I didn’t see what was going on. I was in the studio sketching with oil paints for the first time. The room is large, open, and has windows on three sides to optimize light within an old French-side building with a view of the Caribbean Sea that inspires me, even though my subject matter is not the quaint village shops across the way, or the sea beyond the rooftops.
Through the door from the studio to the shop–located in the windowless wall, as far away from the windows as possible, I hear voices and movement. It is not what I see from my well-lit work area, but what I hear–another group of tourists debarking a tour bus outside the street-side window, and spreading out among the shops and eateries in the street below. Potential customers, in colorful groups of two to four, climb the old-fashioned concrete steps to the shop behind which I work, complaining of the height of the European-style risers. I hear them enter. The shop is small. It holds fragile ceramics placed well away from table and shelf edges, accessible yet safe; and jewelry–simple, complex–hand-created by local artisans and craftspersons, scattered across table-top sculptures and carvings or hanging from those special stands one finds in mall stores around the world. African carvings and masks dominate the walls and higher shelves, with the intricate hand-cast ceramics, like skeletons of sea urchins, haunt nooks and crannies among the other items.
The wall that separates the shop from the much larger studio is thin, a newer separation than the building’s walls–strong concrete walls that protect against the Caribbean heat. I hear a few tourists wander into the shop as I work, out of sight, on my project. At 65, I have discovered that I can draw–so long as what I draw is from a picture or photo that I can measure centimeter by centimeter or align features with my pencil or brush. Although I can draw to scale, my preference is to expand my project to fill my page–sometimes to the very edges of the paper or canvas. I’m working on that, but I estimate the enlargement with my measuring techniques.
Tourists enter and leave, friends drop by and are “treated” to my lasted completed work–a run-of-the-mill trigger fish covered in unique spots ranging from standard shapes to tiny complex images like tattoos on a human body. Only when familiar patterns appeared to my eyes–cat shapes, a lying dog, a high-heeled shoe, owls, a little man–did that drawing become fun and almost perfect. I think the tutor’s photocopy of her work contained little “jokes” of shapes in her original work; but she says no–it was like finding friends in her parents’ marbled flooring when she was a child, or finding familiar figures in clouds. She did not put in the “jokes” like those often found in complex art from the Renaissance. I chuckle, and perform my practice of sketching in oil paints, observing how mineral spirrits and paper towels replace an eraser. Despite the new medium, I discover that my attempts at drawing basic shapes still suck. My eyes see the correct shape; my mind says, “No, not an ellipse: a circle,” and overrides my eyes’ observation. Result: my hand draws a circle.
Shop distraction was welcome, and helped me relax enough to draw that ellipse, or replicate the shape of the new poisson, my current subject cycle. Trigger fish, to be exact. This one is both more simple and more complex than last week’s, for it was a queen trigger fish, identifiable mostly by the little crown-like fin leading a secondary fin along the upper spine. The model is unclear, and I know the iPad will find me lots of queen trigger fish when I return home to my internet access (like the one pictured here).
The conversations between or among tourists (all Americans and Canadians, from the accents) are fun to listen to, and I am able to imagine exactly what is happening, such as the bracelet a daughter picks up to try on and, with much hope, begs Mom to buy for her. There are the conversations between spouses or partners as they argue about whether an eggshell-thin hand-cast ceramic item will survive the trip home or–worse–customs. An elderly lady picks up one of the colorful hand-made elephant cushions: How adorable! And look. It can be used as a neck pillow on the plane home from Florida! [where most US cruises seem to originate]. I could almost hear the woman’s hand caress the stylized elephant. Her friend thinks the price is too high for what is nothing more than a child’s toy, and the woman sighs as she supposes so, and I imagine the wistfulness in her eyes as she puts the pillow back in its basket with the rest of its mates.
Between customers, my tutor bustles into the studio, corrects a mistake here and there, explains my problem, chats about things in general. Just before my time with her is up, a couple come into and purchase a handful of small items. I don’t hear them come in as I clear my space and pack up. I think it is Vivie’s first sale of the day, with the tourist “high season” winding down and shops basically low on inventory. She comes into the studio with several coppery and wooden trinkets in one hand, grabbing purple wrapping tissue with the other. I smile and hand her my tuition after the trinkets and paper are laid onto some clean counter space. I air-kiss her good-bye as the purchasers stumble into the studio. They look a bit bewildered at the empty work space, so she explains to them that this is the studio part of her business and that I am a student. I nod good afternoon to them as I turn and walk out the studio door–the one just a few steps further along the balcony from the shop entrance.
It had been a great morning for me–finding out how easy it is to work with oil (although I don’t think much of cleaning up oily paintbrushes), how proud Vivie had been of my first fish, and how much fun it is to discover new talents.