Sounds like the start of a bad joke. Instead, it turned into a fascinating very short three-hour experience.
After, that is, I got over the naked man posing on a bed of cushions in front of three or four other artists. One generously gave me charcoal because I haven’t been able to find a sharpener for my collection of #2 pencils. Guess I need to upgrade my art supplies. Oh, and get large paper.
Five minutes flies by when you’re trying to capture the line of a figure. And in those minutes, the man before me was no longer a blush-producing naked person but became form and line and contour. Light and shadow.
Over the three-hour time period, he posed for a variety of times – 2 minutes, 5 minutes, and once even 25 minutes. Each length of pose brought out a different response in me. In two minutes, you’re hard pressed to capture much more than the basic line of the pose. Five minutes gives you a little more.
I soon found myself trying to first capture his basic line with my charcoal. Slant of the head and shoulders, bend of the knee. As the length of his poses increased, I slowed down and looked harder, trying to capture more of the depth of his form. Refining my lines. Discovered the smudge of charcoal that added depth to the drawing. Ignored filthy fingers.
Since this morning’s experience, I’ve started processing my time in the Drawing Studio. What happened to my drawing when I had to get the form down quickly, or when I slowed down, had more time to refine the line and add detail. Drawing became a metaphor for my writing.
I have a tendency to write my first thoughts out quickly and all at once, trying to capture the line of my story. Then I have to go back and pick out the real line, blur my mistakes like I did in the drawing studio with my charcoal. Add the details, try to capture the eyes, the face, the fingers and toes, the shadowing and the drape and contour of his flesh. The metaphor comes in the refinement of line and addition of details. A writer has to pick out the best line for a story, making sure it rises and falls in an arc of action, that characters gain contour and detail, so that they command a presence on the page.
The model’s longest pose gave me the luxury of time to perfect the contour of my sketch in surer lines. And I connected the drawing process to what I am now doing with the draft of my second novel. I sketched the story line out last January while in residence at the Vermont Studio Center, but realized a two-week residency was not enough time to allow me to delve deeper into the story. I took that draft home and off and on over the course of the year added more detail to my characters, more contours and light and dark to my story. Now in my second residency at VSC – this time for four full weeks – I am taking the time that a longer model’s pose allows so that I can hone and perfect the original sketch of my novel into a finished work.
Another thing I learned in the Drawing Studio – look beyond the model. When he struck one of his last poses, also a longer one, I noticed that the floodlights cast his shadow on the wall. And that his shadow took on a distinctly feminine line. So that drawing, which I’ve used with this post, shows more than one dimension of a man I hardly know. We need to do the same thing with the characters in our novels. Look beyond the surface. Find the shadows. See what surprises lurk there that add depth to our characters and to our story. Draw their shadows, not just their form.
And not worry about our dirty fingers and smudged cheeks. They are also part of the process.