Warm Up Drawing – ten minutes
“Ten minutes on the egg-timer…and…go!” I barked softly.
The carpeted block staged the model’s gangly flesh, her nakedness roosting on fuzzy gray institutional carpeting. Her back was slightly arched, and her breasts quivered over her ribcage, puddling like melted peach snowcones.
Her left leg was bent at the knee, foot resting just below her buttock, forming a steeply sloped isosceles triangle. The other leg splayed, foot listing lazily outward.
Around the model, hands armed with charcoal, smelling of acrid willow, waited for me to say “Time.” Each girl looked intently from model to easel, eyes batting back and forth like frantically signaling fans.
My class is reserved for art concentrators in the high school, and only the good ones. I mainly handpick them myself, so applying is pretty useless. We convene on Wednesdays from 4:30-5:30, deliberately simultaneous with sports practices so as to avoid the errant athlete’s ogling drop-bys and awkward giggles.
I never draw with my class. Instead, I circle the room in hawkish observation, a panopticon dance. If I stopped, you knew someone had gone astray.
“Kelly, are you using your pencil to measure the angles?”
“Trying, Mr. Lehman” she said, squinting and holding the pencil out in front of her like a baton, twirling it this way and that to see the proportional relationships.
“Then why is her head the same size as her hand?” Kelly took a step backwards, and immediately saw that the head on her drawing looked like those miniature heads cannibals keep in jars.
I always have to tell them to step back. You have to step back sometimes to see the whole picture. Everyone tends to get closer, trying to penetrate and capture and achieve mastery. But it’s like Seurat: the closer you get, the more sense deteriorates, the more it devolves into the grain of the undesirable.
“Lisa, just get a general idea of the figure. You can’t start out drawing her profile. Too detailed. You only have three minutes left, and I want the whole figure rendered, on the page.”
The egg timer ticked on.
It’s important to have a goal, or at least something important to you so that you not only know what you want, but what you don’t want.
Here’s what I want: Celine.
She is my best student. And she knows it. Her name glimmers the way subtle gossamers on tea dresses do. When spoken, it shimmies through my body, effervescing from solar plexus to throbbing extremities.
As Celine’s hand worked over the creamy page, the hips of her thumb undulated delightfully, a little fleshy half-wine bottle, like the optical illusion which is either a curvy vase or two shapely faces meeting in a lover’s embrace.
It started when she would creep in during her free periods, munching the voluptuous green of an apple, or toying with a banana, inserting her pointer deep into the tip so that it broke down into three spears of soft fruit.
“Want some?” she would ask.
Earlier this morning, her fingers were wrestling with a stubborn orange peel. I was preparing an etching for the press when she walked in, crawled up to the model platform, and perched next to my hand, which was busy inking the copper plate with a roller, pressing back and forth the ink into the crevices.
“Let’s switch” Celine suggested. She looked askance at the roller, and the luxuriously oozy, thick paint. I put down the roller, and leaned towards her, removing the orange from her palm. As I leaned in close to her neck, I could feel for a fleeting moment my own breath reflected on to my face as it exhaled from my mouth and bounced back off of her skin.
She toyed with the viscous black, relishing the smacking, slurping sounds it made against plastic. While I watched her black out the plate, I carefully and slowly delved my fingers into the sweet pulp of the fruit, excavating treasure from rough zest.
Now, as she worked, my eyes salivated, not wanting to tear myself away from the carbon cane, but not wanting to miss a glimpse of eyes like broken glacier-bits. The model’s pallid weeping willow epidermis only antagonized, making me imagine what it would be to see instead that cherubic creature ablaze in her bareness.
I didn’t feel completely terrible. She’s an adult. And we all have a right to cultivate obsession.
Extended Contour Line Drawing – thirty minutes
“Alright, so same thing, but more time. Really flesh it out, OK?”
This was the last drawing, a long one, so I went to clean my office, so I could leave when the girls did. Also, it gave them time to work without feeling watched. I say feeling, because one of my office walls is a large window that looks down into the studio from above.
As I look at his picture sitting plaintively on my desk, my son Ryland’s face makes me remember why I was a conscientious objector. I was so protective of that soft spot on his doughy head where the skull still formed. Like reverse continental drift.
