Last night I went to a figure drawing session for the first time in almost three years. For all that these sessions have been minefields of brutal, ceaseless internal self-flagellation in the past, they’ve also been some of my happiest, most centered, and most deeply focused hours as an artist. (Go figure.) I missed that feeling of freedom and creation, but weeknight outings were too challenging for us (as parents) until just recently.
I made dinner, ate it with Erik and Owl, did a little cleanup, and then pulled on socks and shoes and sweatshirt and picked up my bag. As I walked out the door I observed I had a tight feeling in my stomach and was breathing shallowly; it was a familiar sensation; I thought, if I were prone to panic attacks, I’d surely be having one now. It was just so much, thinking about how long it had been and how anxious I often felt at these sessions. But I cued up a good song on my phone, and drove slowly, and told myself: you have every right to be there. And: remember how good it feels to draw figures. And my belly untangled itself, and I walked into the space without trembling (much), and smiled at strangers.
two-minute quick sketches
This is embarrassing and I wish I were better than this, but I’ve always been prone to assuming that everyone in the room is somehow more knowledgeable and confident and cool than I am, especially if they are older, white, and/or male. Add in impostor syndrome, because I’ve never been to art school, and don’t make money off my art, and it’s really no wonder I was such a mental wreck at these events.
Partway through last night’s session, though, a curious thing happened. I looked around at all these other people and thought, you know what? They’re probably weird and insecure and nerdy and awkward, too. And then some way more confident inner voice replied, DUDE, they’re artists; of COURSE they are! You think that guy talks that way because he’s such an authority? He probably just wants to sound important! That man’s jokes aren’t over your head, they’re just bad jokes, because he doesn’t know how else to socialize! Don’t give it a second thought! You’re just as good as any of them!
And I thought, wow. That’s probably true. I am smart and observant and talented. Why shouldn’t I be awesome?
Of course, my sketch suffered a little while I was busy thinking all of this (instead of focusing on the model), and moments later the self-doubt resurfaced, but that breezily self-assured voice stayed with me throughout the evening, offering the cheerful rebuttal: nope, don’t worry about it. You’re just as good as any of them.
I got home and Owl had actually not dropped off to sleep yet (it was almost 11!), but it meant I could show Erik my sketches. He said, “It’s been a long time, but I think you’re even better than before.” “I think so too,” I said. “I’ve still been training my eye, even if I haven’t actually drawn much.” My eye and my mind, it seems.
I can’t take full credit for the great color effects in these sketches, though. I wanted a very tactile (but not too messy) medium, and I was going to buy Conté crayons but then I remembered I had these funny multicolored stick crayons I got in the gift shop of an art museum in Japan. They’re based on the colors in six of Monet’s paintings. They were really fun to draw with, pleasantly waxy and imprecise enough to force less detail than I usually do.