the scenes, with the drawing of a primordial line. As those of us who endeavor to draw, it is how we twist and bend that original line, while ensuring our line begets other lines that eventually turn to shade, then into fertile carnivals of color, that inform our unique voice, our personal artistry. Oh, to be able to create a universe, a parade such as Carnival! To float on the magic carpet of a palm leaf. To draw ourselves bearing the over-wise head of the coconut, including the juice and the meat.
To begin: draw a line and turn that line into a square. Allow that square to become a mirror big enough for you to climb through. Once you have climbed through the mirror, if you find that you have forgotten your sketchbook and drawing instruments, please go back and retrieve them as you will need them wherever you are going.