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More to Love: An interview with artist Elizabeth Patch
Posted by Tee in FGG Guests
New Point of View (with the permission of Elizabeth Patch)

One of the first voices that stood out when FGG made its Twitter debut a few months ago was the encouraging and whimsical @elizabethpatch - artist, teacher, author and lover of the human form in all its myriad shapes and sizes. A browse through her web site, More to Love, and her blog, the More to Love sketchbook, cinched it: this was a woman we wanted to know!

Elizabeth's work as an artist mirrors FGG's core philosophy: even if we're working on becoming healthier, we need to change the way we see ourselves, our place in the world, and what we're capable and deserving of now. We loved her outlook and her portrayal of overweight women so much we asked her if we could dig around in her world a little bit by way of a few questions. Here's what she had to say.

FGG: We found you through Twitter and right away fell head over heels for your† illustrations. They're lively, colorful, whimsical and they instantly evoke feelings of pride and happiness with a full-figured body. When did begin sketching/painting the† human form? How has your work evolved since then?

EP: What a great fun surprise Twitter is, Iím so glad we connected! Iíve been drawing people all of my life, starting with copying comic book heroes and Michelangelo drawings as a kid. When I was an art student I focused on learning human anatomy, and I still love drawing from live models whenever I have the chance. As an art student I did huge, emotional charcoal drawings of nude figures, very dark and full of angst. They look nothing at all like my current style!

FGG: What materials do you use in most of your work (oils, canvas, charcoals,† sketchbooks, digital...)? How often do you produce a piece, and what do you do with most of them?

EP: All of my illustrations start out as scribbled ideas in a kidís doodle pad (really! Iím more creative if I have cheap paper) Once I have an idea I like, I trace it onto smooth white paper. Then the clean drawing is scanned into my computer, and all of the color and detail is added digitally using a program called Painter. I love the messiness of real charcoal and paint, and I still play with them when I can, but for my illustrations I really love the flexibility of working digitally. Itís hard to† estimate the time it takes to make the raw, messy ideas as many of them are thrown out and revised quite a few times. Once I have the drawing done, the final illustrations take between 20-40 hours of painting, depending on how complex the details are. The final versions exist as digital files until printed.

FGG: How does the idea for a particular female form to paint or sketch come to you? Are they all conjured up in your imagination, or are some based on real characters in your world?


EP: I am always doodling the people I see out in public. At a concert I often spend more time looking at the audience than the stage, at the mall Iíd rather people-watch than shop. So I gather ideas from real people. Occasionally, Iíll use a photo or a sketch as a reference, especially if I canít get the pose just right, but I usually draw my characters from the memory of people Iíve seen.

FGG: You're a teacher, you're privy to the lives of young girls struggling with identity, body image, sense of self and how they fit into the world. Tell us about some of the memorable things you've seen over your career?

EP: In 20 years of teaching I have rarely met a girl who hasnít had an issue with her weight, no matter what size she actually is. Itís beyond tragic how girls grow up believing that normal is underweight, and that oneís value is measured in the size jeans that they wear. The most memorable, and most heartbreaking, was when one of my favorite students was at normal weight as a Freshman, returned underweight as a Sophomore, become hospitalized with extreme anorexia as a Junior, ďrecoveredĒ as a Senior, and then died from heart damage 6 weeks before graduation day.

FGG: As an artist with a wonderful eye for depicting full figures in a vital, positive light, I'm sure you must be attracted to other artists that have a similar ability. Can you share a few with us?


EP: Thanks! I love anyone who can really draw well.

FGG: You've said that you, too, struggled with body image. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

EP: Iíve written about my experiences with eating disorders on my website, in an essay called ďBut Elizabeth, Youíre Not Fat!Ē But the short version is that I come from a thin, lanky family and yet still felt that I needed to be thinner to be more attractive. I fell into anorexia after a series of very stressful events in my life as a struggling single mother of two. Thankfully I was never too ill to care for my children! I really woke up to the pointlessness of wasting time and energy on being super thin when I started working with all these young girls repeating the same destructive body image attitudes that I had grown up with.

