I looked down at the mess on my sketchpad and tried to not take the results too hard.
Drawing is hard. Drawing well is hard. Making things on the page sort of look like they look in real life is hard. Even making them look not how they actually look, but more like how you imagine them is very hard.
The woman I’d been drawing, who was beautiful, looked (at best) like a storybook goblin on the pages of my oversized sketchbook.
My head and eyes hurt. I wanted to chuck my charcoal out the nearest open window and drop the paper in the circular file.
I really hadn’t expected this month of learning about figure drawing to be easy.
Even in high school, in my imagined artistic prime, I hadn’t been particularly good at drawing. It would take time, more than I had in a month, to even get back to whatever basic artistic level I’d achieved when I was 16.
“It would help if you practiced, dummy,” I muttered under my breath, as Andy White, the facilitator for the local figure drawing class, took out a sandwich at the beginning of the break he’d just called.
The sandwich looked good.
Once again, I’d forgotten to pack anything to eat — or even remembered that I needed to eat beforehand. It’s a habit of mine. The only time I forget to eat is when I get nervous, and I was nervous about this class because it was the last class I’d attend as a member of the student body.
This particular One Month adventure really had two separate parts and I was beginning to worry more about the second part than the first.
While I was mostly annoyed by how I couldn’t make my hands do the things my eyes and mind thought they should be able to do, I dreaded modeling. It seemed funny that someone whose picture appears so much in the newspaper would get nervous about a half dozen people staring at him for a little while.
But this bothered me. I wanted to know what they saw, but I felt anxious about having to be there when they did it.
Also, in what might seem counterproductive, while I wanted to have others help me see an unbiased look at myself, I tried to change what they saw.
I tried to lose a couple of pounds.
At the beginning of this month, I fought with my diet more than I usually do. While I (very boringly) tend to keep track of what I eat and (even more boringly) count the calories, I found myself rebelling against the routine — cheating on the process.
With Halloween coming up and office candy dishes overflowing, I could hardly resist grabbing a piece or two here and there.
What was the harm? Did I really need to count that?
Probably I did, just like I should have counted the brownies, the cookies, the extra beers (consumed for research), not to mention several orders of cheese fries.
I’d hoped to melt off just a couple of pounds before I stood up in front of the class, but my scale said I hadn’t lost an ounce.
I hadn’t gained any weight, but the needle hadn’t moved in my favor.
Along with my weight, I also worried a bit about body hair and whether my most natural state would be repulsive. If people were going to draw me, I wanted to look my hypothetical best, I thought.
Body hair is sort of a spectrum thing. Some men are practically hairless or have what I like to think of as manly, movie star hairiness –a little bit of dark chest hair that photographs well.
The ladies seem to love that — or that’s what you see on the covers of romance novels.
Other men have to use the equivalent of a hedge trimmer to keep themselves from being confused for werewolves when they go swimming.
Nobody is into that.
I know this because if you search online for male grooming products, you will find a cornucopia of hair removal gadgets, acidic salves and magic potions that will help you excise as much unwanted fur as you can desire.
What you will not find are products made to turn those unsightly wiry bristles on your shoulders into a silky, luxurious pelt she’ll long to touch.
Outside of my own vanity, some degree of “manscaping” seemed considerate toward the artists who were there to draw something approximating human.
Then there was the entire question of just how much skin was I supposed to show? The models I’d seen in class hadn’t gone entirely nude. They’d kept a little bit on to cover the one part, but I wasn’t sure if that was the usual run of things and what was expected of me.
It took me a while to work up the nerve to ask Andy about it.
“It’s whatever you’re comfortable with,” he said.
Once again, he reminded me that he’d seen it all. The entire class probably had.
I was worrying over nothing, maybe, but that didn’t stop me from openly fretting about it to a few friends, who thought it was hilarious that I’d signed on to possibly pose naked.
I caught enough grief that I threatened to make a calendar and give them out at Christmas.
It took me a while to get a handle on my diet, but as we got closer to the day I was scheduled to stand in front of the class, I cut back on the sweets and the snacks. I reduced my salt intake and dropped eating processed foods, which tend to make you retain fluid. Getting rid of the excess water weight might make me less puffy — if I was puffy.
I wasn’t sure that I was puffy, but as soon as I quit eating things from boxes, bags and jars, the numbers of my bathroom scale began to effortlessly slide downward.
I was probably puffy.
One of my editors in the newsroom told me that if I wanted to increase some definition with my body, I could try dehydration. The editor had friends who were wrestlers and that was a trick they’d used to look leaner.
But I wasn’t so sure. Giving up beer for a few days was one thing. Giving up water was something else.
For my second (and last) trip to the class as an art student, I paid close attention to the model. I watched how she moved and tried to get a sense of what was going on in her head as she shifted from pose to pose.
She moved with confidence and while she never seemed unaware of our presence, she didn’t seem to mind that we were there.
I drew what I could, hated what I came up with and as I was leaving the class, I stopped, thanked her for modeling for us and apologized for not being able to do much with what she’d given.
“I’m just not a very good artist,” I said.
“That’s OK,” she said. “You can get better.”