The Still Life


Following on from my little self-discovery last week that I’m not overly great at living in the moment I thought I’d try and open myself up to some tasks that might force me to do just this.

So yesterday I participated in a life-drawing class where attendees take it in turns to pose for one another for 10-15 minutes stints whilst the others sketch them so that the group are provided with models to practice a bit of artwork. (In case you were wondering, no, this wasn’t nude life sketching.)

I used to love doing arty things when I was younger but one year of art A/S level at the age of 17 was enough to put me off it for almost a decade. I had thought that art would be a relaxing, or at least different way of engaging my brain, alternative when picking a-levels. A balance to the History, English Literature and Psychology I was also studying. But it was actually the most stressful of all these subjects as the workload was immense and I felt constrained by my teachers perspectives of what did and did not constitute art, in their narrowing definitions of uninspiring assignments.

Recently, however, I have been picking up the odd pencil, paintbrush and pritt-stick (after all, what’s art without a little cutting and sticking here and there) in attempts to make thoughtful presents for friends. For those unfortunate few with a Pottsy original art piece I can only apologise and hope that what I lack in skill I made up for in effort. And should that piece of art accidentally get lost in a house-move, randomly set-alight by art-hating anarchists who broke in or just be destroyed by the dog, I will understand.

However, having re-found my love of artistic endeavours, if not achievements, I thought perhaps I could attempt to actually improve my abilities. I don’t deny that a lot of artistic aptitude must come naturally to talented artists but it occurs to me that regular practice might help here as it does with so many other things in life, such as learning a language.

The life-drawing class afforded me that opportunity to practice. I wouldn’t have to spend hours pondering what I might draw, only to change my mind seventeen times as each sketch deviated further and further away from the vision I had. I would have to make a number of quick sketches of people. I wouldn’t have the problem of not knowing when to stop or how to start. Much like an exam, I’d simply have to get on with it once the clock started.

The fact we’d be sketching people, something I’d always tried to steer clear of even when I used to love art, added another element to the challenge and I was looking forward to* trying something new and opening myself up to the perceptions of others, both in how they drew me and what they thought of my attempts to draw them.

However, whilst I did want the chance to practice my sketching, what really motivated me to sign up for the event was the trial of having to sit still for 15 minutes with no distractions, when it became my turn to pose for the other students. No talking, no checking the latest facebook updates or emails, no reading a book, no televison, nothing, nada, rien. Just me, myself and I.

A drop in the oceanGranted 15 minutes isn’t actually a very long time but when sat in one position with nothing but my thoughts it seemed infinitely longer. I tried to think of meditational-ly things, thinking of myself as a star, unique but one of a multitude in the universe, or as a drop in the ocean. All the while focusing on a tiny patch of the floor, black and white speckles on the grey linoleum. When the specks started to blur and my eyes started swimming I thought I’d better change my tactic so I resorted to my usual strategy for passing the time in situations which make me slightly uncomfortable, like waiting for the tube on a crowded underground or having a massage. I started counting in French, slowly, to one hundred and then back again.

Before I knew it my time was up and I could move again, but actually although my thoughts, or rather my counting, may not have been the most profound they did root me to the moment and I was quite content, in a semi-trance like state, of just being. It was quite a calming experience.

The actual sketching highlighted the fact I need to practice more, but aside from this was, in a way, as meditative as the posing. Whilst there wasn’t time for profound thoughts about stars and oceans or even the Swiss French for the number 79, because time was so limited and concentration was so demanding, there wasn’t space for any other thoughts either. So the usual internal dialogue about what I’m doing with my life, what’s for dinner, does everyone at work secretly hate me was completely silenced.

Whizzing away on my bicycle at the end of the evening I felt a sense of tranquility that’s been absence of late. I can’t wait to go again.

* By looking forward to I mean in the abstract sense where I liked the idea when I signed up and it was too far on the horizon to actually be happening and then with every minute the actual event got closer the dread gripped tighter and tighter and I desperately willed a last-minute cancellation. I couldn’t just not show up that would be poor Glocals etiquette. (Glocals is a Geneva expat forum which, amongst other things, provides a space for organizing activities, where this particular event was listed. For friendless people new to the city it’s a treasure trove of ways to fill your time.)