Kari Young from Women Magazine called asking me to do a feature story about breast cancer and in part, the taboos that African American women go through when it comes to the subject of breast cancer. I ended up doing one of my favorite paintings this year as a result.
From the article:
“In the Black community, cancer is still a taboo,” Dana says. “If you admit to it, some people try to put you down, take your hope away. Many women told me that they would rather not know about it, but I was happy I did know.” The “what I don’t know won’t hurt me” mentality that Dana describes within the African-American community is disheartening, especially considering data published by the American Cancer Society (ACS), showing that breast cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death among African-American women. And while Black women are less likely than White women to get breast cancer, they’re more likely to die from it: the cancer mortality rate for African-American women is 36 percent higher than that of White women, even though their incidence rate is 10 percent lower."
The article goes on to talk about encouraging screening for black women. This in mind, I wanted more of a proactive painting but also show the private side. To check themselves without fear of being ostracized by their community.
Left: Thumbnail sketch approved by art director. Right: Cleaned up version just before transfer to board.
For the first half of the year until she graduated, my intern Carly helped me out in the studio with archiving and mailings and once in a while, I would get her to pose if I think I needed a bit of help with a figure, a facial expression or a hand. My work is pretty expressive so I use liberties when making art but sometimes, I just need to visually see the position correctly.
Another interesting thing happened while I was starting this job. A student at another big name illustration college introduced himself to me and through our conversation, told me that one of their teachers told them that I use stencils for my work.
I don't know who it was but they were wrong.Then I thought to myself 'that's a pretty interesting idea!' I've never used stencils before in my illustration work (not counting the friskets I used in 1988 when I was messing with airbrush). So I gave it a go.
I used a brayer to roll out some Van Dyke Brown over the pink abstraction already painted. While it gave me some interesting textures, I had to go in and really clean up the edges. I am not sure I'll keep doing stencils as a rule because of time constraints but it was fun to play with something new.
The rest of the images were used as spots throughout the article. I thought it would be interesting, along with the main image, to show the cancer growing, being removed and 'growing a new life' in the end.
I like doing these health-related pieces. I think it is because there has been so many people in my life that suffer from some sort of ailments and I see how it affects them not only physically but emotionally. I think if I can contribute somehow to getting some knowledge out there, I hope that it could somehow help. Every year I am doing some sort of 'walk' for a health related issue or a pro-bono piece for something I believe had merit. Having nearly all grandparents die of some form of cancer or another., my own mom having early stages of cancer nearly 30 years ago (no relapses since thankfully) but now dealing with diabetes and waiting on a kidney transplant, friends who have lupus and so many other wonderful people with heart breaking illnesses, I feel strongly about finding cures and really being active with one's own health.
Knowing people around me going through this turmoil, I remind myself of one of the best phrases I have ever heard: