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upworthy

drawing

Identity

6 beautiful drawings by LGBTQ inmates that illustrate life in prison

Their artwork shows their strength, resilience, and talent.

"Acceptance" by Stevie S.


Tatiana von Furstenberg laid out more than 4,000 works of art on the floor of her apartment and was immediately struck by what she saw.

The pieces of artwork were submitted from various prisons across the country in hopes of being featured in "On the Inside," an exhibition of artwork by currently incarcerated LGBTQ inmates, curated by von Furstenberg and Black and Pink, a nonprofit organization that supports the LGBTQ community behind bars. The exhibit was held at the Abrons Arts Center in Manhattan toward the end of 2016.

"I put all the submissions on the floor and I saw that there were all these loving ones, these signs of affection, all of these two-spirit expressions of gender identity, and fairies and mermaids," von Furstenberg said.


She noticed the recurring topics throughout the works of different artists — eye contact, desire, fighting back, alienation, and longing — and these shared struggles became the themes of the art exhibition.

"These artists feel really forgotten. They really did not think that anybody cared for them. And so for them to have a show in New York and to hear what the responses have been is huge, it's very uplifting," she said.

Plenty of people turn to art as a means of escape. But for the artists involved in On the Inside, the act of making art also put them at risk.

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people are incarcerated at twice the rate of heterosexuals, and trans people are three times as likely to end up behind bars than cisgender people. During incarceration, they're also much more vulnerable than non-LGBTQ inmates to violence, sexual assault, and unusual punishments such as solitary confinement.

Not every prison makes art supplies readily available, either, which means that some of the artists who submitted to "On the Inside" had to find ways to make their work from contraband materials, such as envelopes and ink tubes. And of course, by drawing provocative images about their identities, they also risked being outed and threatened by other inmates around them.

But sometimes, the act of self-expression is worth that risk. Here are some of the remarkable examples of that from the exhibition.

(Content warning: some of the images include nudity.)

1."A Self Portrait" by B. Tony.

inmates, jail, sketching

“A Self Portrait” by B. Tony

2. "Rihanna" by Gabriel S.

relationships, identity, rehabilitation

“Rihanna” by Gabriel S.

"Rihanna is who I got the most pictures of," von Furstenburg said. "I think it's because she is relatable in both her strength and her vulnerability. She's real.”

3. "Acceptance" by Stevie S.

body art, tattoo, mental health

"Acceptance" by Stevie S.

"This series is sexy and loving and domestic," von Furstenberg said about these two portraits by Stevie S. "A different look at family values/family portrait.”

4. "Michael Jackson" by Jeremy M.

celebrity, art, paintings

“Michael Jackson” by Jeremy M.

assets.rebelmouse.io

This was another one of von Furstenberg's favorites, because of the way it depicts a struggle with identity. "[MJ] was different, he was such a unique being that struggled so much with his identity and his body image the way a lot of our artists, especially our trans artists, are struggling behind bars," she said.

5. "Unknown" by Tiffany W.

pixies, fairie, fantasy

“Unknown” by Tiffany W.

6. "Genotype" and "Life Study," by J.S.

anatomy, Michaelangelo, nudes

“Genotype” and “Life Study” by J.S.

"This is the Michelangelo of the group," von Furstenberg said. "To be able to draw this with pencil and basic prison lighting is astounding. One of the best drawings I've ever seen in my life.”

When the exhibition opened to the public on Nov. 4, 2016, visitors even had the chance to share their thoughts with the artists.

The exhibit included an interactive feature that allowed people to text their comments and responses to the artist, which von Furstenberg then converted to physical paper and mailed to inmates.

Some of the messages included:

"I have had many long looks in the mirror like in your piece the beauty within us. I'm glad you can see your beautiful self smiling out. I see her too. Thank you."
"I am so wowed by your talent. You used paper, kool aid and an inhaler to draw a masterpiece. I feel lucky to have been able to see your work, and I know that other New Yorkers will feel the same. Keep creating."
"I've dreamed the same dreams. The barriers in your way are wrong. We will tear them down some day. Stay strong Dear."

Many people were also surprised at how good the artwork was — but they shouldn't have been.

Just because someone's spent time in prison doesn't mean they can't be a good person — or a talented artist. They're also being compensated for their artwork. While business transactions with incarcerated people are technically illegal, $50 donations have been made to each artist's commissary accounts to help them purchase food and other supplies.

"We're led to believe that people behind bars are dangerous, that we're safer without them, but it's not true," von Furstenberg said. "The fact that anybody would assume that [the art] would be anything less than phenomenal shows that there's this hierarchy: The artist is up on this pedestal, and other people marginalized people are looked down upon.”

