Things I Learned In Art Class

Occasionally, I take my 8-year-old to a sketch workshop offered at our local library.

I’d never been to a sketch class before I started going to this one with my kiddo.

A live, fully-clothed, volunteer model does a series of poses for 5 or 10 minutes and a group of artists draws them as quickly as possible using charcoal, or pastels, or pencils. The teacher provides feedback as requested by the artists.

Part of the reason we like this workshop is the atmosphere. It’s very laid back.

People come and go as they please, sometimes there’s music, or there’s snacks set out. There’s extra paper and charcoal for people who want to jump in and try.

The first time we went, I took my laptop and tried to write while they were drawing. But I’m easily distracted, and soon found this was not a good idea. So I started bringing a book.

It’s been awesome to watch my daughter interact with the other artists. They’re always surprised and happy to see a kid there. They talk to her and about her art as if she were a grown up. I try to hang back and let her do her thing without interfering. I’ve enjoyed watching the group as they learn and practice.

Writing, it is often said, is the loneliest of the arts. Mixing and mingling with other writers is something I have to force myself to do.

But there is something very right and natural about artists getting together to make and learn art.

The atmosphere of people coming together to do something just for the love of what they’re doing is always a revelation.

So I was disappointed this weekend, when we arrived and found that their model for the day was leaving early.

The artists stayed, chatting, doodling, some of them drawing each other. I sat in a corner while my daughter and another artist talked about dragons. I thought I might do a blogpost about the workshop, so I got out my Moleskine and wrote:

“Things I’ve learned from sitting in on a art workshop:

  • what you’re struggling with / frustrated with is the skill you’re about to level up on

  • nothing makes artists happier than being with other artists

  • mentorship and collaboration are vital to creative development

  • sketching is about making yourself as an artist disappear – conduit between model and paper

  • it’s okay to ignore the big picture and focus on detail

  • it’s okay to draw only shadows

  • it’s okay to draw only shapes”

I put my Moleskine away and watched them for awhile. But with the model gone, it was obvious things were dwindling to a close. There was still an hour-and-half-left in the class, and no one looked eager to leave.

So I offered to model.

I am not, by nature, attention-seeking. I am an overweight, middle-aged, graying mother of two, wearing mom-jeans, a jersey, no bra, no make-up, and a claw-clip in my hair. I do not consider myself pretty or shapely, and I’m certainly not graceful. In social settings I tend to be introverted and reserved.

But I’ve done theatre, so I’m comfortable in front of people, and I’m not generally self-conscious about my body.

A body was needed. So I offered.

I’m so glad that I did.

It’s a lot harder than it looks to hold completely still for 5 or 10 minutes.

You want to give the artists a variety of interesting lines, shapes, and shadows to draw. So the first pose I selected was sitting and leaning forward with my hands clasped before me. By the end of 5 minutes, my elbows were shaking with the strain of holding the weight of my upper-body.

For another pose, I tilted my head back. To keep my gaze still, I focused on the fire alarm on the ceiling. If you stare at something long enough, it starts to grow and shrink or to dance around in circles. By the end of the first set of four 5 minute poses, my eyes were bugging.

But the physical difficulties aside, it was a wonderful experience.

It was amazing to have a roomful of strangers focused on trying to capture what you’ve given them to draw. To be a part of the collaboration between the artist and her sketch. To commit to helping make the drawings happen.

Even fully clothed there are so many situations in which we permit ourselves to become self-conscious because we feel scrutinized.

I’ve experienced this recently in my writing. I’ve been too aware of what others will think of the stories I write and how I write them. It’s the creative equivalent of being afraid everyone will think you look fat or ugly or stupid.

To let go of that and just be what I was and let others try to capture it in whatever way they saw it, was a high I rode for the rest of the day.

It was not a breakthrough or a liberation. It was another drop of water slowly eroding the glacier of my creative defensive block. It was one more experience reinforcing for me that it’s okay to write the stories I fear writing.

More importantly, it was an hour-and-a-half of my daughter seeing the woman she loves most in the world take and own a space without fear or self-consciousness. And that’s something every girl needs to see as often as possible.

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Things I Learned In Art Class

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