I enrolled in Life Drawing. The professor could have been the prototype for Stephen Colbert: tall, thin, black hair and glasses; handsome and funny. The big differences between the two were which Carolina each was born in and how their shared first name was spelled. Steven, like Stephen, was the kind of guy who filled the room as soon as he entered it, his warmth and personality working their way into every crevice of SCAD’s old armory building.
From Steven I learned how to invoke The Hum. Every class began with 10-15 minutes of quick sketches on cheap newsprint paper. “This is like stretching before exercise, not that any of you beautiful people need to exercise,” he said.
The model stood on a raised platform in the center of the room. She dropped her robe and stood nude but for her bright African turban, then arranged herself on the platform like a cat napping in a sunbeam. “Try not to look at your paper. Focus on the model and let your hand move,” Steven said.
She was massive, the largest body I’d ever seen. My experience with nude bodies was limited to skin magazines, teen sex comedies, girls my age, and my own: lean, muscled bodies with taut skin and lots of angles. A few of the students snickered, others looked away or blushed. The guy next to me put on his Walkman and lip-synced while he marked up his newsprint. I drew, too — tight lines that struggled to relate the rolls of flesh correctly. Steven grabbed my hand. “Lock your wrist. Big movements,” he said, and then he told the model to change positions. “You only get one minute per pose, people. Stop trying to make art and get your hands moving.”
One minute sketches became two minutes, then three, five, ten. I drew from the shoulder, just like Steven showed me, my hand blackened by charcoal and my newsprint an unintelligible mess of lines and shadows. “Okay, everybody get out a good piece of paper. Diane is going to hold this one for thirty minutes.” The model rolled onto her side, her belly and her heavy breasts on the platform in front of her, each of her massive thighs thicker than my waist.
I locked my wrist and moved my arm and the room and Steven and the guy lip-syncing “Danger Zone” fell away. Diane was the most beautiful woman in the world. The sensation wasn’t sexual — it was better than that. She was beautiful in that crystal, meditative, white light way that if we’re lucky sneaks up on us between waking and sleep. Maybe it’s what prayer feels like, a sort of pleasant joy that rushes through the body like cool water. There was Diane, my arm, the charcoal and paper, and it was good.
The Hum doesn’t give a damn about skin mags and teen sex comedies. It doesn’t know anything about fashion magazines or social constructs. All The Hum knows is form, contrast, values. Everything is beautiful in The Hum because everything is nothing more or less than it is. Her curves caught the light, sometimes giving it back and others hiding it like a secret. She was everything, the complete history of art, the entire world, the whole universe. My arm moved and my head hummed and I loved Diane, then Steven yelled “Time.” Thirty minutes passed in the time it took you to read this paragraph.
I looked over at Danger Zone’s easel. His drawing was anatomy textbook perfect. He looked at mine and gave it the double-handed point followed by a twin cam thumbs up, never missing a lip-synced beat. Steven looked over our shoulders. “Well,” he said, “it looks like I found my superstars.”
I remember Diane. I’m sure I still have at least a couple of my drawings of her. Steven was something else, wasn’t he? After receiving the results of his mid-term art history class test, he announced to the class that I was the only student up to that point who had ever gotten an A+ on it. He didn’t have to do that, but it sure made my day.
Steven was the best. I was crushed to hear of his passing.
I’ve only taken one art class and that was in high school. I never had the propensity of drawing or painting or modeling or anything else. I’ve really only put pen to paper for writing and the occasional doodle. You make me want to take an art class, though.
Get on it!
Every time you write about the hum I feel an ugly jealousy creeping over me. I don’t even have the facility to imagine being that engaged in anything. It sounds amazing.
I’ve heard people say similar things about yoga and meditation, neither of which I can vouch for. But if you can’t doodle those might be avenues to get there.
I like your drawings and doodles! Very creative and brave.