Follow a beginner on their journey through the foundation course.
“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” Confucius
Sacred and Profane Love, Titian
This is my final week and I resist the temptation to paint; not because I do not long to cross the final frontier of the foundation course, but because I know that I will not enjoy it as much if I do not master my drawing first.
On reflection, the course is as much about learning to know yourself as it is about drawing and painting. I have learnt that I need to be less fearful of mistakes and less blocked by the illusion of perfection. I have also realised that learning is not a race to the finish; nor is there anything to be gained from comparison. If I am going to compare myself to anyone it might as well be to The Great Masters, at least then there is something to really work towards!
So, in the final week I take a more modest but equally exciting step. I move from one side of the studios to the other and cross a different dividing line. For the first time I am working from life, who would have thought it could feel so different!
The model is beautiful. She sits serenely on the edge of a stool, her skin pours over her form like crystalline water over rock, smooth and without a single blemish. Her gaze hangs in the middle distance, with no particular urge to travel anywhere. She betrays no discomfort in sitting nude in front of a group of painters; instead her figure melts into a space that seems to have been moulded for her. She is symmetrical like a diamond. Her shoulders slope and broaden creating a line from cheek to shoulder to elbow before beginning to taper in, skimming her thighs towards her knees and finally brushing her toes.
There is a sense of excitement that comes with tackling a live subject for the first time. I want to recreate that fluidity and strength of character on the page and this urgency drives me to work faster and more boldly. Of course I do not come close to doing her justice but I feel more relaxed in front of the easel.
Inevitably I cannot work fast enough as the session is punctuated by regular pauses to give the model time to rest. After 20 minutes an alarm clock rings, and the stillness breaks. Suddenly the air seems thick and stuffy and I can almost see it nudged aside by the stirring of those in the room. Our model moves swiftly to drape herself in a dressing gown, faded and reminiscent of the ones worn by 1950s Hollywood stars in their dressing rooms. In one seamless action she reaches for the mobile phone and with this the final thread snaps.
The class has been a revelation, it is clear to me now how demanding drawing from life is and the skill required to do it well. But, this spurs me on. I may not have progressed a pace with my peers, but I have taken stock of every bend in the road and enjoyed (eventually) the process. I look forward to more in the term ahead.