Little Flippy Skirtbyhumminbean©
I'm glad I was drinking only water -- it came out my nose. At first, I thought she was almost naked. All I saw was a little flippy skirt and a back bare from the hips up.
Then someone called "Katie." The girl turned, and I saw that she actually wore a halter dress. Seen from the front, the bright blue-green halter really did cover her, in an attention-getting kind of way, but her hair had hidden the strap around her neck. Once I recovered, I took another look at this gorgeous woman leaning to cheek-kiss her friend. Other than that dress, she wore sandals with a little heel and laces around the ankles, and some bangles the same color as the dress. Light brown hair with barely-there highlights just came to her shoulders, leaving her ears exposed. Her profile showed a deep, athletic hip and slim bust. I like that kind of figure, but never found a complimentary way to describe it. Broad-shouldered and broad-hipped but lean, there wasn't a pound where it shouldn't be. On a guy, you might say "built like a Jeep." I decided just to keep my mouth shut, partly to keep myself from gaping at that strong, smooth, and well-exposed shape.
Anyway, it wasn't getting my job done, watching Katie's skirt flip up under her thigh, cupping her butt as she walked. The usual arts reporter had just gone into labor, so the editor assigned me to cover the gallery opening for Teresa Downs's show of paintings. I tried to beg off, pleading ignorance about art, but he waved my argument away. "Just listen to what everyone else is saying, write that down, and get a statement from the artist. Oh, and ask permission before you take any pictures. Some artists get pissy about that."
The gallery had filled with people covering the whole range of looks. Some wore jeans, often with conspicuous paint splatters, or else wild and colorful getups -- clearly, Teresa's friends from the art circle. A few in neat black-on-black looked like critics or gallery types (not that I'd know one). Others seemed to have wandered in out of curiosity. Then there was me, my slightly scruffy jacket and tie making me over-dressed and under-dressed at the same time. Teresa was in there somewhere, and I had an assignment.
The girl in green bounced around the room like a kid on a sugar buzz. Her sparkling laugh seemed to come from everywhere, at one moment or another. Based on the number of times I heard someone call "Katie," she seemed to know almost everyone in the room. I decided to ask her where to find Teresa, since she'd know if anyone would. That excuse would let me introduce myself for my own reasons, as well.
Katie was effervescing in a well-lit spot near the door, where a large sign announced the opening. I worked my way over toward her, and a moment opened up. In my most professional manner, I extended my hand and introduced myself. "Hi, Katie?" She turned at the sound of her name and flashed a bright smile. "I'm Jake Carson from the Post-Record. I'd like to interview Teresa for my paper. Could you point her out?"
Katie gave me a blank, open-jawed look, took a step back, then nearly killed herself with that bright, bubbly laugh. That's not what I expected. Then I looked up at the sign behind her: "K. Teresa Downs: The City Reconsidered." A head-shot on the sign showed the artist's face -- it was the girl in green. That wasn't Katie, that was K.T.
I felt myself blush hotly, but I still needed my story. It took a bit to make myself laugh along with her, but it was pretty easy once I got started. I tried again. "OK, that was dumb. Sorry about that. You're Ms Downs, right? K. T. Downs?" I enunciated the letters separately.
Still laughing too hard to talk, she held a napkin to her mouth and nodded. She set her glass and napkin on a nearby table, apparently the place where unwanted drinks went to die. "Yes, I'm Teresa." The name seemed a little stiff the way she spoke it. "KT works, though. Jake, you said? What can I do for the Post-Record?"
"I hoped you could say something about your art, give our readers some understanding of the statement you make in your work."
She took my arm in hers and guided me across the room. "You mean, an 'artist's statement.' Gawd I hate those pretentious little blurbs, but I guess it's part of the game."
Her easy physicality, the way she held that arm had me somewhat off-guard, so I wasn't sure how to respond. "Well, maybe you could just tell me a little about this show. I mean, I like your work." I hoped that came across as sincere, because I really did. "I usually cover politics for my paper, though. Writing about art is new for me."
