PHOTO BY NICK DEERBERG DESIGN BY OLIVIA READ
BY JUNHEE LEE
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S h e f i r s t examines the details of the photograph – the waving blond hair, the shadows of the eyes on the cheeks. Then, pulling out a regular mechanical pencil and eraser, she draws the first of many smooth, flowing lines on a piece of paper. If there’s any doubt in the preliminary minutes about what she’s drawing, it disappears when she begins to darken her strokes and fill in the details. Suddenly, the lines transform into the face of a young girl with a frightening expression, her widened eyes staring back with a piercing look. After a few short minutes, she holds up the painting with a half-smile on her face, still examining the paper for improvements. Equipped with little more than her pencils, paintbrushes and the hands of an artist, Sophia Chen ’19 has the ability to turn a ten-cent piece of paper into something much more. But before the colors and the shapes fall in line to form this
something more, Chen spends up to thirty hours over several weeks erasing, redrawing and repainting until the art “decides to be done”. “I’ll sit down and maybe I’ll [draw] for a couple of hours, and then I’ll force myself to stop because I know if I sat there for ten hours straight and then I come back, I’ll just find all these mistakes,” Chen said. “My drawings are not pretty in the process,” she added with a laugh. For graphite drawings, Chen uses her eraser almost as much as she uses her pencils. She can mold her eraser into a flat surface to completely rework large objects and also into a sharp point to finetune the details. She says to herself, “That side [of the nose] is a little higher than that side,” while erasing the left side of a perfectly acceptable nose. “Sometimes there are days when I just don’t want to [do art] because there are so many things I have to fix.” It doesn’t help that Chen focuses primarily on realism art, which revolves around using detail and precision to make art as lifelike as possible. But Chen denies that her hard work is demotivating. Rather, when asked about the frustration and perspiration of the process, she responded saying, “I think it’s more satisfying in the end, where you have a final product and it’s like, ‘Oh, I made that, that’s kind of cool!’” Her hard work certainly pays off when presented to the eyes of the public, but Chen’s art also has deeper personal ties with her
family. In the very beginning, she took art lessons alongside her older sister Eugenia. While her sister was never “as into it” as she was and doesn’t spend as much time drawing now, Chen continued to draw with inspiration from her father, Songhai Chen. “I have this one memory of when [my dad and I] were just in the car and he stopped and he took out a pad of paper and just started drawing the scenery around us,” Chen said. “It was the first time where I was like, ‘I really want to do art now.’” Although her father, Songhai Chen, is too busy to draw nowadays, he says that he is “ very happy to see that Sophia likes it so much.” He remembers his own father and Chen’s grandfather, who suddenly picked up Chinese style drawing after retirement and whose paintings still hang in their home in Iowa City. Thinking of this, he wants to see his daughter take her artistic abilities with her throughout her future. “I hope she will keep doing [art] as her hobby. It will teach her patience and keeping a sharp eye [on] her surroundings,” Songhai said. “I don’t have time to do drawing now but if I pick it up when I have time, Sophia will be my inspiration.” And like her grandfather, Chen doesn’t plan on giving up on art, even when she’s old and retired. Although she doesn’t have a clear-cut plan for the future, she knows that she’ll never stop drawing and painting.
SOPHIA CHEN ’19