Putting a New Spin on the Tradition of Pinup: Meet Girls Drawin Girls
By Bubbles von BonBon
The female form has always been emulated in art with the artists of each period dictating what should be stylized and celebrated in these figures. Traditionally, with the emergence of comic art and design, the predominantly male profession of illustration has often left their female peers to try to reconcile their own artistic desires with the rules already in place regarding what women should look like in a fantasy world of idealized proportions. Essentially, men have been making the rules governing how women should be represented in pinup art.
Animators, artists, and designers have joined forces to form the all female collective Girls Drawin Girls within the visual arts community to change the norms associated with pinup imagery in comics. And they’re showing off their T&A in the process—a girl can get real far these days with Talent and Ambition. Co-founded by Melody Severns of Simpsons fame and storyboard artist Anne Walker in 2006, Girls Drawin Girls has emerged into pinup art culture through varied channels. Organizing events in southern California to showcase their works and collaborating on themed print pinup books, the group seeks to inform us what the female artistic eye beholds as beauty while supporting each of their members’ pursuit of their place in the art world. Their blog features drawings from members old and new, artist spotlights, and links and information for what the girls do outside of their pinup work. Beyond bettering and advancing their own craft and recognition within the field, Girls Drawin Girls makes an effort to contribute to the betterment of the world around them by offering their works and time to charitable causes such as the Pasadena Chalk Festival and GDG’s recent fundraiser for American Red Cross aid in Haiti. While the girls don’t always receive monetary compensation, they are making a bold statement to the world: female artists hold an equally impactful place in the community of visual art.
The approximately 35 artists come from a wide scope of industries with a heavy concentration in the animation field. They share a common goal, proving the prowess of female artists in a male-dominated profession. And their common tastes run toward a more naturally rendered form—after all, don’t we prefer that even boob jobs look lush and appealing with feminine curves, rather than the bulbous forms sometimes inked by their male counterparts? But here’s another thing cool about these girls: even if they are women united in a common art with a common goal, each artist puts such a unique spin on what they believe is beautiful in the female form that it’s like seeing the women that surround you every day in a whole new light. You start looking for superheroes in the supermarket and wondering if the girl you see at the bar secretly likes to wear gardening gloves and a flirty apron. (See here, here, and here for some of my favorites on their blog.)
Female artists have long struggled to gain the recognition they deserve. From Artemesia Gentileschi gaining entrance as the first female artist into the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in the early Baroque period—painting imagery of strong female Biblical heroines typically ignored by her male peers, to the trivialized and still largely unrecognized “Ink and Paint Girls” of Walt Disney Animation that devoted countless hours to adding the extra sparkle and necessary color to produce the dream-like reality of Disney’s full length feature animation in the 1930s and 40s, women have been forced to fight hard against discrimination from their male colleagues, who were often resistant to accepting their artistic contributions. But you cannot complain about exclusion if you are not willing to do the steps necessary to establish yourself in a field, and like female artists of the past, GDG has joined together to prove that the viewer deserves to encounter a variety of aesthetic interpretations, regardless of gender, race, or any other factor related to the artist. They don’t seek recognition as female artists, but rather just as artists—equal to their male counterparts and with images just as powerfully appealing.
The 1940s and 50s are the periods most frequently associated with pinup art. However, unwilling to pigeonhole the pinup form to one particular decade or look, GDG’s first print volume featured the theme, A Girl in Time, offering diverse visions of the female form through the decades and even into the future. What makes their pinup art stand apart from that which is typically associated with mid-twentieth century drawn female forms is that there has been a power exchange. Now rather than women being merely the object of pinup interpretation, they become the subject of an aesthetic statement as women artists look into their own minds to decide what is attractive and illustrate that which allows their female figures the simultaneous opportunity to be both sexy and powerful. Pinup as a medium becomes an evolving art as female artists bring their own set of ideals to the table of artistic discussion. In a similar stance of taking control of how women are portrayed, the second volume by GDG showcased Once upon a Girl, a reinterpretation of fairytales that once again allows the artists to decide what fantasy should look like. If female viewers are the primary audience for fairytales, then female artists should have the opportunity to dictate the imagery associated with those stories.
Reinterpretation to put a female-positive spin on art forms that have been regarded as objectifying to some feminists is similar to another art form enjoying a great resurgence—burlesque. Just as the reemergence of striptease as a form of performance art has increasingly gained popularity among female fans, pinup art offers an opportunity to female artists to take charge of what they want portrayed as beauty in the public eye. Women enjoy sexual arts; but it’s altogether much more satisfying when they have a say in what is being sold as sexy. By choosing what they want to see in female forms, GDG is providing an entirely new and different canon of imagery for female artists after them. Relying on their pens and paints and laptops to illustrate pinups is more than just creating pretty girls to look at; it’s creating new tenets and options for what should be looked at as pretty.
Female artists may submit their portfolios for review to gain entrance to GDG, and a few of the seasoned artists and animators provide feedback for all submissions even if they are not deemed ready to join. There is a strong dedication here to encourage all artists who are searching for the right inspiration or support. Once they are part of the collective, the artists make a commitment to spend time creating images that work toward originating or establishing their own particular brand of pinup art.
The girls are based all over the country, with the majority found along the west coast. They communicate mostly through newsletters and emails, and they work together to produce their shows, printed volumes, and the blog. But there is no hard and fast rule of aesthetic that is accepted into GDG. As they set out to diversify the look of female characters in drawn and animated art, they do not discriminate against variety within their own ranks. This acknowledgment that each of the artists is allowed to embrace what she deems as beautiful in the female form frees each of the artists to embrace making a world as they wish to draw it, unrestrained by any rules except those that they form for themselves.
In terms of what they contribute to art and animation society as a whole, Girls Drawin Girls offers a forum to showcase a variety of female artists around a common theme that doesn’t limit the space for individual interpretation. For some there is a tendency toward strong superhero women, the likes of which haven’t found a strong foothold yet in comics and animation. For others, they turn to classic poses and shapes, yet there is often a tendency to better balance out those more naturalistically drawn bosoms with realistic hips and thighs…even when the small waists still take center stage. In some instances, body shape is not as relevant, the artists deciding instead to bring focus to facial features or a sense of emotion, their pinups evoking more than just a physical presence on the page. GDG gives each of their artists the space and opportunity to present what they see as pinup in its ultimate style. A growing force in the field of pinup art, Girls Drawin Girls is reshaping the lines of illustrative norms, in a way that is proving both fun for its members and highly effective—or addictive—to their fans and viewers.