Edel Rodriguez
Drawing at a House Concert
Last week I was invited to attend a classical music concert at an apartment on the Upper West side of NYC, near Columbia University.  This was the third in a series of gatherings to celebrate Poetry, Art, and Music.  The series goes by the title 'White Buffalo', you can learn more about it here.
The theme for this particular evening was Cuban Classical Music, poetry, and writing.  There is a tradition in Cuba of beautiful Classical music, very different from Salsa, Rumba, and other sounds which one typically associates with the island. 
There was a large gathering of many Cuban-Americans that live in NYC, maybe 30 people.  It was a fairly large apartment, one room had a grand piano, another room enough seating for about 20 people.
There were a couple of readings.  One reading was of poetry by Oscar Hijuelos, Author of 'Mambo Kings', which was made into the Hollywood film several years ago.  The other reading was by Mirta Ojito, an excerpt of her book titled "Finding Mañana", a memoir about her life in Cuba and her flight to America during the 1980 Mariel boatlift.  This is a beautiful book, I read it this year and loved it because her story mirrors much of my own.  I highly recommend it.
I brought my sketchbook to the event and drew as the concert proceeded from one song to the other.  I had a wonderful time.
I've done many illustrations for magazines like The New Yorker, and this is the same process I follow when on an assignment.  When I'm asked to draw a concert or a play, I show up with my sketchbook and see where things go as the night progresses.
It is very difficult to draw and follow musicians or actors as they are moving onstage.  I let the line go where it may and follow a lot of the musicians movements and sounds.  If the musician is playing the violin fast, I may draw fast.  If he plays a soft note, I draw softly.  I really enjoy drawing musicians this way, I tend to forget what's around me as I draw.
The result of much of this free sketching is that the subjects tend to get distorted, hands may be bigger, heads small, on and on.  This is what I consider to be my pure drawing.  I keep a lot of these distortions and then bring them into my final work. 
Many people at the party wanted to look at my sketchbook.  I showed it and got some interesting looks!  Oscar Hijuelos said his hands weren't that big, the violinist thought I didn't draw enough hair on his head, etc.  I've gotten used to this, it's always interesting to hear what people think of their depictions...
I was very fortunate to have met author Mirta Ojito last year at a book signing in Bryant Park.  Her book "Finding Mañana" has been a wonderful inspiration to me.  I had to put it down many times while reading it.  So much of her writing mirrors my life and the things I draw and write about myself.—family, loss, and displacement. 
Mirta and I came at the same time from Cuba and have so many similar memories of the place we left behind.  If you would like to read more about life in Cuba in the 1970's and what brought so many people like myself to this country, please read this book.  It's a beautiful memoir.  Here is a brief synopsis of her book from

In this unforgettable memoir, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Mirta Ojito travels back twenty-five years to the event that brought her and 125,000 of her fellow Cubans to America: the 1980 mass exodus known as the Mariel boatlift. As she tracks down the long-forgotten individuals whose singular actions that year profoundly affected thousands on both sides of the Florida straits, she offers a mesmerizing glimpse behind Cuba’s iron curtain—and recalls the reality of being a sixteen-year-old torn between her family’s thirst for freedom and a revolution that demanded absolute loyalty. Recounting an immensely important chapter in the ever-evolving relationship between America and its neighbor to the south, Finding Mañana is a major triumph by one of our finest journalists.
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