When we walked in, a thin black slip stretched from her shoulders to her thighs. She was the only one who had changed clothes after dinner. We dragged large easels across the wooden floors, and the soft sound of pencils meeting blades suffused the room.
Then, a ripple in the water, one sinuous unrolling. She drifted to the front of the room and ascended a white wooden platform. The directed lamp cut the shape of her nipples underneath the black cloth. She crossed her legs and cocked her plucked eyebrows, looking downwards at us. Her arms formed a deliberate X as she grasped the slip with her fingertips and stretched it up and over her head.
The room dampened with our quickened breaths. We were aware of our differences in flesh now, man besides woman. Our eyes travelled miles before touching her naked form, and the instructor’s slow drawl faded far into the background. He dissected the page into fourths and penciled in a long straight line for the top bend of her thigh. Use no curves. Her lips parted and her tightened gaze rested beyond us, watering slightly against the directed light. At last, when he penciled in the slight curves of her breasts, some nervous tension dissipated.
Thighs, calves, torso, feet became blocked lines on the measured page. Squinted eyes held pencils across her chest and rulers along her body. She sat cross-legged with perfect posture, her elbows turned outwards, her hands propping her body upwards. We saw no scars, no excess hair, no beauty marks or scratches. We called her the model, but sometimes she became Jessica. Jessica with blonde split ends and a shaven triangle between her legs. Jessica, who twice bit her lip and contorted to swallow back a smile. Jessica, who stretched her long mauve toenails, and curved back her shoulders. Small shocks shot down our spines during the few times she caught our eyes.
The alarm sounded, and she broke out of the position and rolled back into her slip. Her voice was young and playful, she grinned without meeting our eyes. Reality was heavy, and we felt every shift of her slip. She weaved in and out of our circle of easels, and we sat on our benches, staring straight ahead. When she hovered behind us, slowly drinking in her body’s graphite lines, we grew rigid as stone.
I wrote the above after the first session of my Advanced Figure Drawing class at Princeton. Below is a progression of my final piece in the class I had grown accustomed to using my observations to cut the model’s figure into a collection of shapes, lines, light, and angles. Only fleetingly did I sense the vulnerable human underneath.