Ispent my Friday evening contemplating how best to depict the genitals of the naked man standing in front of me. He stood, legs akimbo, looking me directly in the eye.
I tried not to catch his gaze too often.
This situation was made slightly less odd by the fact that I was joined by thirty other people, all doing the same thing.
Some folks coped by avoiding that particular zone; they focused more on the thighs or the rounded belly.
One person captured only the expressive face of the man posing before us, detailing the look of detached amusement in his eyes with exquisite precision.
Charcoal pencil nervously clutched in my sweaty grip, I struggled with the basics: perspective, lines, curves, and shadows. I spent half of my allotted time carefully (but poorly)shading in the hollow of his collarbone, only to hastily sketch the whole left side of his body in only five minutes.
At various points, our naked man was called on to change pose. At one such time point, he slid into a comfortable sitting position, legs folded demurely beneath himself. His gaze shifted from my anxious face, which was front and center before him, to look slightly into the far-off distance.
After about half an hour, the instructor did a quick lap of our works and called for a break, and to give everyone a chance to look around at the works. I took a deep, irrationally terrified breath, and set my pencil down.
This was my first time in a life drawing class.
Dylan, the model we’d been trying to draw, paint, or sketch, put on a robe and joined us for the midway tea and biscuit break.
I was just about finished looking around at everyone’s very impressive work.
He was much less intimidating in his threadbare grey dressing gown, and I found I could look at him without blushing. Seeing his bare feet, peeping out from under the hem, made me cold on his behalf.
It was hard to believe he was the same person who graced the canvas of 30 differently styled pieces of art in the room.
“First time?” he said to me, grinning cheerfully at me as he reached for his tea and biscuit.
“Y-yes,” I muttered, caught off guard that he was a real person who would speak to me and not just an enigmatic model who stared into my soul as he stood naked before me.
“Having a good time?”
I just nodded, embarrassed by the fact that I was so embarrassed.
“It’s my third year modeling,” continued Dylan as he sipped his steaming mug of tea. “Pays well. Easy work. The hardest part is when my arse falls asleep while in the pose!” He chuckled ruefully.
I felt myself relaxing, bit by bit. It went against every ingrained societal principal in me that this naked, hairy man had more confidence whilst being drawn by thirty different people, than me, a fully clothed person wielding the pencil.
And he was hard not to feel comfortable around.
“Everyone done? Back to the easels!” cried out the instructor in a carrying voice. Folks hastily gulped the last of their tea, chatting amiably amongst themselves as they returned to their work stations.
Dylan mimed a whip being cracked, smiling, and went back to his cushions, this time reclining before us as though on the most comfortable chaise lounge.
Picking up my pencil, I started a new sketch. My hands shook a little less, but I was still nervous. Dylan caught my eye and winked. I smiled and relaxed.
Later that evening, my partner came home to find that first sketch of Dylan, standing proud with his bits anatomically depicted with all the skill my burgeoning artistic talent could muster, attached shamelessly to the refrigerator via a small magnet.
“I know it’s not good,” I said quickly, watching his face for a reaction.
My partner took a step back and appraised it, arms folded, expression inscrutable. “It’s not the quality — even if it were Michelangelo-esque, it’s more the fact there’s a naked man on our fridge! Whom you drew!”
“I’ll take it down,” I said, reaching to do so. But he stopped me.
“No, leave it up. It’s a nice memento. You’re proud of it. And it’ll be a great conversation piece.”
I am guilty of being very comfortable in my comfort zone.
Like many other people, I struggle to take those steps and try new, uncomfortable things, especially if it’s something I’m not naturally talented at. I like to do things I’m good at, and I tend to stay away from things I’m not.
I love drawing, but I hate that I’m bad at it. I call myself body-positive, but I’m uncomfortable around naked bodies that aren’t model-perfect, even my own.
Life drawing was a contradictory experience for me, but it pushed me in a direction I’d never been before. I met new people and I tried a new thing.
Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll do it again. But the next time I try a new challenge, I will just think of Dylan’s confidence as he stood before us, exposing everything we’ve been taught is a flaw and daring a roomful of strangers to capture him as best as they could.
I’ll remember that he was kind to a beginner, and I’ll remember leaving the small room, drawing tightly clasped in my hand, and hanging it proudly in the fridge. A reminder to myself that we are always capable of more than we think.