The Norse goddess seems to glow in the light admitted from the high, sunshine-filled windows in this, the last of my lessons from life drawing. It would be hard to find depth on her perfectly-done marshmallow goldenness if it weren’t for the light source slightly above and to the right of her, casting shadow and highlight to assist in filling in the shape captured with such difficulty and correctness on the grid of my paper.
For the first time in the whole class, I try to draw the model’s face on this, my final rendering of an arduous eight weeks. She’s long in the jaw, high in the cheekbones, and that slight smile she wears is created by prominent teeth. She’s interesting-looking rather than beautiful, yet projects beauty so well it takes real detective work to discover that the sum is greater than the parts.
During one of the breaks, I ask her how she heard about the class. “Craigslist.”
“What did it say?” I ask, thinking of my spoof ad from last week.
She shrugs. “Artist’s model wanted for drawing school. It didn’t seem sketchy once I saw the website.” I feel let down by how prosaic this is.
The master is mellow today, and he gives me some minor correction and says, “very good. Just study the shadows and record what’s there. It will round out the form.”
There’s a lighthearted camaraderie among us, the triumph of marathoners crossing a finish line, and a bond with the master. He jokes about locking all of us in the studio to draw all day and see who will survive, like an artistic torture reality show. (I already felt the class was like that, the longest three hours ever.)
I’m still unsure what my conclusion is as I decide that, though the truest representation yet of a figure that I’ve done so far, my picture doesn’t do justice to the Norse goddess. The sunlight trapped in her tan seems to emit its own light. Even the best of our drawings failed to capture that shimmery quality, and her mysterious charisma that read as beauty but perhaps was something else.
Here are some of the nuggets I gleaned from the exercise of drawing and writing about it:
- I am really pretty hard on myself. One of my journalist friends who I asked to critique these blog posts pointed out that, after reading two, she wanted me to lighten up and she took issue with my self-description as a “sheepdog.” “It worked as a word picture, but it’s not accurate,” she said. (I modify the analogy to “as different as a whippet is from a golden retriever,” which is more true, and kinder.)
- I’m not sure I had any great breakthroughs but I persisted and endured, and in this situation that was still an extraordinary achievement. It reminds me of when I did ten days in a row of Bikram “hot yoga,” a 90 minute class in a 105 degree room. Just being able to master my body to the degree that I finished felt like a revelation. I'll try hard shit and keep at it; I'm as brave as the models who posed naked before us. I like that in me, in others, and in my characters too.
- I noticed the differences between how we view men’s and women’s bodies, and I became more aware of my own biases and critical attitudes toward other women. It changed me to encounter this.
- It’s really challenging to attempt to learn something new and be bad at it for an extended period of time. Most people give up, or never put themselves in the position to experience that in the first place. Doing so makes you feel acutely alive, though, as Hugh Howey recently said in his eloquent blog post, “False Summits.”
- Beauty is more than Mass, Angles, Distance and Shapes. Sometimes even an accurate rendering fails to capture some essence that can only be experienced. (Words do a better job of describing this than a 2D drawing in pencil, at the very least.)
- A master who pushes and challenges is a much better teacher than one who flatters and allows mediocrity. I think of all the writers I’ve been mentoring and administered painful critique to, and I resolve to continue to be that kind of teacher, even when it’s difficult for all involved.
- The war against Resistance is constant, ever changing, and fought on many fronts. No growth happens without effort and that effort is necessary to reach any potential. I’m going to outwit, outplay, outlast Resistance, and I’ll never stop climbing the mountains before me to the best of my ability, because that makes me feel truly alive.
You’ll next hear from me from me traveling as Mike and I do our road trip from Seattle to Alaska and back. Thanks for coming along for the ride!
Did I miss anything that you picked up from the blog posts?
Toby, it has been such a privilege and an honor to be on this journey with you. I have been so impressed by how deeply you struggled, and how naked and vulnerable you have been in your honesty about that. I am so very proud of you for sticking with this process and not letting Resistance win. I am truly humbled by the strength and tenacity you have inside of you!
Bless you for being such a faithful friend, reader and witness to my struggles on paper. I value you.
Toby, I love this blog. It is so interesting to read your reactions to a challenge like this one, your feelings, questions, insights. It is truly a gift to be able to express yourself with such clarity. Thanks so much.
I feel so blessed to have found your writings, and to share a bit of your life. Thanks.
Jean, Mahalo for commenting and following along! It makes it worthwhile to have tried to share the experience.
Toby, thanks so much for this blog, your honesty with your feelings is remarkable. I connected with your blog on so many levels. When I was in my twenties I was an artists model in New York and did it because it paid extremely well and in cash! What I found however was it was one of the best jobs I ever had. I loved standing or sitting still and meditating, and then during the break looking at the students work and seeing what they thought I looked like. At the time, I wanted to become an artist, but didn’t get through the ‘Resistance.’ I am taking classes now at the senior center and the resistance is still there, I have gone to a life drawing class but it’s a night and in Wailuku, I live north of Lahaina, more ‘ Resistance,’
there is no Master just a bunch of folks who like to draw and a few artist’s there to help you. Send me an email if you want more info. I’m looking forward to your vacation blogs! Mahalo, Camille
Thanks so much for commenting! Fight the good fight.
What Shalora said. You are such an incredibly gifted and hardworking author, I am touched and amazed that you would go through the difficulty of expressing yourself in a medium uncomfortable to you. I have given into the “resistance” too many times. It is safer to do what is comfortable and familiar. I am still mulling over all the things you have given me to think about. Particularly your vulnerability that you have shown us. That is certainly not a part of most people’s lives is it. Not even with our close friends and family. We put on our mask and act the part and you have shown us your deepest self and your insecurities. Bless you. Thank you for sharing.
Forgot to add, the portrait was amazing! Well done.