Life drawing classes gave me the the Willys for sure.
Well, one to be precise. One willy and a rude awakening regarding just how unsophisticated I really am.
And a prude.
And shit at drawing – which I already knew.
There will be lots of italics in this post – they highlight the things I thought but didn’t say during my 2 hours at an art class.
Things I didn’t say because I’m polite and grown up. Ish.
And yes, it turns out I’m quite a prude when it comes to being in a room with a naked man that I’m not married to.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been in rooms with naked men before.
And just to clarify, that was one at a time and not all on the same day; there were
months years in between each naked man encounter.
Enough said. My mother has an iPad and eventually, she is going to figure out how to find my blog.
I’d like to let her go on thinking I had sex twice, and only because I really had to so she could have grandchildren.
Anyway, this life drawing class.
My friend, let’s call her Virginia, invited me to a life drawing class just ever so slightly in Essex.
This is where I wish I knew how to spell the sound I made just before I said: “whatthefuckareyoukiddingmeVirginia?Ican’tdrawtosavemylife!”
But I went anyway, because I’m like that.
Everyone thinks that because I produce vivid and original abstract images, I must be able to draw. Well I can’t.
And the more I can’t do something, the more likely I am to put myself in a position where I am proving, publicly, just how much I can’t do it.
It’s like having ‘I can’t do it!’ Tourette’s Syndrome. I drag myself out into public and do the thing I can’t do, very very badly and in front of lots of people.
Being in a choir is just one example – but the less said about that the better.
I’ll give you another example. My friend, let’s call her Sue, because that’s her real name and I still haven’t forgiven her, dragged me out to try a very high brow choir.
We both sing in another choir.
A very easy to sing in choir where we sing pop and rock songs in five part harmony with masses of tuition before each performance.
But Sue also sings in another choir which sings in more of an operatic style.
And for some reason I’ll never fathom out, she decided that this choir and I needed each other.
Sue is fearless. I admire that in her.
But she is prone to inducing fearless behaviour in me when I really ought to be shitting myself instead.
She once called me on a Saturday morning to ask me if I’d please help out a professional touring theatre company by going and being an extra on the last night of a play they were performing at our local theatre.
She’d been performing as an extra with them all week for two performances a day. And for the last night, they had run short of people
willing to make an ass of themselves in public to perform as extras.
“No Sue”, I’d said, “no – I can’t act.”
And Sue said: “Oh come on Gilly, if I can do it it anyone can!”
(I’ve come to understand that this is Sue’s battle cry as we sally forth headlong into something else I can’t do.)
And I repeated where I stood on her request. But then, in the background, I heard myself saying, ‘what time do I need to be there?’
And off I went later that night, to perform in a professional play as a speaking extra having had no rehearsal apart from Sue telling me where to stand and what to say.
I’ll get to the life drawing class shortly.
(This is clearly turning into another Ronnie Corbett style tale).
So when Sue invited me to her operatic choir I said yes knowing full well there was potential disaster ahead.
Luckily, I averted it though by quietly creeping out of the operatic rehearsal during the coffee break having not sung a single note.
Madam Butterfly I am not.
I knew I was in for a hiding when a charming woman handed me some sheet music as the rehearsal commenced and told me I could ‘pick it up from there’.
So anyway, the life drawing class.
I arrived early with what I thought might be a suitable pencil and a small pad of paper.
Poor me. I really shouldn’t leave the house.
There was already an assortment of arty looking people chatting artily in the late summer sun as I pulled up.
The tutor was late.
Virginia wasn’t there yet. I sat in my car and watched the artists with their various art accoutrements. Great big paper, drawing boards, large battered looking arty bags, beards, baggy yoga pants, very loose, casual pony tails about to come undone.
All very laid back.
I got out of the car and approached the building clutching my own very small art bag and A4 sketch pad. A4, because when I lay down colour, it’s rarely on paper bigger than my scanner
It’s more economical for me to work small and then scan my art into my Mac to develop into more adventurous images digitally.
I approached the group and stood on the edge.
“Hi everyone and who’s the model today? Hope it’s not you!”, I didn’t say to the tall man looking aloofly my way as if he knew something I didn’t, “because that beard would be something of a challenge! Don’t you have a razor? Or a mirror?”
How mean of me.
I smiled at aloof man.
“Morning” I actually said and he didn’t answer. Probably deaf. Or a mind reader.
