We meet at the steps. We size each other up. I am the third one to arrive. A fellow carrying a large drawing board is behind me.
The new guy begins nervously. He wonders aloud where the folks who run the museum are. It is a quarter till. We all compare notes as to who has traveled the longest distance. I win. One hour and twenty minutes. They all look at me in amazement. We don’t have this where I come from. None have heard of my small Georgia town.
I have my money out. The others are fumbling through their art supplies. I head to the round room with a new exhibit. I wonder if I can ever paint huge paintings that will prominently hang for crowds. I hungrily search for the “perfect” point of view. I greedily grab two chairs. One for me, one for my pencils, charcoal, baby wipes, sharpener, conte sticks of portrait colors.
There she is. Shucks! I have painted her before. The product hangs in my bedroom. Workshop successes. I wanted someone new. I wanted someone younger. Oh well. She has props. I don’t like props. They make things challenging.
The announcer says we are running late due to traffic. I sip my water. An Asian woman sets up an easel and pushes into my personal space. The deaf guy sits on the other side of me. He smiles. He scoots his chair over so that I have a little more room. He understands.
I don’t know anyone. Stoic faces. Game faces. There are quite a few. We assemble in a circle around the platform. We gauge each other by art supplies. Some warm up their arms and shoulders, like getting ready for a sports event. I fold up a soft, artsy poncho to sit on. I hate metal chairs. I really need to invest in a cushion. But then I would have to admit that I am old and have a bad back. For tonight, I will forget about that.
The artist across from me sharpens his pencils. I follow suit. No trash can. I empty the shavings into an extra plastic bag. A large fellow to my left gets up and comes back with a trash can. Artists need trash cans.
No one speaks. We wait.
The museum director gives some instructions. First drawings will be ten seconds. Good grief. Ready, set, go. I go with a square stick, medium value. Gestural drawings. Catch the whole body. Just lines. Curves. Circle for the head. Get the back bone line. Sausage appendages.
Next pose. Next. Next. She is good. Used to be a ballet dancer. Elegant hands. Can’t capture the hands. Make note about the small wrists. Elegance.
The deaf guy makes child-like sighs. It reminds me to breathe. Ten second poses turn to 30 second poses, then one minute poses, then two minutes, then five. We are getting warmed up. Some smiles now. We loosen up. Athletic minds. There are only a few younger than me. This is an old person sport. I like feeling young. Next time I will bring my easel. I am getting stiff in this metal chair. Breathe. Draw. Stay loose. Whole arm drawing.
The model requests a break, but all of us need one, too. We get up. I guard my work a little. Some put theirs in plain view. I put mine on the chair so that another walking around may view it if they work for it. Newby speaks to the model. There is always one who gets a little chummy. The rest of us keep our distance and think of her in terms of shapes and shadows. Lady across from me loudly mentions she is an art teacher. There is always one who spouts the resume. She shows her abstract work to any who will look. Impressive. She brought her pastels. Color trumps black and white.
The deaf guy points to his work, He speaks a little to me. I give a thumbs up back. He smiles.
Back at it. She is so comfortable. All great poses. I like this back shot. Reminds me of a Thomas Eakins painting.
Think shapes. I can do this one. Easy pose. I glance to the left. Asian artist going to town with charcoal. Covering the page. Using a brush. She looks at my charcoal layer and kneaded eraser and says, “You going negative?” “Yup,” I say. We are communicating now. Past success. It is working again. Yes.
Shoot. Next pose she is facing us. Deaf guy looks at me and rolls his eyes. “Hard,” he mouths. I nod. She is twisted up. Focus. Think shapes. I lose some resolve.
After the torture of that pose, my neighbor and I are friends. We show each other our work and motion with sign language that it was a grueling pose. Model thinks so too. She takes a break.
I am gonna need fuel. I reach for my second half of peanut butter sandwich after wiping the charcoal off my hands. I wonder if I have charcoal any on my face. I like eating poor man food. Van Gogh. I get the nerve to compliment the Asian lady. I get a grunt. I pass by the middle aged, tennis-shoed gal who had come in late on the way to the bathroom. We smile at each other in an unusually long gaze–both too shy to strike up a conversation, though we would like to.
New pose. Time for new technique. I abandon my security blanket of smearing charcoal everywhere. Layers. Yes, I will do layers. Conte light brown. That gives me courage. Charcoal next. Tentatively at first. Getting braver with each stroke. Red for being wild. I am making it out.
Home stretch. Pressure to produce. No. Just think process. Keep getting sucked into production. Will I have something to show for tonight? Sheesh. Just work. Enjoy this once a month excursion.
Next pose, a Degas! Unflattering pose. A past her prime ballet dancer holding her slippers. Definately Degas.
Wimps leave early. It is distracting. I keep on. Worth every mile driven. Worth every penny. A live model. Almost sacred.
Museum lady breaks in and gives the one minute warning.
Time to pack it up. Deaf guy waves at me goodbye. Relief. Artist high. Exhaustion. I smile at a few fellow sojourners. They smile back.
As I pull out of the parking lot, I have a strong sense of accomplishment. I also have the feeling that I need to do this a thousand more times to have complete satisfaction. But for now, it is enough. Until next time.