Finding a Likeness: How I Got Somewhat Better at Art

Penguin Pr. Apr. 2024. 352p. ISBN 9781984881397. pap. $35. MEMOIR
National Book Critics Circle Award winner Baker (Human Smoke) tries his hand at illustration. While he has tackled heavy topics such as World War II and secret government programs in previous works, this book is a joyful and often humorous respite. Baker chronicles his artistic growth from 2019 through 2022, showcasing his many sketches, landscapes, still lifes, and portraits. His subjects include nature photographs, portraits of activists, and images of ordinary scenes. The book includes asides in art history (about John Singer Sargent) and social history (about Dorothy Day). Baker took art courses and used social media for further guidance and finding styles and subjects. The pages are dominated by artwork, and the text ranges from caption-length to a few paragraphs per page. The book’s tone is humorous yet optimistic, Baker’s reactions to his own work range from self-deprecating to satisfied, and readers can trace the development of his skills. Nuggets of art advice, about tracing and digital enhancement, are scattered throughout.
VERDICT A fun chronicle of a writer’s attempt to get better at visual art, which will likely inspire readers to give it a go as well.
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