A Creative Challenge Ch. 01byPvidal©
I knew as soon as she walked into my studio that something was wrong.
Of all the nude models I had hired over the previous couple of years, Amy was the most outgoing and good-natured. Always happy – even though starting at seven o'clock in the morning is something that some models don't cope with at all well – Amy would usually spend the first half an hour or so of our drawing session telling me some highly embellished but amusing story about what happened at some club the night before, or about what some eccentric teacher at her college had said.
Steve, the art model agent, warned me the first time I booked her that some of the other artists found Amy's chatter distracting, but it never bothered me. My drawing routine is to warm up with about half a dozen one-minute poses, then five or six two-minute poses, then a couple of ten-minute poses, before tackling something longer and more considered. So a little banter and a few laughs help to loosen me up mentally at the beginning of a session.
Trying to capture something worthwhile in 60 seconds with a stick of charcoal or a pencil is a real challenge, but Amy knows how to give an artist something interesting. Because she is a dance and drama student she is quite supple and graceful, and practising dance moves in a mirror means she can visualise the way her body looks better than most. Sometimes if she feels dramatic and creative she goes quickly from one interesting pose to another, other times she'll just slowly go through her dance stretch routines until I say "Hold that", and she'll freeze for one or two minutes.
Some models quietly count the seconds during short poses, then move to the next one, but Amy chats, so I have to keep track of the time for her. I used to draw with a group at the local Art Institute, which is a lot less expensive than having a model all to myself, but I found that very frustrating. On my own with a model, I can say "Can you hold that a bit longer?" if a drawing is going well and just needs a bit more time, or "Forget this, give me something else" if it isn't. Amy has no idea of time when she is talking, but that suits me fine, because then each drawing can pretty much take as long as it takes, if the pose is not too hard to hold.
I knew she was not her normal self as soon as she walked in. I have a dressing room next to the studio – well, it's the bathroom, really, but when I'm drawing it's 'the dressing room' - and most of the models say hello, then undress next door and come back into the studio in some sort of robe. When I'm ready, they get onto the little dais I have set up – which is just two small stacks of wooden shipping pallets with a small piece of carpet and a blanket over them – and then drop the robe.
Amy never bothers with the dressing room. She breezes in, says something like "Hi. Guess what happened..." or "Good morning, Sam, I've just got to tell you this. My friend Donna and I....", and then peels off her street clothes in front of me while she launches into today's story. When someone is talking to you, it's rude not to look at them, not to make eye contact, so I always have to watch her strip off, I can't politely sharpen pencils or something until she is ready, I have to give her undressing my full attention. I don't mind this at all, because she does it so naturally and casually. None of the art models are shy or uncomfortable about being nude with an artist in a studio, but Amy is the sort of girl who only seems to be really comfortable when she is fully naked. Nude is her natural state, and she is reluctant to put her clothes back on again to go out into the street. Most models slip their robe on when we take a break, but I don't think it's ever occurred to Amy to bring one with her.
On this particular morning, she just said "Hello", dropped her bag, and silently undressed, with her back to me. Then she stepped up on to the dais, said "Ready?" without looking at me, and when I said "Ready when you are", she struck her first pose and I began to draw. The first pose was not very interesting, so I made a quick attempt at capturing it, then asked her to change.
"Amy, what's wrong?" I said, as she repositioned.
The next time I told her to change the pose, she looked directly at me and I could see she was red-rimmed around the eyes. I knew she didn't drink very much so it wasn't a hangover.
"Amy, you've been crying – what's up?"
"Do you really want to know?"
"Of course I do, you're not exactly an inspirational model this morning."
"True. Sorry. Craig and I broke up last night. I spent the night at Donna's, crying."
"Oh Amy, I'm so sorry. You seemed so happy with Craig, what happened? Was it something to do with your modelling?"
"Oh God, no, nothing like that, Craig doesn't mind other men seeing my body – well, not all that much, and as long as he's the only one who gets to touch it." She gave a little sigh, then paused. "Correction. Didn't mind."
"It was my own stupid fault. Do you remember about six months ago, I told you we had a row, and then made up again?"
"Vaguely, I don't remember it being a big deal."
"It wasn't that big a deal, but what I didn't tell you was that while I was angry at him for a couple of days, I had an affair with someone else."
"No, that's the wrong word, it wasn't really an affair, it was just one fuck. Not even a very good one. You know I wait tables at La Belle Provence on the weekend, don't you?"
"Yes, you've told me."
"Well, the wine waiter, Tod, has been trying for ever to get me to go out with him, and I quite like him, so he got me at a vulnerable time. We closed up late that Saturday night, and he knew I was pissed off at Craig and he offered me a sympathetic ear, and he walked me home. He was very sweet, and I invited him in, and ...hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time. The next day I felt really guilty and I went round to Craig's and said I was sorry I got angry and made it up with him and he asked me to live with him so I quit my apartment and moved into his place. I didn't tell him about Tod, though, I knew it would break his heart, and I told Tod that he could forget about a repeat performance, that was his one and only Amy-fuck. Tod took it OK, and Craig and I have been really happy and closer than ever since then."
