In the last century I took several art classes. A few of them were taught at Charleston's Gibbes Museum of Art. My uncle taught a few classes there and suggested I try one or two. It was my desire to be a painter of portraits so a class in oil painting was available and I paid 'em my money. We met once a week for six weeks. A list of supplies was provided and I purchased them at an art supply store down town. When the day arrived I was loaded for bear and eager to begin.
Here we go, I thought, I'll learn how to get a likeness and paint flesh tones. Several people walked into the classroom in front of me. I chose an easel laying my satchel with paints, brushes and paper towels on the floor. Everyone was quietly setting up their space laying canvas on the easel and gathering tubes of paint to squirt onto their palettes. Brilliant colors oozed from the tubes along the sides of our palettes. Cadmium red, burnt sienna, green and a large blob of white. As we were doing this the instructor walked in.
"Don't put out your colors yet," he said as I squeezed the cadmium yellow bright onto the wooden palette.
The moans from everyone doing just that filled the room.
"I need to speak to you first. You will want to follow the rules I have for just such procedures. So lay your tubes down and let me orient you to my class."
Everyone sat on the stools provided while he looked around at us and quietly began to speak.
"We will be meeting each week at this time for approximately two hours. I would appreciate your coming a few minutes early to set up your canvases and your paints. I have models who will be be here each week for you to paint. Please treat them with the courtesy they deserve. Sitting in one position for any length of time is very tiring so I will have them pose for twenty minute periods with a five minute rest. My models have agreed to this and I would like you to show them your appreciation when our time is up.
"As to colors, you have the list of supplies. Every artist has his own method of laying out those colors and I would appreciate it if you would use my method while you are under my tutelage, thank you. Let me show you how I want them while our model takes her seat."
Our instructor wandered from student to student pointing out his arrangement for us. It seemed logical progressing from bright red in a rainbow pattern ending with a huge glob of white. The colors were on the periphery of the palette so that a large area in the middle could be used for mixing. When everyone was set up and the model was in her pose we looked up and a beautiful young lady sat in front of us in her birthday suit. It was my first life drawing experience. A warmth traveled up my neck to to the top of my head as my face lit on fire. It was not my custom to see a lady in the all together sitting in the middle of the room with ten or twelve fully clothed folks standing around gawking.
"If this is your first life drawing class," said the instructor with a mischievous grin looking straight at me, "it might be daunting for the few minutes it takes you to beginning drawing. First, I want you to make some quick drawings of our lovely model on your sketch pads to get the feel of the pose."
I looked away to find my sketch pad while my face continued to smolder. I placed it onto the easel, leaned over for my pencil and stood straight looking directly into the eyes of the model. She had a similar mischievous grin on her face as our eyes met. She winked. The fire in my face roared to incendiary proportions.
I placed my pencil on the paper and began to make marks.
"Feel your way around her body," said the instructor.
It was more coals into the fire. I began to sweat, the heat was turned up so high. I looked to see if the windows would open hoping for a cool breeze from that autumn night.
"Look at the model and make your marks as if you had the pencil directly on her skin," he said with a smile in my direction.
Shaking a bit I placed my pencil on the page and tried to draw as he said.
"Lose yourself in the contours and the marks you make on your paper."
His words eased my tension and the pencil began to move in conjunction with my eyes. My mind lost sight of the fact I was drawing a beautiful women, naked, in front of me. I was viewing and translating the work of art before me. My embarrassment left as quickly as it had come. I was now an artist learning my craft. In front of me was the chance to acquire the knowledge needed to create an oil to be proud of.
The night went well after that initial confusion. The model was a friendly young college student who sat for artists to earn money for school. During the breaks she would wrap up in a warm blanket to move around amongst us budding artists to see how we saw her. I am happy to say she thought my interpretation of her was very flattering.
She was our model for three sessions. The last night we all thanked her as we said farewell.
"Next week," said our instructor, "we have one of our student's daughter sitting for us."
Whoa, I thought. That could be embarrassing.
"Til next week then.'
We returned the next week to see a chair on the small platform in front of us. Everyone began their set up as we waited for the instructor and the model. He walked in with a very young girl who had on a silk jacket.
"Good evening everyone. This week we have a new model. She is the daughter of one of your fellow students," he said pointing at a beaming lady on the other side of the room. "It is her first time modeling so we will have to be easy on her. She may need more breaks than we are used to. You will enjoy working with the silk material of this jacket she is wearing. Alright get your pads and pencils ready while we have her pose. We will spend the next fifteen to twenty minutes sketching so that you become familiar with the pose."
We drew her until she needed a break. While she walked around we laid out our colors getting ready.
For three weeks we painted this young lady. I don't remember the instructor saying anything to me to help. The one time he did come over to my easel, he stood back watching and said only, "You know what you are doing."
I felt flattered but disappointed because I didn't know what I was doing.