Recently I joined the Quinlan Arts Center in Gainesville as well as the Georgia Art League that meets there. One Friday a month they have an undraped model and as I perused their website earlier this month I was excited to see that a session fell on my birthday. I marked it on my calendar and planned to ask to take a long lunch to give my self the treat of drawing from life. It had been four years since the last time I had the chance to join a figure drawing session and for weeks I let myself look more and more forward to it.
The fact that it was my fortieth birthday and I have been feeling the need to more strongly stake a claim for the artist part of myself surely contributed to how important it felt. When I realized that my coworker was going to be out of town and I would have to stay in the office to answer any calls, emails or tickets that came in I was crushed. I tried to tell myself I could make the next one, that it wasn’t a big deal, but it was. I prayed a string of self-centered prayers asking for my boss to change his mind, but didn’t beg or plead. I mentioned on Thursday I was disappointed not to be able to go out on my birthday but he was noncommittal. On Friday I considered calling in sick, but was uncomfortable with how obvious my lie would be. So I didn’t even pack my sketching supplies and headed to work feeling gloomy.
The morning turned out to be a better one than expected. The DotNet team of developers and I were able to make big strides on a large group of tickets we hope to deploy next week and my sister had a gorgeous bouquet of flowers delivered to the office. I was almost over not being able to go draw when my boss asked me why I hadn’t left for my “appointment” yet. I don’t think he has ever seen me smile so broadly or move so fast. I dashed out of the office and rushed to Target where I found no art supply aisle at all. I ended up buying a child’s pad with a carrying handle awkwardly carved out of every page, a box of crayons and some #2 pencils. I was in such a hurry I left the sketch book at the checkout and didn’t realize until I got back to the car.
But despite the trip back into the store and catching every red light and the gas light on my car coming on I made it to the session on time, got a good seat and even had a bit of friendly chat with a couple of the other artists. The session was meeting in a smaller room than normal as a workshop was using the large studio with easels, but everyone managed to find a place around the tables and a few easels brought in from other rooms. There were at least a dozen, maybe even 15, artists there, and it was a bit cramped. The armchair had a wretched pattern and the lights were set in a way that I worried would block my view but I was just so happy to have made it there nothing else mattered. Every bit of it felt like such a gift.
And it was a gift. Even though I had been anxiously awaiting the chance to attend the session I had not completely remembered how much I love to draw from life. I do not think there are many other activities that give me such happiness. For an hour and a half I totally lost myself in the pleasure of rediscovering it. The softly smirking model, her wavy hair, disappearing neck, and perky breasts and my eyes and hands working together to see how much of her pose, her attitude, how much of her could be captured in a two or five minute pose. Then with the longer poses the discipline of trying to slow myself down, keep the marks light while I tried to find the shapes, not lose the proportions or blow the composition. It was pure joy. I do not even know how to explain it. I think they used to call it getting “in the zone” but I do not think I am exaggerating to say I was ecstatic.
The drawings themselves are not excellent. It is obvious that in places it took me 5 tries to find the line, there are odd proportions and a torso that is incredibly improbable even with all the fore-shortening, but I am so grateful to have had the chance to make them that I just have to share them anyway. I enjoyed my career as a graphic designer, being a line cook fed parts of me that I didn’t even knew existed, and the daily challenge of my current job keeps me interested, but I love to draw. There is something deep in my core that knows that when I am in the studio with a pencil or crayon in my hand trying to give shape to what my eyes (or mind) see that I am where I am supposed to be. In that moment I am most me.
I would have thought that by the time I was forty I would have acquired more wisdom than has yet to come my way. It seems like all I have figured out is that things cannot be figured out and that we have far less control over anything than we like to think. I do not know what is in store for me. I do not know what will happen tomorrow. But I hope and I pray that no matter what path my life leads me down in the short or distance future I will not let myself to forget to keep drawing.
“No one understood how she still remained defiant.”
Mixed on paper, 8×5.5″, 2013
Blinded, Ink on Paper, 8×5.75″, 2013, NFS
I worked on my map print series from March to May 2011. I started with a Metro Atlanta Street Atlas with over 100 pages of maps that begged to be drawn on. Rather than plan the drawings out in advance I let the lines of the streets, rivers, lakes and highways dictate the shapes I drew. Many of the drawings will never see the light of day, but at least five were deemed worthy of framing. They are also available as matted prints for $15. Though it as been almost two years since I have worked on this series it is possible that I will revisit it.
