Wednesday, January 26, 2011

drawing life

I take life drawing classes, where a room of artists (many of whom are extremely gifted) each week painstakingly and silently draw a naked model. The Sober Husband has perhaps not understood the seriousness of this venture, and recently called out to me as I left, "Have fun! I hope you get someone really good looking!"

"That's not what it's about," I corrected him loftily. "It's actually better if it's someone interesting looking, like once we had a fat person and everyone loved it. It was so much better than when we had the really gorgeous body builder."

In truth, the energy in the room had been terrible the time we had the handsome, perfectly toned gym-goer (who spent his break periods perusing a magazine which I swear was called "The Perfect Body"). Normally there's no creepy energy to be detected anywhere, but that time, the model himself seemed to be getting off on having us draw him, and it seemed, well, unwholesome. I felt almost exploited (and also I found it was surprisingly hard to draw true washboard abs without having the washboard-ness of it come out looking like wrinkles).

Last night I remembered that conversation, as I ended up having to eat my own words. I settled in happily at my easel, and I looked up to see the ugliest person I have ever seen naked (and I've been to nude beaches, people, as well as to leather events). My initial reaction, I am ashamed to admit, was "I don't want to see this." The model was a woman of indeterminate but far from young age, who had a small frame but was carrying a lot of excess weight. She had rolls and rolls of fat and horrible, draping, loose, crepey skin. And sadly, she wasn't the kind of fat person of whom they always say, "She has such a pretty face." Her face looked like a child's drawing of a witch: tiny, squinty eyes, a sharp nose, and thin, nearly nonexistent lips, and bags, such bags under her eyes. Her hair was wispy and thin and needed the roots touched up.

I quailed, and I hated myself for it. I reminded myself during the first short pose: "You're not the spring chicken you once were, either. You aren't the same size you were in your twenties, and you always go far too long before you touch up your own roots. You've got no right to be judgmental. " Then the model turned and bent over, presenting me and my companions on either side with a remarkably explicit view of her crotch. I wanted to flee. "I can't draw this," I thought to myself. "I don't want to look at this." I drew a leg only.

Our instructor was trying to teach us (or those of us who want to learn new techniques; many of the more accomplished artists prefer to follow their own lead) a new technique, "massing in", where we would shade in the bulk of a form, rather than drawing its outline. I tried to focus on that, and I made a lot of exuberant, bright, pastel sketches. They were slightly abstracted, and I liked that. Gradually I got caught up in the art, and I lost that horrible feeling of wanting to flee. I drew and drew, losing track of time. I admired the model for her bravery in presenting herself to us.

I challenged myself to find something beautiful about this model, and I did. Her small feet had the most delicate arches, so beautifully shaped. I drew the feet.

Towards the end of the class I was pleased with some of the work I'd done, and I felt I'd gotten a lot out of the "massing in" technique, which I resolved to use again. We reached my favorite part of the class, the longer poses. And then it went all bitter and unhappy for me. The model was facing me directly for a twenty minute pose, and she was watching my every pencil stroke. I was struggling with drawing her face, and I could see her looking at my awful, ugly, witch drawing. I erased the face and redrew it, and then erased it and re-redrew it. I could not stomach having her look at my ugly picture, and I tried hard to make it look more flattering. I felt awful.

After that, I tore off one of my most exuberant orange pastel sketches, one with the model's hair flying about and no face shown at all, to turn in to my instructor, and I left early. "There's another pose, Carole," the teacher said wheedlingly, but I said, as nicely as I could, "Gotta get home."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've taken life drawing at City College a few times with Sharon. I love that class, and loved it so much better when we had fat and ugly people and once there was a real cheese-cake type girl and every body drew resentfully. I often though of being a model for them. I'm certainly fat and ugly enough.

One time we had an really giant old old old lady and when she got down on her hands and knees there was a massive bloom of toilet paper trapped in her cooter. The suppressed nervous laughter rippled around the room. It was a giant wad of paper so it was hard to believe it was an accident. but who would prefer to have paper trapped in their labia than to just be naked?