I returned to lessons from life drawing #5 this week after taking off (with my sister) for a persistent sore throat that threatened contagion, and frankly, I needed a break. Instead of class last week, I spent the day at my computer, happily concocting my first spy suspense. Set in Paris and Israel, NIGHTBIRD is a novella for Russell Blake’s upcoming Kindle World and it’s going amazingly well. (Log into the Book Lovers Club secret page for a sneak peek of the cover and Chapter 1.)
I told myself it was okay to miss life drawing as long as I was 1) genuinely sick and 2) working on something the whole time I would have been in class. So I fulfilled my qualifications, but the level of relief I felt wasn’t matching the circumstances. Pay attention to the ebb and flow of relief in your battle against Resistance. It shows what’s winning, and since I’m practicing brutal honesty in this writing exercise, I knew I could have gone to class and probably survived and not infected everyone. But I didn’t. Resistance won this time, as I wrote no essay at all.
Guilt dogged my steps as I immersed further in my novella project last week, even as I felt the good feelings of a new story taking shape on the page—in a way, similar to drawing. The central plot points mapped out. The shape of things to come developed in the first couple of chapters, a shadowy outline. I got Russell’s opinion and approval on my first two chapters and outline, and then really went to work. This week I’m 90 pages in, and I sense plot twists ahead that aren’t in the outline. This book is gonna be good, and I just found out I get to keep ownership of my characters developed in Russell’s World, which makes me very happy because I can take them out of his World and write full length novels with them. I’ve fallen a little in love with Lila Weiss, Jet’s unknown older sister: neurobiologist, ballerina, and part-time spy.
This week our slender tattooed model was back in drawing class, and standing in front of her, I felt powered up on chai tea and attitude. She assumed what the master called a “heroic pose”—standing, gazing into the middle distance, holding a staff with an outstretched arm. Surely, since we have two full classes (six hours) to do her portrait, I could get it right this time.
I found my eyes resting on their usual favorite parts: the ear, lighted like a delicate shell. The top of her slender thigh, a nice long unbroken curve. The arc of her shoulder. In general, I found it easier to look at her body than the male model’s, and I puzzled on this as I diligently set about following the method to the letter this time: dividing the paper into fourths and identifying on the body of the model where exactly those points are, so I could make sure my dimensions were correct.
As I finished the initial planning, I realized that my difficulty looking at the male model had to do with my deep social conditioning not to stare at men—it’s a known come-on to do so. Keeping my eyes averted so as not to draw unwanted attention is deeply ingrained.
Another insight bubbles up: women's bodies are out there for public consumption. We all look at them, comment, opine and judge. Men's, nowhere near, nor in the same way. This has translated for me into strong thoughts and feelings around our female model and a neutral or even shy reaction around the male. I realized I'm sexist, too, and hard on other women. It hurts, to know that. I want that to be different, and from now on, it will be.
The master was in a good mood, crackling with health and energy. I’d already resolved not to draw his attention. No funny quips, no attempts at intellectual repartee to show I'm smart/educated. No, I was going to follow every rule and do it just right and be a quiet, little good girl. I even made plumb bobs for Bonny and me.
Immediately after quartering the paper, I was deep into the struggle. I couldn’t seem to assemble a holistic picture, and taking a week off hadn’t improved things. The neck was too long, the torso too wide, the belly button listed to the left, the hands looked like tiny raccoon paws.
The master came by. “Hmm. Let us mount a little investigation here. If this is here, then this must be here.” He swiftly identified the central problem. “You’re still over-focusing on individual parts.” A few minutes later, tracing down the leg that looked mysteriously wrong, he spotted my original mark delineating where the figure was supposed to end. It was in the middle of the foot, instead of beneath it. “Aha! You went past the reference point. That is going to throw all your dimensions off.”
One error had led to a cascade effect, producing a Dali-esque distortion.
“I didn’t realize it absolutely had to end at the mark. I thought it was—ambiguous,” I said. I kind of like my art to be ambiguous. My writing, too. Layers, possibilities, nothing quite as it seems.
“You’re a rebel,” he said, turning to me with a smile. “I see it now.”
I felt my eyes flare wide with alarm. Not only had he spotted my error, so sneaky I hadn’t consciously acknowledged it myself, but had he read my blog? I felt sweat jump out over my body as I worried I’d offend him.
I’m way too concerned with offending. Truth exists. Sometimes it has to be said. Sometimes it’s ugly. This battle with Resistance, my experience in his class—I’m doing my best to tell the truth about it. But truth is subjective. I remember him saying, “There is no creativity in this class” (tantamount to sacrilege in my experience of art instruction in my life so far) but to say the master doesn’t believe in creativity would be wrong. My impression is that he believes in having objective standards, and mastering them first before getting creative—something I can see the value of.
In spite of my resolution to lay low, I ended up in an intense talk with him during one of the breaks about the evolution of art instruction—I told him I have a habit of drawing, of seeing things a certain way, and this new way is really hard to learn with a lifetime hodgepodge of different instruction under my belt. I wish I’d learned to quarter the paper, use a halving technique and a plumbline when I was a teenager in drawing class, and not when I’m fifty. “I guess everyone has to eventually figure out what their purpose is with their art,” I said.
“Exactly!” he exclaimed. “And everyone has a different purpose.”
That’s what I’m trying to figure out with my drawing, too. But as long as I’m writing about the experience, mining for nuggets of learning and insight, trying to describe things that are challenging and scary, I’m getting my money’s worth—even if my drawings continue to disappoint, and the master wrote MADS on my paper yet again.