The main focus of our team’s week in Mexico was the Health and Beauty Clinic we held near the Escuela de Nogal in the Lázaro Cárdenas neighborhood of Nava. Hands and Feet Ministries has built relationships with many families in this neighborhood through the school. Several times a year they reach out to the community through various events. A small kindergarten building and playground near the school that has recently been donated to Hands and Feet was the perfect place to hold the clinic.
Monday we divided into groups and walked around the neighborhood giving out fliers and inviting everyone to come for free manicures, pedicures and haircuts on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. We did some basic set up on Monday and discussed who would be filling what role in the clinic. Since my Spanish is pretty good I was asked if I wanted to be the one to share the Gospel with the ladies who were waiting their turn for beauty treatments. I said I would. I tend to be more outgoing in Spanish than I do in English. I find it easier to start a conversation with a stranger in Spanish in a foreign country than in English with the people who live in my own neighborhood. (I think it has to do with having the excuse of not being a native speaker and being expected to make mistakes that somehow takes the pressure off.) But when Ramiro suggested I make a circle of 7 or 8 chairs to sit and have my “platicas” with the ladies I got pretty nervous. He also reccomended that I have a page with applicable Bible verses to hand out. I liked that idea and when we got back to the hotel Deanna and I spent some time looking up verses on beauty and God’s love for us that might offer encouragement to the ladies attending the clinic. We decided on 1 Peter 3:3-4, which seemed the perfect choice to remind the women that though it is nice to feel pretty on the outside God sees and values the beauty we have on the inside.
The message I wanted to most communicate to each person that came to the clinic was that God made them and God loves them, and I wanted to do so in a personal way. By washing their feet, painting their nails and cutting their hair we were helping to take care of their outside appearance, but I did not want anyone to think it was because we found them lacking. Instead I wanted to be sure that they left feeling loved and accepted by us and by God. To help make the personal connection, and also to help with my nervousness, I decided to combine my love of drawing faces with God’s message of love and acceptance. I used my trusty Sharpies to draw a picture of a hand holding a small mirror surrounded by my signature swirls. Leaving enough space to write a name at the top I wrote “eres hija de Dios, una creación admirable,” which translates to, “you are a child of God, a wonderful creation,” and then smaller added 1 Peter 3:3-4 at the bottom. We made plenty of copies that I took with me, ready to be personalized.
Over the next 3 days I drew portraits of over 40 women, children and even a few young men. As they waited their turn for the other stations they sat still in front of me as I drew their face in the mirror and then wrote their name across the top of the paper. Drawing someone’s portrait is a very intimate experience. You have to look closely at them, really see who they are. For some of the women looking me in the eyes was almost impossible, and one of the young men absolutely would not meet my gaze, but the children loved it. They unflinchingly looked right into my eyes and smiled at me, realizing that I was really looking at them, seeing them, and that I appreciated what I saw. When I finished each portrait and made sure I had their name spelled correctly I read to them what it said and told them it was true. The experience of carefully studying each of their faces, looking into their eyes and then being able to tell them with certainty that they indeed are the children of God, beautiful and wonderfully made was amazing. I would even go so far as to say it felt holy. I felt like I was making a connection, that they believed me, and that most of them would keep the paper with their portrait and the reminder that not only did I see them, but God continues to see them, accept them and love them.
Our week in Coahuila has given me so much to think about. I am still trying to process it all, but I think the power of eye contact and the human desire to be seen have been what I have pondered the most. I think all of us want to be seen, to be noticed, to be appreciated. We think that this desire can be met by other people. As the drawing went well and I got positive feedback from the people of Nava as well as the people I was serving with I was pleased, but also wary. I was reminded of Galatians 1:10 and that while being seen and appreciated by other people is nice, it is to our Lord God in Heaven that we should be looking for approval. It is from Him that we should seek and find acceptance reassurance, and love. It is Him that really sees us as we are, fearfully and wonderfully made.
Lengthy Neck on Map 100 Ink, 7.75×9.75 inches, 2011
Original Drawing-$75, Matted Print-$15
Urban Girl on Map 2, Ink, 7.75×9.75 inches, 2011
Original Drawing $75 – Matted Print $20
Map 22 with Owl, Ink, 7.75×9.75 inches, 2011
Original Drawing $75 – Matted Print $20