"'Writing about art is like dancing about architecture.' I forget who said that -- no matter, let's go look at some pictures." I never quite got used to the warm hands on my arm, tugging me from one picture to the next. Katie (I couldn't call her anything else) had an overtly physical manner that I found unsettling. She was that way with everyone who came up to her, though, cheek-kisses, hugs hello, holding someone's hand when she talked to them. I had trouble believing that these huge, complex, thoughtful paintings came from this chatty girl with the little flippy skirt.
She practically wrote my story for me, for which I was silently grateful. She seemed good-natured about it when I used my cell phone as voice recorder and asked her to repeat something. "It's OK. Better that than being misquoted."
Finally, I got my little camera out. Her smile stiffened when she saw it -- I remembered my editor's words about 'pissy.' I asked if I could take some pictures to go with the story.
"Not the paintings, please. The light in here is terrible. The gallery has taken some very good photos of the paintings. They're intended as publicity photos. I'd be happy to give them to you."
"That sounds great!" I answered, "You know, you're making this easy for me."
"You're making publicity for me. Making it easy is the least I can do."
"So, how do you want to get the pictures to me? I need them by tomorrow afternoon."
She pulled a card out of -- well, I'm not sure where it could have been, on that dress, and imagining where got too distracting. She pointed to a line of small print near the bottom of the card. "That's my studio address. Do you know where that is?"
I nodded. It was an old industrial part of the city that had bottomed out, but was starting to recover.
"Can you come tomorrow? Stop by, and bring a thumb drive."
"Thanks! What time?"
"I'll be there from about ten on. No, make that twelve -- I have a feeling I won't be up early tomorrow."
I laughed. It was getting late and the gallery had officially closed, but the opening reception was morphing into a serious party. No wonder the usual arts reporter was so enthusiastic about her job. I almost stayed, until I looked around and realized that I was the oldest one left, probably by a good few years.
"I'll see you tomorrow then, about noon." I shook her hand in a business-like way, and was surprised by a firm response -- not the limp girly grip I almost expected from a hand as small as hers. ---- The next day, I found the address easily enough. I just couldn't find the door, though. Former factories and warehouses lined the street -- not a very inviting sight, but the kind of place where rents would be low enough for starving artists to afford. After looking around aimlessly for a while, I pulled out Katie's card again and called the number on it.
"Jake, hi!" She answered after a few rings. "You're where? Fine. I have to open the door for you, I'll be down in a moment."
I didn't wait long before an unassuming, unmarked door opened and Katie stuck her head out. I joined her inside, then followed her up the stairs. She wore paint-spattered work clothes: sneakers, cut-off shorts, and an over-sized white shirt that buttoned on the 'man's side', shirt-tails tied in front. The sleeves had been torn off the shirt, leaving gaping arm holes. I tried not to stare at the side of a plain, white bra that showed through the hole, and tried not to stare at the lovely wide hips leading me up the stairs.
Funky old buildings like that have a spirit about them that I really like. Bare brick walls, concrete stairs, worn plank floors -- not 'House Beautiful' stuff, but a real personality. We turned out into the hall on the third floor. About halfway down the hall, we came to a door where a small sign displayed her name. She unlocked it and welcomed me in.
I'm not sure what I expected a studio to look like, but that wasn't it. About a third was taken up with a framework of two by fours and plywood, storage racks for a staggering number of unframed paintings. A couch, carpet, and bookshelves defined a little "living room" in another third, with a small fridge, microwave, and CD player as amenities. The rest of the room, the largest part, was clearly the work area. Photos, notes, and sketches covered the wall in this area, including one black and white photo that really caught my eye.
A powerful female figure stood in that picture, arms crossed under her breasts, feet shoulder-width apart, facing straight into the camera. Broad, womanly curves somehow conveyed an impression of immovable strength. Her confrontation with the camera seemed to challenge the viewer to test that strength. It took me a moment to realize that it was Katie.
I must have gawked at it for longer than I thought. Katie saw where I was looking, and asked, "You like that picture? A friend of mine is a photographer, and I pose for him some times. I think this is one of his best."
"Wow. I'm impressed." Not just the picture and pose, but Katie herself. I had been trying in a professional way not to imagine what she looked like under her clothes, and here she was.
"He does good work. Do you want to see more of it?"