Art has always been about connecting people. And for these incarcerated LGBTQ artists, that human connection is more important than ever.

Perhaps the only thing harder than being in prison is trying to integrate back into society — something that most LGBTQ people struggle with anyway. These are people who have already had difficulty expressing who they are on the inside and who are now hidden away from the world behind walls.

On the Inside's art show provided them a unique opportunity to have their voices heard — and hopefully, their individual messages are loud enough to resonate when they're on the outside too.


This article originally appeared on 11.14.16

Trent takes requests for animal drawings and creates them with no mistakes.

Some people are born with a knack or natural talent for certain things, from sports to music to math to art. At some point, it becomes hard to differentiate between people who are highly trained and people who are naturally gifted, but occasionally a person's innate abilities are abundantly clear.

Such is the case with Trent, a 24-year-old artist who has gathered a huge following with his on-request animal mash-up drawings. Trent has over a million followers on TikTok. He also has level 3 autism, which impacts his ability to communicate and necessitates help and support with day-to-day functioning. Trent's parents are his caregivers, and they use TikTok to help Trent share his art, champion his work and answer people's questions about autism.


Autistic people sometimes have unique talents, which can manifest as special abilities in memory, math, music, spatial awareness and more. Trent's parents say he started drawing at as soon as he could hold a pencil. He used to draw on everything—walls, furniture, toys, as well as paper—and his favorite thing to draw is animals. His parents nurtured and encouraged this love of drawing, and when you see how effortlessly he draws people's animal mash-up requests, you can see why.

In a recent video, Trent drew a "disco zebra with an afro," a "boxing gorilla" (which he interpreted a bit differently) and a "tiger butterfly." Watch:

@drawingsbytrent

Check out Trent’s art and merch in his store! #autistic #artist #fyp #trenttok

No pencil sketches. No erasing. No re-doing. Trent is able to draw what he sees in his mind's eye, using a permanent marker to make a line drawing of it in seconds. It's mesmerizing to watch.

People have asked if Trent ever makes a mistake and starts over. His dad says no.

"We have never seen him, in 24 years, crumple up a piece of paper and throw it away and start over," he says.

Very seldomly, he'll draw a line and then shift his idea, never going back to incorporate that line. But otherwise, he just draws.

Check out the recent drawings he's been doing of groups of animals with different facial expressions:

@drawingsbytrent

Reply to @melissabolos #autism #artist #fyp #trenttok

Trent doesn't always use a Sharpie—he usually draws in pen. (Why use a pencil if you don't make mistakes?)

@drawingsbytrent

Real time #trentsview #artist #artistsoftiktok #asd #autism #fyp #foryoupage

And his drawings can get really interesting and creative as well. For instance, here it looks like he made the animals wear their noses and snouts as hats:

@drawingsbytrent

#trenttok #autisticartist #fyp

Trent has been impressing people with his cartoon animal drawings for many years. This video of him drawing chalk animals on the family trampoline went viral in 2017:

Trent now has a coloring book, a children's book (written by his parents and illustrated by Trent), and greeting cards for sale. The Drawings by Trent website also sells t-shirts and explains the purpose of the online store:

"At Drawings by Trent we want to encourage families to help their children achieve their full potential, educate communities on the important role individuals of all skill and ability levels play, and inspire everyone to discover and use their own talents. Part of accomplishing those objectives involves helping Trent become a productive member of society while doing something he loves (that's what we all want, right?). When you purchase a piece of Trent's art you are not only supporting him, you're giving families hope."

It's great when anyone gets to do what they love and get recognized for it. Check out the Drawings by Trent TikTok channel for more.


Maybe it's because I'm a writer, but I'm a bit of a pen snob. Even if I'm just making a list, I look for a pen that grips well, flows well, doesn't put too much or too little ink into the paper, is responsive-but-not-too-responsive to pressure, and doesn't suddenly stop working mid-stroke.

In other words, the average cheap ballpoint pen is out. (See? Snob.)

However, Oscar Ukono is making me reevaluate my pen snobbery. Because while I'm over here turning up my nose at the basic Bic, he's using them to create things like this:


Um, yeah.

Ukonu is a self-taught artist from Lagos, Nigeria, who creates hyperrealistic portraits using just a Bic ballpoint pen. And not the fancy kind—the super simple clear ones with the pointy lids you buy in a 12-pack because you know you're going to lose half of them around the house anyway.

His drawings look like blue-washed photographs, but they're all hand-drawn with a Bic. (Or more accurately, with around 10 Bics, since the nubs start to wear down as he uses them.) How he makes the most average ballpoint pen strokes do what he does seems like nothing short of magic—even when you watch him do it in real-time.

