The Art Assignment


Make a Cut-Out with Cécile McLorin Salvant

Cécile McLorin Salvant is a visual artist and Grammy Award-winning jazz singer, and she shares with us an art assignment on creating your own Theme and Variation Cut-Out.

AIRED: July 28, 2020 | 0:06:50


I'm Cécile McLorin Salvant, I'm a jazz singer and a visual artist.

Your assignment is to draw a simple outline of a human body.

Keep doing that until you find one that you really like.

Then, draw variations of that outline playing with the limbs and proportions.

Pick four of your favorite outlines and copy those onto some stiff paper.

It can be watercolor paper or that cereal box cardboard.

Cut those outlines out and tape a piece of string on the back of it so that you can hang

it wherever you’d like.

(Sarah) When I reached out to you, did you have an idea right away of an assignment?

(Cécile) I immediately thought of embroidery, but I know that it is a little bit involved.

I think it’s less about embroidery and more about silhouettes.

Because I’ve been playing with this type of silhouette, and I think it is really fun

to do...can you see it?

This kind of guy of guy.

(Sarah) The one with the wobbly arms?

(Cécile) Yeah, or like this kind of guy.

The process is usually, I’ll draw a lot on paper, and then if something catches my

eye that’s worth spending 3-4 months on, I’ll start to embroider.

(Sarah) How do you think about your artmaking?

How do you frame it for others?

(Cécile) I think I’ve just been a little shy with really coming forward with my visual


Even though the Instagram is sorta a safe haven for me, and the Internet is a place

where I can post things and not worry about them.

I’ve started to, little by little, accept that I do like to make visual art.

I’m very uncomfortable calling myself a visual artist but that’s what I do...that’s

what I do most of the day.

(Sarah) Yeah, that was actually one of the questions I was going to ask you.

Are there kinds of characters that you find yourself coming back to again and again?

(Cécile) There are these characters...a lot of the times they’re silhouettes.

Big shaped characters, usually they’re women--usually they’re bald, fat shaped women and I don’t

know why.

It’s just something that keeps coming up.

Lately I’ve been playing with messing with the shapes a little bit more.

It’s kind of like a stick figure... how a stick figure is so clear what it is without

a lot of lines or shading.

There’s nothing.

I really like...that’s just me being attracted to really graphic things...where with just

one movement you’ve created not only a character but also a mood...their mood and their feelings.

(Sarah) Maybe you can tell us about Ogresse?

(Cécile) It’s basically like a musical fairytale or like a musical fable.

And I sing all the characters and I play all the characters and I’m also am the narrator.

The process with that..this is the first time that I’ve really married both my drawings

and my music together.

I had done album covers, but it was always like “oh we need an album cover..let’s

just do it.”

This is really like, “what does the character look like?”

“what do the plants look like?”

“what do the animals look like?”

I had done a series of drawings that I turned into a zine called “The Invisible Woman.”

And this sort of shaped character kept coming up and I think that became “The Ogresse”.

So I think it is a situation where the music was written in direct influence of drawings

and ideas of shapes of people that I kept having over and over again.

I sing jazz, which is a music of theme and variations.

Which is a music of like, you have a song and you improvise variations on that song

and on that interpretation and on that performance.

And you can vary it a little bit or you can make it this completely abstract, unrecognizable


And looking at the cutouts here...what would that mean if the song is the person and my

variation on it is the flower, or the butterfly, or whatever abstract weird shape that ends

my variations.

How can I really push it musically to the point of it being unrecognizable?

I mean I don’t usually do that, there’s still always something there and I still remain

close to the theme, but how does it affect your perception to really work on, like, exaggerating

or making something small?

What changes when that happens?

(Sarah) Are there any, like, practical tips?

(Cécile) I think bigger is better because it’s just easier to cut and it is more dramatic

that way.

I think focus on the general lines.

This is something that you’re cutting out, this is almost halfway between a drawing and

a sculpture, so just remember that.

(Sarah) So when you look at your finished work, what do you think about?

(Cécile) To be honest, right now, I think about social distancing.

And the fact that they’re always at a certain distance from each other.

Like, I’m very interested now in social distancing and I’ve been playing around

with that idea, I guess, in my drawings and my music too.

This weird dance you now have with people...if you move forward they have to move back and

if they move forward you have to move I think that’s what this makes me think



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