"In a bit," I answered. "I came by for the publicity photos of your paintings -- let's do that first." I handed her a flash drive. She plugged it into her Mac and started flipping through galleries.
"These are the ones in the current show." She pointed them out. "Which ones do you want?"
"You tell me. I have room for only one or two. They're going to print in black and white, and about this big." I showed her with my hands. "What do you think will work best?" We picked four that had big shapes and bold contrasts, the kind that would still be legible despite what newspaper printing would do to them. As we picked, I learned more about how she works.
The Mac had lots of folders of paintings at different stages of progress. The earliest sketches fascinated me -- in nearly every case, she worked from photos of nude models, then abstracted the figures, cut out detail until only the structure and balance remained, sometimes as a bare framework for other elements. I hadn't seen the figures in her abstract, urban paintings. Now, no matter where I looked, I saw them everywhere.
Rather than ask a question that sounded too stupid, I asked "Who are the models?"
"Some are friends, but most of them model on a regular basis." She had opened a folder of a male figure and was clicking through the photos. At that, she looked over at me and looked me up and down, then looked straight at me for a moment. She had clearly undressed me with her eyes -- it's happened before, but her purely professional interest (or disinterest) left me a little uncomfortable. "Have you ever modeled?"
"Me? I'm nothing special. You have those great looking figures to work with."
"I don't know how that idea ever got started, that an artist's model has to be especially beautiful. These pumped up guys," she pointed to an obvious body builder, "aren't real. You, you're real, a person that a viewer might know. To model, you just have to not mind being looked at."
This was all new to me. I mean, everyone in art circles probably knows all this about models, but I had never heard it before. Right then, the newshound in me realized that if I hadn't heard of it, lots of other people probably hadn't either. Maybe there was a second, human interest kind of story here.
"Suppose I were a model. What would I do?" I asked.
She looked at me, not quite sure where this was going. Well, I wasn't sure either. "My job is to start with some concept -- and I have a bunch right now that I need to get going. When that happens, I'll work up a few loose sketches of the general kind of pose I want, and go over them with the model." She grabbed a pad of cheap paper, sketched a half-dozen thumbnail drawings in a minute or two, and handed it to me. I wasn't sure what I was looking at.
"The model tells me what poses he feels most comfortable with, or she does, and what might be awkward. A good model will take an idea and run with it, and show me things I hadn't thought of. That's the exciting part. Then we'll start on the modeling session proper."
"Can I try?"
"Well, OK. These poses," she pointed to some seated ones, "should be pretty easy. Why don't you sit over there, leaning against the wall."
I sat where she pointed. "Stretch your legs out more." She adjusted the drop light overhead. "Now look up. There, that's great."
Katie picked up her pad again and started sketching furiously, looking alternately at me and at the pad. She moved around to the side, and did another couple of fast sketches. She looked at me again, frowning.
"Should I change position or something?" I tried to hold still while I talked.
"No, you're fine, it's just that I'm not seeing the flow of your muscles. The whole figure has to tie together, and I'm just not seeing it all." She thought for a moment.
"Uh, Jake? Could I ask you to do something? You're free to say no, I mean you didn't come here to be my model."
"Go ahead and ask. I won't bite."
"Would you mind taking your shirt off? My models usually work nude. It's a lot easier for me to understand how the figure works, then paint in over that later."
The hairs stood up on the back of my neck. "Do you want me nude for this?"
"Well, I wasn't going to ask that much. The models are used to it, but ..." her voice trailed off.
The prospect of stripping down made me a little nervous. What the hell, I figured, war correspondents do lots worse for a story. I could live with someone seeing my pot belly. I answered, "I want to know how this modeling business works. If that's what it takes -- "
She cut me off nervously, "Just your shirt. That will help me get the shoulder right."
I stood up and peeled off the polo shirt I was wearing. I still felt a little nervous, but sat back down. Katie walked around me, looking. "That really helps." She started sketching again.
"You know," she said, "you have a great body."
"Oh, come on. You don't have to worry about my ego."
"No, really." She kept scrawling as she talked. "That body builder I showed you before? He could never give me a pose like this, the way those creases form across your stomach. When someone sees you, they see the kind of figure they recognize and understand, not some 'ideal' that they'd never see in real life."
