After seeing penises on everything from sculptures to scribbles on blackboards and public bathroom walls, I realised I didn't even know how to draw a vulva. So I drew some.
produced by: Jorid Jønland
On drawing vulvas
During the process, I learned that there are few places out there where you can take out your laptop and google reference photos of vulvas without appearing creepy. It also turned out drawing vulvas was more complicated than I had anticipated. They all look different and asymmetrical and weird and cool. Coming to terms with my own inability to draw a photo-realistic vulva, I settled for something more stylistic and more akin to crudely drawn dicks in bathroom stalls. In my simple drawings, I found an oddly hypnotising pattern. One shape with a smaller, darker shape inside with a smaller, darker shape inside... How deep could I go? Continuously expanding the shapes and letting new ones appear also gave me the opportunity to play with variations of colour. How far could I go in terms of hue, saturation and brightness before it no longer looked healthy and human?
The colours are randomly generated with a range of hues from red to orange and start with having high saturation and low brightness. As the shape expands, the saturation and brightness gradually shifts towards randomly generated values in the opposite range. Thus, the smaller shape is always darker and gives the simple sketch a feeling of depth and growth. This feeling of depth, however, comes at the cost of darker colours. In the way I generate colours, most of the vulvas are drawn end up as being medium-to-light, essentially ignoring a part of the diverse spectrum of skin colours that is already too often underrepresented.
On drawing hairs
The ever-expanding vulvas I was sketching out were missing a crucial ingredient. Human bodies are never smooth and symmetrical with crisp, clear lines. In an attempt to bring some organic life into my sketches, I started doodling hairs. They turned out to be notoriously difficult to both draw and program, and ultimately crashed my program the day before our pop-up exhibition. The first lines I drew were drawn straight out from the centre at a constant speed and looked more like quills on a porcupine than human hairs. Varying the values of one of the axes using perlin noise didn't quite make it look like hairs either, but rather smooth curves. Adding a small bit of variance to the other axis, essentially compressing and stretching out the line as it was drawn, solved the issue of the lines looking too smooth.
The hairs are drawn from the centre of the drawing, one by one. In order to make them appear at different locations each time, reasonably spaced, I borrowed a trick from this video about plants and maths. I also added a bit of randomness to keep it from looking too well organised. The hairs themselves are stored as polylines to which the programs add a vertex every twenty frames. When drawing fifty hairs, this process slows down the program considerably. And when drawing nine different vulvas at once, the program crashes. Future iterations of this program would most likely have to include a different way of drawing the hairs that requires less points along the lines, perhaps by drawing curves between points instead of straight lines.
On drawing trees
Drawing further on the idea of organic movement and growth, I decided to add leaves to the already quite branch-looking hairs. After making the lines slightly thicker and lighter in colour, the program finds five randomly selected points along the line and draws growing leaves. When looking for ways to draw the leaf shape, I realised the shape of the vulva itself would work perfectly. The result are simple looking branches and leaves. I wish I would have taken the time to make them slightly more complex, with different colour variations on the leaves, several branches growing out of the same tree and some movement through the leaves.
Due to the program crashing during its second phase, I simply showed the first part without the hairs and the trees in our pop up exhibition. The piece then lost the feeling of organic growth that I wanted to convey during the second and third phase of my program. However, the object that I projected the sketch onto added some movement and texture to it. The shape reminded me of a gem, reflecting different facets of the same body part.
By spending too much time on the initial sketch and too little time on integrating it with the projection mapping library, I was caught unaware by the bug in my program. I consider it a lesson learned (the hard way!) and hope to plan my time a little better next time.
Inspiration for my vulva drawings: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/ng-interactive/2016/sep/23/draw-a-vulva
Vagina guerrilla, who advocates more drawings of vulvas in public places: http://vaginaguerilla.tictail.com/about