Drawing Our Idols

It’s not a new practice for artists to draw their idols. The staggering amount of fan art found on the internet is a clear indication of that. We seem to have a fascination with recreating the image of someone who inspires us. Why would we do that when a photo would suffice? I’m not sure I can answer the question for everyone, but I can answer it for myself.

In the wake of the untimely passing of singer and songwriter Chris Cornell, I find myself with a multitude of emotions I’m not quite sure how to process yet. He was a musical idol of mine and though I never met him or knew him personally I felt connected to him through the music he made. I drew or painted him and the members of Soundgarden on several occasions since my teens, as they are one of my favourite bands of all time.

For me, drawing musicians, characters, and actors I admire has a few motivations. Sometimes it’s something interesting or engaging about the way they look. Sometimes it’s the lighting in a photograph I want to try to practice replicating. But more than anything it’s done in tribute. It’s my way of saying that I am connecting with this person to the point that they have inspired me to recreate their image by hand. I’m taking the time to do that because it brings me joy to do so and maybe in some way, make me feel more connected to them.

Left to Right: A mixed media piece from late 90’s I created of Soundgarden’s album cover “Superunknown”, Sketchbook drawings of the band’s name and a charcoal piece from one of my high school art classes of Soundgarden guitarists Kim Thayil and Chris Cornell.RedRead

As a creative person, I can identify with the need to express myself and my emotions through an art form. For a long time for me, that was through writing and playing music. There’s something about taking the ugliness of an emotion and turning it into something beautiful like music through a song. There’s a catharsis in it. So when you find someone who can do that on a high level and who is saying the things you are thinking and feeling through a song, it’s hard not to feel instantly connected to that. You realize you are not alone. Your heartbreak is also everyone’s heartbreak. Your joy and anger have also been felt. It takes what sometimes can feel like isolating feelings and creates a musical form of empathy.

Left to Right: Sketchbook drawing of Soundgarden from 1996, acrylic painting of Chris Cornell from the early 2000’s and a marker sketch from college 2006.

There’s certainly a fascination with idol worship in our culture. Part of why I think as artists we are inspired to draw celebrities or characters is because they possess some sort of quality we wish for ourselves. Maybe it’s their beauty, strength or bravery. Maybe it’s that we admire their talent and how they express themselves through their art form. Sometimes they are able to say things in a way we aren’t able to express ourselves. Whatever the motivation is, the common factor is that there is a personal connection.

Some will say, what about idolizing REAL people? To that I ask, are artists, actors, and musicians somehow not actual people? They have the same strengths and weaknesses as the rest of us. We all breathe the same air. Yes, they are in the spotlight, but that doesn’t absolve them of humanity. We create art in tribute to them, to show our admiration because art is an expression and we express love through it as we do any other emotion. Artists are constantly recreating what we see from reality. Sometimes that reality is even in our imaginations, but it’s real to us none the less.

My latest but not my last drawing of Chris Cornell in colored pencil on Strathmore toned gray paper from 2017.

I want to end with a quote since this blog post for me is as much about why we draw our idols as it is why we mourn them. I’m not sure who to attribute this quote to so I apologize for not crediting them, but the sentiment of this is perfect.

“For people who don’t understand why others mourn the death of artists, you need to understand that these people have been a shoulder to cry on. Our rock. They’ve been family, friends, leaders, teachers and role models. Many have taught us what we need to do when times get rough. They’ve helped us move on. They’ve pushed us out of bed. They’ve helped us live when nobody else had the time to. Artists have inspired us in endless ways and have been with us through stages in our lives. We’ve made memories with them. So when they die, a part of us dies.”
– Unknown

Rest in peace Chris Cornell, Your music will live on…

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