I had stopped drawing by now, and she had stopped modelling, and was sitting on her hands on the edge of the dais, looking really miserable. I sat down beside her.
"So what happened?"
"Miranda, who also works at the restaurant, used to go out with Craig until he dumped her – it was long before he went out with me, but she doesn't like me much on general principle. Tod told her that he had fucked me. He was just bragging, but she couldn't resist the chance to stick the knife in, so she told Craig. Bitch. So Craig was devastated, more because I hadn't told him the truth than anything else. I told him that it meant nothing, that it was a mistake, and that it wouldn't happen again, and that I didn't tell him at the time because I knew how hurt he would be. I didn't know then how much more hurt he would be finding out about it from someone like Miranda instead of from me. Now he doesn't trust me. I should have told him. I wish I had."
She turned and looked at me, sad like a scolded puppy, on the verge of tears again, then she said, "Oh Sam, I'm so unhappy", and she leaned her face into me. I put my arm around her bare shoulders and patted her gently. It's what you do if you want to comfort someone when you don't know what to say. She was quite still, not sobbing, but I could feel the wetness of her quiet tears seep through my T-shirt. For the next minute or so there was an awkward silence which I needed to break.
"What will you do now?"
"Hang in there, and hope he forgives me, I suppose, but he called me a whore last night, so it could take a while."
"He couldn't have meant that."
"No, I don't think he did, but he was pretty mad at me, and it stung like a slap in the face. It was so unlike him to say something cruel like that, he is usually so kind."
She managed a half-smile for me, which I understood as "Thank you for listening to me", then she took hold of the sleeve of my grubby drawing T-shirt, leaned over and wiped her eyes with it. It was a very familiar and intimate thing to do with someone who was not a very close friend, but she did it to surprise and amuse me, and to break the sadness of her mood.
"I would have used my own shirt, but....", she tailed off and looked down at her naked body and shrugged with a grin.
"You're very welcome", I said.
"Come on, let's work. You're not paying me $22 an hour to cry on your shoulder and I need the money". With that she jumped up on the dais and with her hands on her hips, gave me a 'hurry up' stamp of her foot, and then pointed at my workspace. "Easel. Paper. Draw!"
"Hang on, who's the boss around here?" She was almost herself again, and the rest of the session was more like normal, although by Amy's standards still a bit subdued.
After about an hour, I stopped to make a couple of cups of coffee. Amy sprawled on the couch behind the easel, looking at the last drawing I had done, while she drank hers.
"That's not bad. I think you're getting better."
"Well it's such a relief to know that", I said sarcastically, "but I'll have none of your lip, girl, you're just the paid help."
"Seriously, Sam, I like that drawing. It might be because of the way I feel right now, but I think you've captured some of my sad mood. Can I have it?"
Amy had never asked me for one of my drawings before, but I don't keep most of the drawings I do, mostly they go in the trash. Three drawing sessions a week, 8 to 10 drawings each time, means I create more than a 1000 drawings a year. Only a few make it in to the plan chest where I keep the best of my work, and I only exhibit and sell a few of those. Amy had asked for one of the drawings that would probably have gone into the recycle bin at the end of the session, so it was easy for me to say "Sure, help yourself".
"Thanks. Now I have to find a wall to hang it on. I can't stay with Donna for more than a few days, her place is tiny and her folks are coming to visit. So, I'm homeless."
"You could stay here", I said.
"Yeah, right. Are you going to do some drawing now, or what?" said Amy, as she put her cup down and jumped onto the dais again.
I was a little relieved that she thought I was joking, because I had made the offer without thinking. I had plenty of room, but I enjoyed my solitude, and someone else in the house might be more of a nuisance than I was prepared to put up with.
Towards the end of the session I asked her to lie down and get comfortable and keep the one pose for the last half-hour. Amy draped herself face down over some big cushions, beautiful bottom in the air, long legs splayed, almost like a dead body fallen from a window into a dumpster. I couldn't see her face, but she was so still after about 20 minutes that I could have sworn she had fallen asleep, so I was startled when she suddenly spoke.
"Did you mean it?"
"About me staying here with you. For a few days."
"Of course. There's lots of room. Spare bed. Two bathrooms. Just until you find somewhere of your own, you understand?" The words were out of my mouth before I had really thought about it.
"Are you sure? I wouldn't want to impose."
"No problem. I could do with the company." This was a polite lie quickly made up by the part of my brain that controlled speech, which was now in charge and over-riding the solitude-loving rational part.
"Oh, Sam, that's great. Thank you so much. Sharing houses and apartments with strangers is always a bit risky, but I know I'd be safe with you."
"You don't know that for sure. I could be a maniac." This was a half-hearted attempt at discouragement, which Amy assumed was an attempt at humor.
"If you were an axe-murdering rapist, I think I would know by now. So I'll bring my stuff around and move in on Friday, if that's alright with you. You are a treasure, Sam."
"No, I'm a madman."