Then Virginia arrived, slightly ahead of the tutor and in we went.
There were no windows in the room and the lighting was dim, except for a spotlight on the stage.
There were easels on the edge of the room and people were very confidently and efficiently carrying them to there chosen positions and setting them up.
So I did the same, trying very hard to look as if I knew what I was doing and looking for a place at the back where no one would be able to see my stick figures as they emerged.
I dragged an easel over to the shadows in the back of the room next to Virginia and stood contemplating how my A4 pad would fit into this scenario.
Then the tutor came over and looked pityingly at my tiny pad.
He told me to get a drawing board from the stack against the wall and set it up on my easel.
Then I saw him. And it.
A man. Taking off his clothes in the corner of the room, quite unashamedly hopping around on one foot as he took each sock off.
His willy gaily bobbing around in the process.
I turned my head away so sharply I heard my neck crack.
I was in a room with a naked man and a lot of other people and my inner prude jumped out to surprise me. I had no idea she existed.
It’s been over 20 years since I was in a room with a naked willy that does not belong to my husband; it it was weird clapping eyes on one.
I strode over and said, ‘cover that thing up young man, there are old ladies here!”
Of course I didn’t.
In reality, I became fixated on the height and position of my easel.
The next thing I knew, naked man had taken his perfect body and moved it to the stage, standing in the spotlight where it was very hard not to notice his willy.
Look I’m sorry. Ok? Im sorry that I keep saying willy but penis; I mean do you really want me to say that.
I don’t even know how you spell Willie. Is it Willie or Willy? Who knows?
I can’t spell it and I can’t draw one – I’m useless.
So there I was fiddling around with my easel and phaffing around…
Then I realised people were poised ready to draw.
I was still fixing my board in place and desperately trying to get the right height to work at.
The tutor wafted last with a massive piece of paper – that thin stuff we used to use at school, and he told me to tape it to the board.
While I was doing that my easel decided to drop to a lower level with an enormous bang and the paper drifted to the floor landing several feet away.
I tripped over my bag as I stepped forward to retrieve the paper and in the distance I heard the tutor say the naked man would do a series of 2 minute poses that we should sketch quickly without too much thought.
“Wait!” I didn’t yell. “Wait, I’m not ready FFS!”
Naked man steps to the front of the stage and pulls a full frontal pose.
Very bold of him.
Legs spread apart, feet firmly planted and arms spread aloft as if to say, “Here I am ladies (and man with beard), here I am and look at this.”
“No! Put it away! I don’t know you!”
I hide behind my easel just as the tutor comes up and firmly grabs my easel while whispering, “No no, you need the easel to the side so you have full view of the subject.”
“But I don’t want full view of the subject. It hasn’t got any boxers on!”
He moves my easel to the side and on an angle. So not only have I lost my shield against the alien penis (I’m trying) in my midst but the woman to my left will be able to see whatever I draw.
“There, that’s better”, he whispers with an encouraging smile.
“Put it back! I don’t want HER to see!” I don’t yell in a petulant tone.
“Two minutes are up, next pose” says the tutor.
I haven’t even got my pencil out and I feel I might be an embarrassment to Virginia.
Naked man moves into another position but I can still see it – the thingy.
I get my pencil out and the tutor rushes over to tell me charcoal is better because it’s more forgiving. You can smudge out mistakes he tells me.
“Oh you’ve seen my drawings before.”
He hands me charcoal.
“Ok – two minutes gone. Next pose.”
This is it. I’ve got to look at this beautiful, perfect male body that isn’t my husband.
(It has to be said, my husband (who reads this blog) has a perfect, lovely, muscular body with zero fat because he works extremly hard all day.)
I look over to study the lines I need to translate into charcoal and it’s like looking into a bright light.
I want to look away and I’m really shocked by my reaction to a naked human.
But I have to act like a grownup and draw something.
Then I notice a glint in the light, right at the end of his penis.
“Oh my God! He’s got a belly button piercing in his Willy!” I don’t yell.
I make my first strokes on the paper and then this:
“Two minutes. Next pose.”
WTF do I do now? I smudge out my initial strokes as he pulls a completely different pose and I panic that I won’t have one single drawing to show for my two hours.
Then I remember someone has full view of my easel and I turn to give her a nervous smile.
She looks my way. Nothing except scathing pity on that face.
