I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing. When I was a younger I remember sitting in my bedroom for hours absorbed in the feel of a pencil against paper. Time and sound were lost to me. Nothing held my attention like the subtleties of my subject, be it hair, eyes or hands. All of it held such rapturous detail that I was transfixed.
In high school my drawing teacher encouraged me and somehow managed to convince my parents that at 16 years old I was mature enough to take figure drawing lessons. Yes, that’s correct nude figure drawing lessons. I’m still not entirely sure how I pulled it off. Maybe it was the fact that my teacher was going to be going along with us – but not as our teacher, as just another student in the class. Or maybe it was the fact that I was more than willing to give up my $4.25 an hour paycheck to pay for the $114 tuition. I don’t know but they let me go and I have been forever grateful. Those classes sparked in me a greater love of drawing that has forever changed me.
Before I stepped foot in the basement of the Westport Allen Center I thought I was hot stuff. I was, in my mind and in retrospect nearly reality, one of the top three art students in my class. At pencil drawing alone I was probably the first. If you plopped me down in front of a still life I would trudge away and reproduce exactly what I saw in excruciating detail. But there was no life in these drawings, there was only detail.
Armed with a stack of newsprint, pastels, charcoal and a drawing board I nervously walked into the Allen Center. Petrified because I had no clue what to expect. I was a naive kid. I’d only seen nude figures in my drawing books but never live, not on TV or on HBO. I was also nervous because I was making this adventure with others from my class, most notably a boy I had a huge crush on, who also happened to be my main competition as hot stuff 11th grade artist. But I was determined to do this.
As I set up my supplies, members of the class began to trickle in and I was struck by the variety of people among us. There were my classmates, my teacher, a couple of college kids and a number of vagabond looking artist types. We were an interesting mix. In my nervousness I didn’t notice much about our teacher. But I do remember our model. She was a stout black woman with the most flexible and what I would grow to know as beautiful body.
Class began. There was no time for nervousness now. The teacher announced we were going to warm up. 15 second sketches. Get the essence of the figure with one line. Two lines. Moving on to 30 seconds. 60 seconds. It was amazing how after a while 5 minutes became an eternity. Too much time. I wished we could go back to the 60 second drawings with such fluidity of motion and movement where I could so easily capture the spirit and soul of my subject. It was in these brief little drawings that I grew. I saw the beauty of the human form unfold before me. Simply gorgeous.
I was ecstatic. I had broken free of the constraints of my rigid and intense realism and entered into the abstract and the free. In turn, I was free. And more than that I was confident. I had found a muse. This muse sustained me through high school. I produced much of my best work in the basement of that dance studio, both in personal growth and in art.
Ever since then I have continued to focus much of my drawing ability on people. I’ve spent many hours studying the human face. Learning, memorizing, extracting all the subtleties. But somewhere along the lines of my life I fell out of the habit of drawing everyday. Be it because life happened around me or my kids needed me I let it fall by the wayside. I’ve dusted it off every now and then in my classroom but I’ve never fully regrasped my old love.
Until now. My muse has returned. The intense need to draw, to see, has broken free. And somehow in this moment I feel free. Whole once again.