Diving Into my Senior Year Art Book, pt. 2

Reviewing and examining three “trends” I took note of in my Senior Year Art Book.

Rather than try and concoct a chronology about the evolving artistic choices I made throughout my Senior Year Art Book, I wanted instead to highlight certain trends or groups of pages about similar things. The first of these blogs focused on the twelve sketchbook pages I used to create my AP Art Concentration and the kinds of things I was thinking about (or trying to say) when I made each of those works. In this particular piece I want to go over three specific groups of pages from my art book; each focuses on a different “obsession.” At 17 I consumed music, video games, cartoons, and graphic novels voraciously. These days I just sort of sit and simmer with a lot of media, and I’m happy to enjoy most of it as a fan – but at the time I was cycling through tons of media as inspiration for my art. I funneled a lot of that into my sketchbook, and a lot of that is basis for the sketches in this show and tell.

Drag Queens,

It’s improbable (not impossible) that you were unaware of RuPaul’s Drag Race if you were a young gay in and around 2010. And say what you will about the show in 2020 now that we’ve all gotten older, woker, and conversations around queer representation in televised media have evolved (I too have had, and am having these conversations), it meant the world to me, seeing drag queens on TV as a gay teenage. Actually, it still means the world to me. It’s huge that the TV show became the phenomenon it did and that a large number of its contests have gone on to become celebrities, musicians and make-up brand moguls in their own right. 

Season 3 was my first season of Drag Race – it was for many – and nearly an exact decade since airing it’s still widely regarded by the fanbase as one of the best. Through interviews, podcasts and other media, we’ve heard from various contestants how intense the experience of participating in that season was, and in by the end, the Top 3 queens that season: Alexis Mateo, Manila Luzon, and Raja, each had three challenge wins under their belts. 

Raja did it for me the most. She won that season, and her strong eye for fashion, perfect make-up, and statuesque figure translated to even the most layman of sheltered gay teenagers who knew nothing about drag. My favorite winner of the show to date, she inspired the second and third sketches included here. My original approach to the art book is most clear in the first and second of these excerpts: I wanted for there to be some kind of visual relationship between the right and left sides. This was my “rule” for the book all throughout senior year of high school. I don’t really know, just by looking at each grouping, which page I worked on first, the right or the left. But I remember working on spreads from both ends: sometimes writing and sketching on the right and waiting to find the perfect magazine clipping to accompany it on the left, or finding a great magazine clipping, glueing it on the left page, and over time developing the right page to match it in some way.

I took a different approach to the last of the three sketches. It’s also one I finished around the end of my first year of college – so give or take nearly two years since I started the book. By then my left/right thing had already begun to dissolve, and I just wanted to put things in the book that felt good. There’s also a ton more effort and work put into the third excerpt: pen on paper, marker on glassine, charcoal on newsprint, a napkin flower, Tiffany earrings from a NYT newspaper – I really wanted this to be beautiful.

My Friends,

I think I was blessed with immensely creative friends in high school. From the outset these were people I could talk with about music, cartoons, art styles, our personal projects… I envied that every one seemed more talented than me at using digital art applications and drawing tablets, and that they were able to implement their anime influences to their art successfully. And I’ve come to realize the creative people I surround myself with matter, because the same way my studio neighbors influence me today, my college friends were instrumental to my artist identity during the college years, so were my high school friendships instrumental to forming my identity as an artist then. And those friends went on directly influence the kinds of drawings and paintings I made. 

In undergrad I painted a portrait of my friend Gina, and have a portrait of her waiting for me on my studio wall for when quarantine ends, but so far she’s still my only college friend whose likeness made it into my art. By comparison a ton of those close high school friends whose art I admired and cared about became subjects of my drawings and my devotion. I’ve had an ongoing superhero meta-universe in my head for nearly a decade, choreographing battle scenes to my favorite songs. In 2011 this universe was in its infancy, and my friends were some of my biggest character inspirations – both their personalities and appearances. In the order they were made, here are the sketches for Brenda, Hakeem, Elizabeth, and Jasmine.

Brenda’s was first, and since I made hers as a pen drawing I decided the rest of them should be pen drawings on notebook paper as well. She’s a “gunner” class (an artillery agent with great overall damage output but low accuracy) and her design is inspired by Gorillaz artwork. Hakeem’s drawing was inspired by all things anime and other Naruto-esque ideas aka that big rope tied around his waist. I’m not married to the rope design anymore. He is some kind of a samurai (a lone swordsman who follows a code of honor and yields a sharp katana). Elizabeth’s appearance was inspired by the clothes she wore and that she is depicted as a fairy is also directly inspired by her work – she spent much of senior year creating incredible watercolors of fairies. Here her class is spelled “faerie” to denote she could be a different species than human (generally elven or faerie species are aligned with magic and at times mischief). Jasmine’s character probably has my favorite design with is heavily inspired by the mime character class in the original Final Fantasy Tactics video game (a mime has the ability to copy another character’s fighting moves, and in some cases literal special abilities). These characters live on by the way, and they’ve all evolved to be capable of much more than their original character classes imply. Hopefully some day I’ll be able to put pen to paper again and draw the rest of the crew.

Red Junos, 

Finally are the “red Junos,” who aren’t specific characters necessarily, but are the result from an extended desire to draw elongated, jester-esque figures. It’s likely I just had the red construction paper laying around and I decided to use some of my favorite fine tip sharpies to draw gestural figures and then drew clothing on top. I made seven of these drawings but decided to highlight my five favorite here. 

The impetus here is that they are all “me” if I was maybe seven feet tall, had  arms to my knees, and hair to my waist. And in some ways I can see how they are reflections of how I felt or how I projected and idealized my otherness: elf ears, weird clothes, bare feet, weird skeletons. But also large hands and very long hair – all exaggerated versions of what I thought were some of my better features along with features I wish I had. I notice a devotion in these drawings, a devotion to exploring impossibility. That I’ve named these drawings “red Junos” shouldn’t imply that I see them all as different drawings of myself, instead that these are all drawings who inevitably look like me because I gravitate towards projecting ideas onto my image as opposed to images of other people. ■

– Juno Zago

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