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.

The Norse goddess

The Norse goddess was way prettier than this.

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?

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