I was very pleased to talk to artist Lucinda Naylor about artistic influences, archaeology and her current graphic novel project about walking the Camino.
Ask an Artist: Lucinda Naylor
When did you decide you wanted to be an artist?
I was interested in art at very young age. I remember being three and absolutely thrilled by drawing a ferris wheel I had seen lit up the night before. Unfortunately, my mother didn’t share the excitement of how perfectly I had recreated the scene–since I drew it on my hand, using a ball point pen. (I had noticed that the creases in my hand were similarly shaped to the ferris wheel’s ironwork–I’m still impressed with my three-year old self on that one.) Sadly, my mother didn’t see it the same way and made me wash my hand.
I tell this story to show that the desire to create art was there from a very young age, but the support was not. I was allowed to do art as a hobby, but told it couldn’t be a profession. Because of this–even though I got an MFA when I was 30 (so I could teach art)–I didn’t actually start to call myself an artist, or take myself seriously as one until I was about 32 and beautifully copied a Fra Angelico painting. I realized if I could copy a masterwork like that, I had some talent and should take it seriously.
Did any particular forms of art or media influence your development as an artist?
In no particular order I would say influences on my art have been medieval painters; neolithic and other early human art and objects; “found objects”–i.e. trash; Benin bronze sculptures; classical Greek, Roman, Assyrian, Egyptian stone sculptures, mosaics, and painting; contemporary Graffiti; Edward Gory; early 20th Century figurative American painters and printmakers; petroglyphs; comic books; vintage poster art.
We first met on an archaeological did in France; had you been on an excavation/ visited many archaeological sites before this?
Before the French dig, I had visited archaeological sites but always of the tourist variety–watching from behind barriers, while someone else did the digging. I did sneak past a barrier into a dig in the Roman forum when I was 19–very naughty, and lucky we weren’t killed as we wandered unlit rooms in ancient apartment buildings with huge holes dropping though the floors.
I actually sent years of my young life wanting to be an archaeologist–after reading about Howard Carter’s dig in Egypt, when I was about eight years old. Again, my family was very discouraging to that as a profession–probably because, in midwestern America, history isn’t obvious the way it is in other parts of the world, where the human settlements have left larger, more evident, marks.
Then I had the misfortune of taking the dullest possible “Intro to Archaeology” course in college; taught by grad students who made digging seem extraordinarily tedious–not that we ever got to do any digging–we just had to learn about recording each grain of sand.
I wish I had had a good lecturer in archaeology, because I would love to have enjoyed more formal studies in the field.
As it is, I discovered I love to dig by working that French dig. Nowadays, also I enjoy helping on a dig site by drawing or contributing as an artist.
You took part in Dr A’s excavation at Torbhlaren, Kilmartin. What was your response to the archaeology and landscape of Kilmartin?
I loved the landscape there so much. It is a very exciting area to dig in. All the standing stones, tombs, and the cup and ring carvings are fascinating and artistically inspiring.
When not digging, I liked trying my hand at creating my own cup marks on small scraps of rock and getting a feel for how I think neolithic people had done the carving.
I was also excited to discover, in the course of digging, all sorts of pigment stones on the Torbhlaren site and realize that coloring the rocks/cup and ring carvings had probably been part of some neolithic ritual.
I finished the dig feeling very connected to the people who had left their traces there, because through making art by using their tools, or their creations as inspiration, I was able partake in some shadow of their experience.
You’re currently working on a graphic novel about walking the Camino pilgrimage route in Spain. How has the graphic novel format helped you to communicate the experience of walking the Camino?
The graphic novel format has been the perfect way to talk about my camino experience. While walking the camino I kept a sketchbook, where I drew pictures and jotted down notes. This was just for myself–not with the original intent of publication–though I had a number of other pilgrims encourage me to publish the sketches.
In my graphic novel I have been able to incorporate almost all my sketches into the story.
Having my sketches gives not just renderings of things–sure you can see what the Cathedral in Leon looks like in a sketch, but you can also see where my mind was at with the quality of my line and the care that I took–or didn’t take as I hurried to sketch while walking or took my time while resting. I tried to draw at least once a day (usually more) on camino. Sometimes the subjects of my drawings weren’t the most profoundly interesting things I saw, but what captured my attention for a moment– which works to make the graphic novel feel fresh and real.
I use collage, and paintings based on photographs, to flesh out my drawings and add to the veracity of my book.
The Camino, for me, was a very visual and very tactile experience. It was about moving through space and time on my own two feet–and the aches, pains, and pleasures that go along with that journey.
Working on my graphic novel–the working title is Camino Real–has been a lot like re-walking the camino. I’m meeting the landscapes again, the people again; tasting the food; experiencing the hostels; etcetera–as I’m recreating the experience panel by panel, and page by page. Luckily, reliving blister pain doesn’t feel too real, but on the whole my life has felt re-immersed in the camino–and I think that immersion is partly because the graphic novel experience is so encompassing. There are words that tell a story and there are pictures that tell a story; and those words and pictures can layer together to create something more than words alone, or pictures alone, can say.