by Edith Zimmerman
2006, charcoal, 52 x 65.
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Randy Simmons, our Artist of the Month for February, draws inspiration for his charcoal drawings from three sources: his children, his current and past romantic relationships, and domestic violence. “My wife, a domestic-violence prosecutor, provides me with a huge source of inspiration,” the artist says. “In 2004 I began a series of drawings that dealt with women as the victims of domestic violence, physical and emotional, and I tried to portray them with a startling reality.”
His two sons are also consistent muses. “Both of my boys [ages 10 and 12] have inspired me through their observations of the world they see and live in,” Simmons describes. “The drawings of them document my concerns as a parent, my experience raising children, and their vision of children’s play in an adult settings. I sometimes include their drawings or handwriting within my imagery. Many of my drawings are titled from words and phrases they invent.”
2005, charcoal, 48 x 34.
The ideas for Simmons’ drawings develop in his sketchbook and are realized more fully through digital photography. “I will pose my subjects in dramatic lighting and photograph them in a variety of poses,” he explains. “Then I reassemble the images in Photoshop by using layers, adjusting values, and occasionally combining different images into one. Typically, the drawings are 75 percent conceived before I begin executing them on a large piece of paper.”
Simmons’ drawing process is an unusual and exacting one. “I first tone my paper by scraping compressed charcoal onto a large, clean sheet,” says the artist, who prefers Stonehenge or Arches hot-pressed watercolor paper, purchased by the roll. “Then, using tissue paper as a tool, I smudge the flakes of charcoal with short swirls until I get a medium-smooth tone. The paper is then transferred to an easel that has a large piece of drywall attached. Tacking the drawing with pushpins to the drywall, I begin drawing—and I stay standing. I sketch the drawing lightly with an eraser (by removing pigment) or with vine charcoal. I try to get my darkest values early on; I prefer to complete an entire section of the drawing to the fullest degree possible before moving on to the next.” For these values, Simmons first uses hard charcoal, which he likes for its ability to create hard lines and grayer values. He then switches to medium-density and soft charcoal for the richest blacks as he approaches the completion of a drawing.
2007, charcoal, 38 x 50.
Simmons is an instructor of art at the West Kentucky Community & Technical College, in Paducah, where he teaches drawing, painting, and digital photography. He began drawing as a child, and continued to complete a B.A. in painting and an M.A. in drawing, both from Murray State University, in Murray, Kentucky, and a M.A. in drawing from the University of Cincinnati. He recently received a Kentucky Arts Council Grant. Upcoming exhibitions of Simmons’ work can be seen at Pine Cone Gallery, in Paducah, Kentucky; Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania, in Lock Haven; Leu Art Gallery at Belmont University, in Nashville; and Isadore Gallery, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Edith Zimmerman is the editorial assistant of American Artist.