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As part of a drawing class, we went to a ballet school in San Francisco for gestural drawing of the figure in motion. A mature ballet instructor led her youthful students who were at the beginning of their professional careers, while a teenage girl pounded classical ballet tunes from an old piano. All the while, we were pushing and scratching charcoal on our sketch pads, trying to keep up. At a certain point, with the piano so loud, the movements of the instructor so precise and graceful, and the students so bursting with energy, my perception switched to a mode where I saw sheets of luminous colors trailing and emanating from the dancers and everyone in the room. It was as though I was perceiving octaves of color I had never seen before. It was a very moving experience.
The following week, my anatomy class went to the University of California Medical Center cadaver lab to study interior anatomy. Looking at the bodies on the metal tables, I was struck by a strange discord. The body shapes were familiar enough having drawn them hundreds of times, but they were so absolutely devoid of that central quality that had so dominated my attention, that fleeting color which now seemed so obvious by its absence. The dead appear dead because they are opaque. The capillaries have collapsed and color only bounces off and falls flat. Gone was that luminous quality of being human that I had only realized then that I had been seeing the whole time, that elusive non-physical quality that the great portrait artists seem to see so clearly.
And so, walking home from that class, I carried this new vision, as though I could see not only the brightness of this glowing life, but the colors and qualities of personality. A group of junior high girls walked by laughing and screaming with one another in bright canary colors. A businessman in a self-absorbed angular stride exuded a tangled array of muted cool and warm tones. A poor homeless man on the sidewalk dimly flickered with a pale blue light so delicate that it seemed that the slightest puff may just blow it out. And countless others I passed radiated tones throughout this new range of colors that I tried to adapt to. And so now, in my art, it is possible to see with the endocrine glands, together with the eyes, a kind of life color that we are all, perhaps, already familiar with. Or so it seems.
Tim Sunderman is an illustrator who is also a fulltime college graphic design instructor in the San Francisco Bay Area. Never content in a single medium, he has experimented broadly with photography, video, writing, and even marble sculpture. But graphic design still pays the bills. Website: www.timsunderman.com
Photographer: Shannon Lee Schureman / www.shannyleephotography.com
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By Tim Sunderman

June 2009                                                                                                                                                           Pg 2                                                                                                                    life design music photography home us film art fashion global notes archive