FGG: I checked out some of your previous interviews, and loved the line about how you traded in "Do I look fat in this?" to "Do I look good in this?" Tell us how those kinds of attitude shifts, along with your artistic process in painting and sketching women with realistic body types, has changed how you see yourself, and your relationship to the rest of the world?

EP: Isnít it amazing how one word can change that entire question around? Once I began working on More to Love, which truly started out just as doodles and journal entries, I started reading every single thing I could on the topic of self esteem, body image, and fat acceptance. I began to see that my experiences, and those of my friends and family and students were not just personal, but almost universal. I wanted to share the messages I was discovering! I knew that I really couldnít say anything new on those topics, but I might be able to say it in a new way, in a gentler, funnier, softer way. I know I canít change the fact that most photographs of models and stars are altered to be impossibly flawless, and that fashion still insists on calling size 12 plus-size (!). I know I canít change the fact that the cute illustrations of women on cards, magazines, even blogs are skinny girls happily shopping for shoes (nothing against shoe shopping mind you!) But I have a gift for drawing people, and a passion for healing this wound that has harmed so many women, and so without really even planning it, Iíve become an advocate for size acceptance and positive body image through my art.

FGG: Do you see any changes in recent years about attitudes toward overweight women and how they're depicted in the media (or represented in the marketplace)?

EP: Without question, there has been a very recent shift in attitudes towards larger women. One the one extreme hand, there are groups of hateful fat-bashers that blame obesity for everything from the failing health care system to low test scores in children, but on the other hand, there are books, movies, TV shows, blogs, online magazines, stores, fashion and resources for big girls that werenít available even five years ago. There is a growing movement for ďhealth at every sizeĒ rather than just a narrow focus on size as an indicator of health. The plus-size (really the normal) woman is no longer as invisible as she was, even though it is still somewhat surprising to see anyone in the media that is not rail thin.

FGG: We're big Etsy lovers here, and I would think your work would strike a chord there. Do you sell your prints on Etsy.com, or have you considered it?

EP: I love Etsy too! Iím still juggling my teaching position with my artistic life, and right now I havenít had the time to set up and maintain a shop. Hopefully I will pair up with the right partner to help me put out a line of prints and cards, and maybe a calendar, in 2010.

FGG: You published your first illustrated book, More to Love, on Amazon earlier this year, and I understand you're working on a second book. Can you give us a hint about it?

EP: OK, just a hint, as Iím still working out the details with a publisher. The next book will be along the same line as More to Love, short messages paired with fun illustrations, with the intention of putting a lighter touch to an often painful topic. Each page will feature a ďBig GirlĒ who is doing everything and anything except crying. And Iím also working on an expanded version of More to Love! Because as we all knowÖbigger is better!

FGG: Our missions are just about identical: to encourage women to live full, exciting and satisfying lives NOW instead of waiting until they're a magical size or weight. What would you say to FGG readers about that philosophy?

EP: Yes, yes and yes! Each of us gets our own amazing body for the duration of our life, and any moment that is spent wishing, pretending or agonizing over having a different body is time that you will never get back. It is commonly said that nobody ever says on her deathbed ďI wish I had spent more time at the office." I donít think anybody will ever say on their deathbed ďI wish I had spent more time feeling bad about my buttĒ or ďIím so glad I stopped myself from doing (whatever) because I thought I was too fat." Itís your life; live it up!

FGG: OK, before you go: tell us something most people don't know about you?

EP: HmmmÖso many secrets, so little time! Even though nobody ever sees it except my husband, and despite having a ďmommy belly,Ē I have a gold ring in my navel, just for fun.

Thank you, Elizabeth! Elizabeth's illustrated book, More to Love, is available for purchase at Amazon.com.