I have kissed honey lips
The first studio session for Life Drawing 250 was being held in a studio space I’d never been in before, a few blocks off campus in what would otherwise have looked like any other generic office building on any street in the Pacific Northwest. So generic in fact, that I missed it three times and found myself about fifteen minutes behind schedule and in danger of missing the class. If you’re not set up and ready when the doors close, you don’t set up at all.
By the time I found parking three blocks away, hauled my supplies out of the back of the Pulsar, and dodged traffic crossing three streets without waiting for the lights to change, I was out of breath and just trying to dash the last ten yards to the door before I was too late and ended up with a giant hole in my grade.
I saw her coming down the sidewalk from the other direction, clearly in the same hurry I was in, but about fifty feet further away with a duffel bag swinging beside her as she jogged towards me. I remember thinking she looked like the daughter from “My Two Dads” in a grey sweatshirt and jeans and her blond hair pulled back in a scrunchy. She was still a few dozen steps away, but my mommy taught me manners, and no matter what kind of hurry I’m in, I hold a door for a woman.
“Thanks!” she said as she passed through the doorway, flashing me a wide smile and hurrying off down a hallway.
I scanned the lobby and saw a placard directing me down the same hallway towards the room-number printed on my directions. When I entered the room there was only one empty easel and I knew I had cut it very close. I set up as quickly as I could and tried to settle my nerves and clear my head.
As a freshman, it’s unusual to get a studio seat in a 200 series class when you aren’t an art major. I’d come in to the program with an interest in a fine art minor; and a strong portfolio and collegiate level courses in high school definitely helped my campaign to participate in the more interesting classes and avoid the prerequisite dross. I didn’t want to give any of the art professors a reason to think they had made a poor choice in seating me in the class, and missing my first session with a model would have been a catastrophe. Which, is why my nerves were frayed even before the whithering looks the professor was giving me as I unpacked my supplies and set up my station.
“You’re very lucky Mr. Rogers, our model is running even later than you are. Otherwise, you would have missed out on our session today. I would suggest that you invest in a watch and a day minder if you intend to earn a grade other than ‘incomplete’ in this class.”
If all art professors are supposed to be hippie-minded lovers of good vibes and harmonious environments, this woman had clearly missed a memo. Although, as I only ever met one art professor who was anything even remotely hippie-like, I might have been the one that had my wires crossed.
There were seven other students at stations set in a circle around the short circular platform in the middle of the room. On the four inch rise was a metal folding chair and a white bedsheet folded up next to it.
No sooner had I finished setting up my workspace and taken my seat, than the door opened and in walked our model wearing a white dressing robe and fuzzy pink slippers.
Despite the preconceived notions that most people have when starting an art course, most live subjects for college figure drawing classes are not chiseled Adonises triumphant or languid Venuses in repose; in general they’re middle-aged or older, overweight, and have some combination of features that make them both interesting to draw and sexually unappealing. Part of the objective being taught is the ability to both “find beauty” and then express it in the medium at hand.
There’s another element of figure drawing etiquette that is somewhat unspoken, but nearly universal: for group classes, models are nameless and exist in a personal bubble without making eye contact with the artists. Generally the professor will give brief instructions, the model will choose their own poses for the durations requested, and silence will be the order of the day.
“Hi everyone, I’m Ashley.”
This was my first clue that our model might not be a typical figure drawing subject. The second clue became apparent as my gaze traveled up from the floor and panned over her from toes to forehead. She was college-aged, and while she might have packed on the freshman fifteen, she had an hourglass shape and attractive figure that could hardly be called overweight. She had clear skin with a rosy complexion and dark blond hair done up in a loose bun. All in all, I still thought she looked unsettlingly like an older version of the daughter from “My Two Dads.”
At the moment she sat down on the metal chair we made eye contact. She let out a surprised “eek!” and, being the smooth operator that I was, I fumbled and dropped my charcoal pencil.
The professor was looking at her with an arched eyebrow, and she covered her mouth with the back of her hand. “Sorry, the chair was cold” she said as a blush spread over he cheeks.
“That is what the sheet next to you is for” replied the professor in a voice that was floating between unamused and unimpressed.
“Ah” was all she said as she leaned forward, grasped the edge of the folded sheet and with one swift motion turned, stood upright, and unfurled the sheet with a snap of her wrist allowing it to float down over the chair, draping it in white fabric. It was a gesture so confident that her nudity only added to the strong presence she projected outwards towards the strangers standing around her.
She sat down again, reclining back with crossed ankles and fingers laced together over her navel. “Much better” she said as she looked directly back into my eyes.
“Alright, we’ll have three poses of five minutes each, and then five poses of three minutes each,” the professor looked at the model for some sign of acknowledgement, but she said nothing and continued to stare directly at me. After a few moments the professor shrugged and said “let us begin.”
My first sketch was complete rubbish, the way she was leaning back on the chair facing directly at me left me with a bad perspective angle. The shape outline looked like the end result of an oompa-loompa mating with a munchkin, and absolutely nothing like the woman in front of me. Less than a minute into the first pose I flipped to the next sheet of paper and started again. Instead of focusing on her overall shape I focused on her face, trying just to capture just the expression in her eyes.