She’s a 20 something. I must seem like something from the 1950s to her.
Oh wait. I am.
“And what’s YOUR problem?” I don’t say while returning her supercilious look. “You think I’m not hard enough on myself? Eh? You think I need your shitty glances to tell me I’m a useless twat?”
I smile, despite her hard stare. I know I’m a nice person. I’m a nice person who can’t get her shit together when she’s nervous. That isn’t a crime.
I want to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation.
That’s dangerous because if I start laughing I won’t stop.
I pull myself together.
I’m trying to draw with the threat of the two minute limit hanging over me and as the two minute poses end, I’ve got one really simple sketch that is not flattering to this man and his perfect form.
But I suspect he would not allow the crappy sketch of a life drawing class beginner to dent his self-image.
He knows what he’s got. He’s beautiful.
We move on to some longer poses and I settle in to working.
By break time. I am covered in charcoal and I am sure it’s all over my face too.
People start to leave the room to go for coffee and the 20 something to my left wanders over to look at my board.
She looks for a minute, says “Hmmm”, she frowns and walks off.
I see myself running after her and pulling her hair. Because that’s what she just did with the, “Hmmm”; she used a sound to pull my hair.
Virginia and I are left alone in the room with naked man who is putting a black bath robe on. We are wiping our hands on baby wipes and whispering words of comfort to each other.
She doesn’t need it. Her drawings are very good. Very expansive and loose.
And then….oh my god, naked man is smiling and walking towards us while tying a knot in his bath robe.
“No! No! Stay back!” I don’t yell as I wildly wave him away in my imagination.
As he approaches, I smile and say something completely stupid like, “How was it for you?” Because that’s what you usually say when a man is doing up his bath robe. (If my memory serves me correctly).
And oh no! He is coming to look at what we’ve done.
Possible distraction techniques flash through my brain. Set fire to the board. Knock it over. Faint. Anything but please don’t look at my drawings!
“It doesn’t look anything like you!” I say this out loud before I can stop myself.
He grins. We both know that didn’t need saying!
I ask him if he is an artist. He tells me no, he isn’t. His skill is being the model.
And it is a skill because this man does not move once he is in his pose.
I desperately want to leave the room and I do so abruptly because my social skills are just shit when I’m embarrassed.
I could say absolutely anything without being able to stop myself so leaving abruptly is the safest course of action.
I expect naked man in bathrobe stayed until he was sure he could control his urge to laugh.
The 20 something was holding court in the tea room, about her art degree.
Well of course she fucking was.
“Oh Arabella-Rose, take that plum out of your gob and get off your high horse before you fall for God’s sake!”
There is always an Arabella-Rose in every art group I’ve ever encountered.
Everyone else was great. Some real characters as it turned out.
And later, when I got my head out of my ass, I realised some of them were struggling with confidence just like me but dealing with it better.
Something to learn here Mrs M.
It’s not a race. And who cares if Miss 20 something gives you a scathing look. She’ll be old too, one day, and maybe she’ll find it hard to be vulnerable with strangers.
Maybe she does already.
Maybe that’s what it’s all about.
I run out of steam by the final pose of this class.
He’s balanced awkwardly on a chair and I don’t like the way he looks.
The room was a study in quiet concentration as everyone worked away with their charcoal. After several goes at the final pose and being unable to find a starting point that worked for me I suddenly tore my paper off the easel and ripped it up rather noisily, making everyone jump.
That’s me all over. Lost in space when I need to be fully present.
When it was all over and I sat looking at my sketches, I suddenly realised I had managed to get through a whole life drawing class without a single representation of this man’s willy.
Seriously. I hadn’t even realised I was avoiding drawing it.
So what did I learn at my first life drawing class?
I’m a closet prude. I’m childish and if I said what I thought instead of what is acceptable, I would upset people a lot more than I do already.
It’s the things we don’t say that would paint the clearest picture of who we really are.
That’s a scary thought.
I’m persevering with the life drawing class and who knows, one day I may even draw a
willy willie penis. Any ideas anyone? We need a prettier word.
At the moment, I get huge satisfaction from artistic representation of people in a way I am confident with, like this image of a little girl with her big summer hat. (I’ve had to blur her face because I don’t have permission to share the image.)
Anyone else been to a life drawing class? Anyone really good at sketching the human form free-hand?