Before, I was conscientious that I was a selfish artist that didn’t care for physical activity or Canada. And, I was an objector because I especially didn’t care for physical activity that involved killing other people or risking my life. But now, I had something besides myself, something so deeply knotted into me, tighter than any umbilical chord Sonja’s uterus could knit. That little boy lived in the hollow space under my guts, gripping my abdomen with two steely hands and making my chest go tight. Sometimes the other boys, arms airplane-high and tongues wagging would shout
“Hey TardFace! This is what you do in Mrs. Wuertz’s class, don’t you!” And they would plow headlong into tree trunks, each other, anything really.
“Ry Ry, what color helmet do you want for Christmas?” another might taunt.
All I do is try to understand him. I watch him play video games for hours. He is very gifted with them. I try to play, but my hands are all wrong for the controllers with their sensuous plastic curves and exotic buttons.
Sonja cursed her womb, that first bore an Asperger’s baby, and then, last year, after fondling it tenderly for seven months, bore a very still little girl. She did every amniocentesis test she could to troubleshoot another Ryland. She told me she must be barren. I asked her, what about Ryland. Sonja says that sometimes she looks at him, and wonders if we shouldn’t keep him on a leash.
She was so averse to being alone with Ryland in the car. It was something she avoided, a new excuse every day.
“Ned, can’t you take Ry this morning? I have a millions things to do!” No she didn’t. She couldn’t possibly have a million things to do. Not in one day. She was always exaggerating and inflating things, blowing hot frantic air into the latex carcasses of already popped balloons, only to find that in order to keep them inflated she would have to continue to blow at them. So she did, until she got tired, and then gave up. I hated waiting for this.
“But we have that meeting this morning about the fund allocations for creative faculty. I really can’t miss that babe.”
“Ned. Not all of us can paint all day long. Some of us have to go to jobs behind desks and sit there. All day. Including the morning.”
“But I just don’t understand why you have to go in early”
“Because a very important client is coming in, and Mr. Stern needs my support. Ned, just take him. It’s on the way. If you leave now, you’ll only be ten minutes late for your coffee talk thing.”
“Alright,” I said, giving Ryland a smile. “Fuck you,” I said swiftly and quietly to Sonja as the screen door swept shut behind me.
Sonja was looking at the stony granite of the small kitchen counter, losing her eyes in the mineral whorls, when I stormed back in to snatch the cartoon lunchbox off the counter. It was too light. Looking at Sonja, I threw the plastic box down in front of her, and we both watched it sprawl open to reveal a hollow belly.
“Good mother, Sonja. Really good.”
Recently, Sonja conscientiously objected to being married to me. I didn’t completely see it coming, but I hated her anyway. That doesn’t mean I like having no wife though. And it doesn’t mean I like sharing Ryland with her. The bitterness that accompanies endings is always astounding. That’s why maybe endings should be agreed upon at the beginning, so that really, an ending is just another version of the beginning. Beginnings are always wonderful, infused with majesty and expectation, like a seductive blank canvas.
A rattle at the door announced Celine.
Celine came into my office, sitting her round hips in my chair, one of those chairs equipped with a trio of rolling wheels, and starting fidgeting in it.
“Celine – your drawing” I said, looking at the empty stool in the room below and the emptier easel.
She twirled in the chair, a windspout of careless mirth, eyes amethystine and wild. This, the other students in the other room, the window – all of it made me uncomfortable. A picture frame tumbled off my desk.
“Watch It!” I said more gruffly than I had intended, using both hands to catch the arms of the chair, facing my scruffy brows into her blues. My pectoral muscles convulsed, palpitated, as I leaned over the chair, palms gripping the arms. Her knees knocked into my thighs, and she sort of cowered in the chair beneath the cage of my arms and body.
Inside, Celine felt she was in a cathedral with vaulted ceilings made of man. And she felt a slight shiver play about her wrists and tickle her nose, felt her lips swell around the edge, and her rib cage twitched slightly as she recovered from the sudden stop of her vigorous game. I knew what was to come, and sure we both conscientiously objected, but physically – how could we?
Looking directly at me, one eyebrow arched, and in a low level voice, she said
“Warm up number one. Five minutes.”
Excitement wriggled through her, a frisson of energy like the trembling of sunlight at the bottom of a fiercely turquoise swimming pool.