The second pose was much better, she turned sideways on the chair with her legs together, her back gently arched with her arms lifted up and crossed behind her head. Capturing the outline of her chin and neck against the lines of her arms and the sweep of her back created two wonderful sketches and several good studies.
The third pose was difficult to capture correctly. She sat with her chin resting on one knee pulled up with her arms wrapped around that leg and the other leg tilted off the edge of the chair. Capturing the shape of her torso without creating a round “pumpkin” effect proved difficult, and only my third attempt did her any justice.
The five short poses were more traditional: a simple seated pose, standing next to the chair bent over one leg up on the seat (the “tying a shoe” pose), sitting and turned away in profile, standing with legs crossed and one hand on the back of the chair, and finally standing and facing me directly with hands clasped to one side and one arm crossing below her breasts.
Once again, for the final pose, she never took her eyes off of me.
I drew the outline of her face and the shape of her neck down to the slope of her breasts, the line of her arm as it crossed gently above her stomach, the angle that her waist followed and the line of her hips. I blocked in the slight patch of blond pubic hair where the line of her thighs met, and then the taper of her legs and the curve of her calves down to her petite ankles and narrow feet.
Her stare was a weight that smothered me like a heavy blanket. Every line I drew felt intensely intimate, as though I traced the truth of her, unconcealed, on rough paper in sharp black streaks and soft grey shades.
“And that will do for today. Please collect your materials and turn in your work with your name and student number on the back.”
I flipped the sketchpad closed and laid down the white charcoal pencil I’d been using to add in highlights when time ended. While there’s no reason not to finish the last touches on a piece before handing it in, I felt like I’d been running a marathon and I was just glad to cross the finish line.
I looked up in surprise when she walked up to me. She took my face in her hands and bent down to kiss me. Her lips were soft, and the kiss was both gentle and urgent. Her eyes were closed and almost involuntarily I closed mine and kissed her back, mouth instinctively flexing against hers. I placed my hand on her hip for balance, but finding only bare flesh against my fingertips, I snatched it back almost as though it had been burned.
After a confusing eternity our lips parted and she pulled back, still holding my face in her hands at arms length. “An athlete, and a gentleman, and an artist, AND a good kisser…you are simply full of surprises!” The smile on her lips touched her sapphire blue eyes, and then she stepped back and turned around, walking briskly to the door with a quick grab of her robe and slippers. The last I ever saw of her was her perfectly heart-shaped bottom as the door closed behind her.
“I’m…I’m sorry” began the professor from across the room. “We don’t usually use students as models…”
I knew she was concerned that in a new era of political correctness I might file some kind of complaint. “No, no…I’m…it was…please…um…don’t worry about it. It’s not a problem.” I was just sitting there shaking my head in obvious bewilderment. “Hardly something to be upset about.”
“Ah, well, I could probably get you her phone number if you wanted to follow up with her…she seemed to enjoy working with you today…”
“NO!” I said with entirely too much force. “My…uh…my fiancÃ©e probably wouldn’t appreciate that. That would not be a good idea.”
For the second time that day the professor arched a perfectly sculpted and shaped eyebrow. But, she smiled and shook her head as she replied, “No, probably not. Turn in your material from today, and we’ll hope that your next studio sessions isn’t as exciting as this one.”
Months later I was standing in a small office in the art department building watching dust motes dance in the late afternoon sunbeams that were shining in through the slanted blinds. I’d come down to pick up my graded materials and a much needed check that the lanky teacher’s assistant randomly hunting through filing cabinets was trying to find.
“Like I told you on the phone man, she just, like, offered Professor Robins cash right there for them. Proff said she’d have to check with you, and that’s why I called. When I called her back, she came like less than an hour later to pick them up. She really liked them man. Awesome deal.”
He shifted his attention from the filing cabinets to the top drawer of the large desk that dominated the room.
“Ah ha! Here we go man, one check for one-hundred dollars and a bill of sale for two charcoal drawings: one titled ‘Study of Eyes Staring’ and one titled ‘Study of a Woman Standing’ both sold to a student in the…oh man! You sold art to a psych major man! What does that mean?”
Based on the ripe combination of patchouli and ganja reeking from his clothes and copious facial hair, I was pretty sure whatever it meant would include some kind of “deep” theory on art and the flexibility of sanity brought on by pharmaceutical agents that I didn’t have time for.
“No idea, I’m glad she liked them. Did you see her when she came to pick them up?”
“Yeah man, she was hot. Total babe man. Total babe.”
“Did you know her by any chance?”
“Nah man, I’d seen her before, but I couldn’t place her. I’ll tell you though man, do you remember that show ‘My Two Dads’ man? She looked just like the daughter on that show man. JUST LIKE HER. But grown up and with boobs man. It was awesome.”
I looked at the check, it was a personal check drawn on the account of one “Ashley Robins” with an on-campus address and a circle around the phone number. On the back was a note:
I have never been touched the way you touched me from across the room. Please Call. XOXO
I never cashed that check.
[Word Count: 2306]