She showed me the sketches. I was impressed. The drawings were really good -- and didn't make me look like an out of shape middle-aged guy. The sketches didn't have enough detail to show facial features, so no one would recognize me anyway. As she flipped through them, she asked, "Do you want to continue?"
"Sure. What do you want next?"
"How about in this chair over here. Right, now bring your leg up under you." I stopped for a moment to kick off my sneakers, then tried to do as she asked. "That's great. Now, can you bring your other leg up like this?" She scribbled, little more than a stick figure, and showed me the pose she wanted.
"Oof. I'll try." The position was a little scrunched up, but I managed something like it. Katie walked back and forth, moving lights and scrutinizing me. It felt odd to be stared at so closely, but she didn't seem to be looking at me, Jake, just at the pose. I was starting to see how models detached themselves.
Katie frowned again. "Uhh ..." she started.
"Mm? Is this what you wanted?"
"Oh, never mind. This will work." She started sketching again, but without that intense look she had before.
I spoke as I held the pose. "You were going to
"Well, yes." The answer seemed tentative, incomplete.
"Would it work better if I was nude?"
"I couldn't ask that, I mean ..."
"You're not asking, I'm offering. Will that make it easier for you?"
"Well, yes, but you really don't have to. I mean -- "
I tried to ignore the stirrings of an erection, hoping it would just go away. "If that's the way models work, I'll give it a try. As long as you don't laugh."
"NO!" She seemed startled. "I mean, if you really want to, that would be great. And no, I would never laugh. It's good of you to do this for me." She pulled a folding screen from a corner. "You can change behind this."
Why undressing in front of her was any different from being undressed, I'll never know -- it just is. She busied herself at the other end of the room while I stripped down behind the screen. My mother's warning about clean underwear came to mind, but my briefs were presentable enough. I skinned them off too, and hung them under the pants on a hook I found on the wall. I was really nervous at that point, but determined to go through with it. I walked back to the chair and got back into that pose, then called "I'm ready when you are."
Katie came back over with her pad and looked me over carefully. I felt like a horse being examined at the state fair. "This is great. This makes it a lot easier to get all those muscles around the hip and knee. Could you open the pose up a little more, let some more light in?" She spread her arms a little to demonstrate. "And let me know if you get cold."
I hadn't realized how hunched over I was, with some useless modest reflex trying to cover up. I convinced myself that she had seen it all before, even if I hadn't shown it all. I straightened up and let my knee fall to the side.
"That's a lot better." For her maybe. I felt an unwelcome erection starting under her examination, and tried my hardest to ignore it. She had come over and was looking me over in detail. I don't know whether I was comforted or disappointed that she paid the same attention to my half-hard penis as to anything else; both, probably. "Could you tilt your head back? You have a great chin, I really want the shadows to bring out the form. More to the side." She reached a hand toward my face. "May I?"
"Go ahead." I didn't know then that touching the model was usually off limits.
She tilted my chin up a little. As soon as I felt her firm, cool fingers on my chin, I felt my erection continue inflating. The 'ignoring' strategy wasn't working, but it was all I had. Satisfied, Katie stepped back and lifted her pad again. I could still feel where her fingers had held my chin; that little bit of touch on my face was enough to raise my erection to its full height.
Trying to move as little as possible, I said, "Sorry about this. Just ignore it and it will go away."
"What?" Katie looked up. My erection bobbed when she did. "Oh. Well, it happens. Don't worry about it."
She'd sketch for a few minutes, change my pose a little, and do another sketch. She conspicuously ignored my erection throughout, keeping it perfectly business-like, although I did notice it in the sketches she showed me. After about twenty minutes, she asked, "Do you want a ten minute break?"
I hadn't realized how stiff I was getting, and was happy to stand up. My erection wasn't going away, so I faced away from her while I stretched.
"Jake, you've got kind of a problem there, don't you."
"Sorry about that. The thing has a mind of its own."
"No, it's OK really. But, well, there's this one project I've had in the back of my mind for a while. Your -- ahh, condition would actually help me with it. I've never been able to ask my regular models to help. Would you turn around?"