Friday, 6 April 2012
When I was 14 I began training my eye to draw the human form but I did not attend a proper (i.e. naked) life class until I was 16. During the long summer break my local art school ran a course for prospective students. I was desperate to attend from my provincial girls' school but not a little overwhelmed by the other young people there; so worldly and sassy already. Some even smoked! It was my first whiff of Bohemia. I had simple ideas!
I remember my very first life model well. She was motherly, enormous, curvaceous, with breasts like giant billowing marshmallows. She was an absolute joy to draw during the first three days of the course. Then rumours started that on the fourth day there would be a male model. Aside of an older brother during early childhood I had never seen a naked male in the flesh. I had no idea how that would be in a public environment alongside peers whose opinion of me mattered terribly. It felt very awkward. I knew I would blush!
The day arrived and we all set up our easels and, on the dot of 9am, the model arrived. Such a disappointment. He was old, wrinkly and serious, surly even. I wanted very much to draw his back and I longed for the olden days of plaster statues! The tutor, for whatever quirk of his own amusement, placed my easel front and centre. I was mortified. Perhaps it amused him to pick the most timid in his class. Certainly the comments and laughter from some of the more wordly girls made me realise already that I should not mention that this man was my 'first'.
You know that stereotypical image of the artist? Standing with pencil raised, thumb measuring some point in the distance at which they are squinting? Well it's not entirely false. When you are first learning about perspective, and particularly when you are learning about foreshortening, I would say it is essential.
And so there I stood. Trying to hide behind the 6 ft easel and my A1 sheet of paper (not difficult, I have never exceeded 5'4"). and trying to avoid having to measure... anything. The tutor was having nonesuch. He paced back and forth as I fumbled with materials and media trying in my futile way to delay the inevitable. So I began.
Relative spaces, proportionate balance. At a distance of barely more than two metres I measured every aspect of the man's body. By lunchtime he had a head, torso, arms, hands, legs, feet and a stool to sit upon. The tutor grinned at me as I left the studio for lunch. I blushed.
After lunch there was no avoiding the inevitable. As a scarlet faced and very naive 16 year old girl, barely daring to look directly, I squinted from behind my easel and pencil and I measured the man's cock and balls. I attempted to represent the foreshortening accurately. I used the skills I had been taught to give him three-dimensional form. To the old man's credit his flaccid cock was less challenging than might have otherwise been the case.
I have never been so relieved when a class came to an end (no pun intended!). As was the tradition in life classes, whilst we packed away charcoal and pencils, the model would wander amongst the easels, gazing indifferently at the works they had inspired. Some would do so naked, others barely covering themselves with a flimsy kaftan or gown. I busied myself in my art box desperate to avoid any dialogue with this man who had just allowed me stare at his body all day. To my eternal gratitude he passed by without comment.
As I finally reached the point of rolling my drawing to leave for the day the tutor came to stand behind me, assessing my artwork;
"I feel you have been rather too generous with your proportions Miss..."
I have no idea how I did not vanish in a puff of smoke my cheeks burned so hot!