The techniques he uses are pretty standard—hatching (parallel lines), crosshatching (perpendicular lines), and scribbling (basically what it sounds like). But he uses them on a minutely detailed level, working from multiple photos of the same subject, and the result is portraiture that looks so real it's almost surreal.

Artist Draws Hyperrealistic Portraits Using Bic Ballpoint Pensyoutu.be

Ukonu began his journey with hyperrealism when he was in architecture school and fell in love with ballpoint after feeling unsatisfied with the ink pens he was using. "I spent a lot of time looking at different mediums and drawing tools," he told Vsionvry. "But the first time I tried the ballpoint pen that was in 2014, and it just clicked..."

According to his website, Ukonu "explores black identity and pride in an increasingly globalized world, as well as ideas surrounding Afrorealism" in his art. (Afrorealism is a movement that straddles optimism and pessimism about Africa, with a genuine acknowledgment of the difficulties facing the continent and the placement of Africans in the central role of its development.)

Ukonu calls his work "a practice in time and patience" with an average piece taking him somewhere between 200 to 400 hours to complete. That time and patience pays off as prints of his work—not the originals, just prints—can sell for up to $600.

That braid he's working on in the video? That was this. With a Bic ballpoint. How?


And the newspaper wrapped around the woman's head? He has a whole series of pieces that feature that concept, which he calls "THE DISINFORMATION OF A REPUBLIC."



If you're new to hyperrealistic art, it's similar to—and has its roots in—photorealism, a style in which someone draws exactly what they see in a photo. But instead of drawing a direct copy of a photograph, hyperreal artists use photos only as a reference. That's why the video explained that Ukonu used around 20 photographs (out of hundreds taken) to draw one of his pieces. Rather than an exact replica of a single photograph, the final product is a wholly unique image, even though it looks like it could be a photograph.

It's common for hyperrealists to evoke emotional, social, cultural, and political meanings in their works, which shows clearly in Ukonu's art. And the fact that he can create such beautiful images with a cheap, disposable Bic ballpoint is proof that the talent of the artist is more important than the quality of the tools. (A truth that I will keep in mind when I reach for a pen for any purpose after seeing this.)

You can find more of Ukono's work on Instagram and on his website.

Vincent Bal is a Belgian filmmaker with four full-length movies under his belt.

He loves making movies. But he was getting bored.

As a child, he wanted to be an illustrator or cartoonist before his life led him in a different direction. As Bal started to get frustrated with the lengthy production schedules and other time-consuming processes of his chosen art form, he started to think about drawing again.


At first, drawing mostly served as his means of escape and relaxation (although it did occasionally come in handy for storyboards, too). "Doodling is a way to relax for me, and I always feel that it’s my hands that do the thinking. It’s all very subconscious," Bal says. "Very relaxing after working on a script which is a much more rational undertaking."

But during a scriptwriting break in May 2016, one of his doodles took a different turn.

Bal had become distracted by the shadow of a teacup on his desk. The negative light from the curves of the cup cast a curious shape on a piece of paper. So he took a short break from writing to add a few lines where the shadow fell — and suddenly, the shadow was an elephant.

Image by Vincent Bal/Instagram, used with permission.

He posted his "shadow doodle" on Instagram, and it was an instant success with his friends — and with strangers all across the world.

"From Indonesia to Saudi Arabia, to Germany, to the States ... I guess we all share a strange and silly sense of humor," Bal says.

So he kept going, challenging himself to post a new doodle every single day.

Almost all of them are accompanied by some kind of silly pun. He calls the project "Shadowology," and he has already started expanding it into posters and prints, with a possible book and stop-motion film to come.

Here are just a few of the delightful shadow doodles that he's done so far this year:

1. This little swan is the jewel of the pond.

2. This guy's foolproof disguise is an all-in-one package.

3. An investigation through a looking glass.

4. Heavy is the head that wears the ... ring?

5. My, grandma! What big leaves you have!

6. International ocean travel.

7. Hieroglyphics.

8. ♫ Robber ducky, you're the one! You make bath crime lots of fun! ♫

9. Even Dracula could use a pair of dentures.

10. You know what they say: The pencil is mightier.

11. And this catdog is just so amazing that it has to be seen to be believed.

"Shadowology" started as a playful escape. But something really resonated with people in the way that Bal created delight out of darkness.

That wasn't Bal's intention, of course; there was no philosophical statement behind his fun and silly pastime.

"I just like to add something positive and light to the world, without it being stupid," he says. "Some people react to my drawings by saying they look forward to seeing them every day because they bring a smile to their face. In today’s world, that’s not a bad thing to do."