During a recent discussion about the inception of Artists of the Valley, (occuring at a time prior to my move to the Western District) I discovered the birth of the group came from Life Drawing classes. Ah yes, I remember well my initiation into drawing the human form.
No matter how old I get, there are still new experiences and old insecurities. With paper, pencils and a belly full of butterflies, I headed off to my first class. I had no idea what to expect – whether it was a structured teaching-learning environment, or just a group of artists intent on drawing the human form. Either way, there would be challenges.
My last experience in a formal drawing class had been at secondary school, too many years ago to remember all the details, though the criticism lingers as bruises on my psyche. I’d never been great at proportion. Objects were often top heavy, the subject’s eyes too round or too big. I wasn’t sure how I’d handle an instructor serving up harsh critiques like my old drawing teacher. On the other hand, if it was to be a group of artists honing their skills, I would be sadly out of place. Drawing people has never been my forte. That was the motivation behind taking the class. Practice.
Then, of course, there was the someone-being-naked part.
Shivering up a sweat while standing outside with two other women, waiting for someone with a key to let us in, I was relieved to learn that the model for the evening was female. We shared the same basic shape, even if our builds differed. On my first attempt, I hadn’t relished the embarrassment of drawing the boy bits, in proportion. One hurdle down, umpteen to go.
It was a relief to be inside near the heater, especially for the evening’s model. The regular organiser of the class was absent, busy finalising details for a show the following day – and if she’s like me, framing paintings while blowing on others to make them dry in time. No one seemed willing to step into her shoes by giving a newcomer even rudimentary direction.
I guess I looked as lost as I felt. One woman took pity on me, saying, “Just grab one of the easels.” Right. I hadn’t used one of them since the aforementioned school days. Still, I was game.
Folk drifted in and set up. Not a chatty bunch, this lot, but I guess we weren’t there for a social gathering. The model, stripped down to a singlet, wrapped a blanket around herself, waiting for others to arrive. I couldn’t help but admire her confidence. A woman in her late sixties, her body no longer exhibiting the firmness of youth, she shucked the singlet with grace and struck her first pose.
Class had begun.
Give a speech and two minutes are an eternity. The same amount of time to draw a human figure, and it’s a nanosecond. I’d hardly sketched her body and limbs, vaguely, never mind a face and hands. Flip the paper. Next pose.
Perfectionism can be such a pain. Working to the clock, there were two options. One, I could agonise over not getting detail, or, I could loosen up.
I loosened up and got into the flow of studying and sketching, without fretting how good, or not, the drawing. Five minute poses offered the chance of a better line, a bit more detail, but never from the same angle. Ten minutes, better still. Twenty minute poses offered a half-decent attempt at proportion.
Whether to alleviate the boredom for her or us, for one pose the model donned a scarlet beret and matching gloves, inspiring grins. It added interest to the pose and colour for those working with pastels.
All the while, I had no sense of being a voyeur. Yes, the model was flesh and blood. Yes, she was human and female. But, she was also a still life arrangement made up of bones, sinews and muscles, and the scars, sags and lines of living. She was a crone and proud of it, at ease in her body, the home of a valiant spirit.
I learnt much from my first class – how to loosen up, flick the critic off my shoulder and just immerse myself in the act of drawing. Staring at and sketching a naked body for two hours is not the least erotic. And, I have aspiration to obtain the grace and confidence I saw in a woman who is a role ‘model’.