#OtherPeople: Drawings of Terrilynn

I added the stars in her sunglasses because both Terrilynn and I agree that she will be very famous soon enough. You might not know her now, but you will.

I added the stars in her sunglasses because both Terrilynn and I agree that she will be very famous soon enough. You might not know her now, but you will.

I met up with Terrilynn Cantlon, an alumna from my college, in early May. I’ve always seen this amazing tour-de-force on campus — everyone knew who Terrilynn was — but I never worked up the courage to talk to her, despite knowing how open and friendly she is. During my last week in town before I made my big move to Los Angeles, I posted a status update on Facebook about how I was down to meet up before I leave, that no one would be bothering me, that I needed to take a break from packing anyway. Terrilynn was the first person to contact me to grab coffee together.

I mentioned it to her beforehand that I’ve been taking pictures of people, mostly friends, as my drawing references and asked if she would be interested in being a subject. I wasn’t going to make money off of these sketches, it was primarily for practice as I hadn’t been drawing since I graduated a year ago. Terrilynn immediately and excitedly agreed.

FYI: she gave me permission to use her full name and allowed me to mention in this post that she is a transgender woman. I also double-checked the following information she gave me with her before publishing my excerpt of her personal story. I think everyone in the world would be honored to get to know Terrilynn as she is just about the most interesting person I’ve ever had the pleasure of grabbing coffee with. A month later and I am still thinking about our conversation.

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As I snapped pictures of her for the next 3 hours, Terrilynn told me stories about her life: how she worked as a software and hardware engineer for 20+ years in the Bay Area and was a bonafide expert in her field who was ahead of her time. How she lost her job when she transitioned due to transphobic prejudice. How she became homeless and had to use bathrooms and sleep next to ovens on the roofs of pizza parlors, to survive and stay warm. How she starved and was only able to stave off hunger by consuming free coffee and cookies at group meetings and eating $1.00 hamburgers. How she saved up enough money to go to Thailand to have her genital confirmation surgery while living in a van. How common an experience it was for her to get fired, find a second minimum wage job a few days later, and lose it just as quickly all in the same week because of transphobia. How she has been continually harassed for being visibly trans, having once been arrested for “Walking While Trans” and was incarcerated for 10 days without a lawyer or a phone call.

How she used her charismatic voice to work as a radio personality for a time, once causing employees at a Burger King to cry in recognition when they heard her speak. How she would give away her money to random people around her. How she eventually went back to school and became the valedictory co-graduation speaker at City College of San Francisco, later transferring to Mills College where she obtained both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees — as indicated by the beautiful graduation rings she proudly wore on her fingers. How she helped build up the Center for Academic Excellence on campus that provides academic assistance for writing students. How she, as an MA student was selected to present her paper at a Medieval convention in front of Ph.D doctorates and had charmed them so thoroughly, despite transphobic and sexist comments, that she has been approached and scouted by Ivy League schools to join their Ph.D programs. How she is now 54 years old, a rarity for a trans woman who, as she told me, statistically many do not live past their early-to-mid twenties, especially trans women of color who are hit hardest from systemic racism and violence in addition to transphobia.

Terrilynn has very expressive hands.

Terrilynn has very expressive hands.

The colored version.

The colored version.

At many points of our conversation (honestly, I didn’t even talk very much, I was just listening, blown away by everything she was telling me), Terrilynn stressed to me that because of all her experiences, she only wanted to live her life the way she wanted to. Even if there are risks. Even if she fails. She could skin her knees and hurt herself while trying to live her dreams and fly, but hey, she’s flying.

This is "Coffee Cup Terrilynn," as coined by the subject. She was most excited about this picture as I was (it was my favorite photo of her) because this is how everyone knows her: with an ever-present cup of coffee.

This is “Coffee Cup Terrilynn,” as coined by the subject. She was most excited about this picture as I was (it was my favorite photo of her) because this is how everyone knows her: with an ever-present cup of coffee.

Thank you again, Terrilynn!

How I Did It: Like I did with Arun’s drawing, I sketched everything out with a mechanical pencil based off the photos I took of her and scanned them. I then uploaded the images onto Adobe Photoshop Elements 8 where I fixed up and rearranged any details. Using the same app, I colored the drawings and plugged in text. Contrary to popular belief, I didn’t upload the photographs onto Photoshop and draw out the lines that way — it’s just not as fun for me! I like working off of pictures. Fun fact: I used my laptop trackpad to color, not a tablet. Yeah…I know… >__>

I do own a digitizing tablet (from Bamboo, a gift courtesy of my boyfriend) and yes, I could’ve just used that or even a mouse instead of putting so much tedious effort into coloring with a trackpad. I actually haven’t taken the time yet to learn how to use one with a stylus (not a great excuse, I know) but I will do just that starting this month (sorry for the years-long wait, Mike).


This Probably Only Interests Me: I took photos of my month-long progress drawing Terrilynn. You can check them out under the cut.

Took this image of my sketchbook and iced vanilla latte at the cafe before she arrived.

Took this image of my sketchbook and iced vanilla latte at the cafe before she arrived.

Sketching out the first image.

Sketching out the first image.

Finished the sketch on my work desk.

Finished the sketch on my work desk.

I can’t gush enough about how much I adored Terrilynn as my muse for the last month. She has these fascinating and beautiful features, like her expressive hands and smile, that I was drawn to and took great pleasure in sketching out and coloring.

I paid a lot of attention to the details of her hair and clothing lines on her dress. For hours, my eyes would be glued to close-ups of her knuckles and facial lines as I steadily worked and reworked the sketch until I got it right, leaving behind gray pencil smears on my hand and eraser scraps everywhere.

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Coloring on Photoshop Elements.

Coloring on Photoshop Elements.

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I’ve been associating #otherpeople with color schemes: Arun as black and gray, “Random Guy” as chartreuse and purple. With Terrilynn, it seemed fitting that I saw her most connected to various shades of pink, magenta, and purple. I colored some aspects like her graduation rings and eyes with more real-life hues and since she’s such a passionate person, I decided to do multiple colors as the drawing backgrounds.

Re: coffee cup. I kept it green like the one she was drinking out of then went quite overboard with the shadowing and highlighting. I wanted the cup details to be super eye-catching and practically gleaming off the screen.

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More drawings of #otherpeople: [Arun] [Random Guy] [Terrilynn]


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1 comment
  1. When you see a person only for their courage, compassion and humanity, that’s a choice. When you can express those qualities through the lens of your art, that’s a talent. When your gift is a voice to those who are silenced, then you are on the side of the angels. Very good work, Mel. This is the right track. Very proud of you.

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