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The Essence

Henri Matisse, The Dance

I went into my first art class of college not knowing what to expect. It was a Figure Drawing class, and I was extremely excited to finally be branching out of the general drawing classes to get down to the specifics. Truth is, I had been drawing bodies for a long time but had noticed that they never really came close to those I had admired in Henri Matisse’s The Dance or Klimt's Water Serpents I. I didn’t really know what the class would be like at all, but I was thrilled at the thought of finally being able to captivate the real essence and movement of bodies.

By the time the arms of the clock indicated the start of class on that first day, everyone had already set up their newsprint paper on their easels and were standing before them with a chunk of charcoal staining their dominant hand. As I followed to do the same, the teacher began greeting us hello and introduced the model of the day. I swear that not even a minute had passed when the model struck a pose and the teacher yelled, "Five-minute sketch, go!"

At the sound of instruction, I was completely caught off guard. I noticed, looking to my left and then to my right, that everyone was already far into their drawings. I'm like, How can you draw a whole body in just a matter of five minutes?! By the time the timer went off and the model broke out of her pose I had barely begun attempting to make the woman's torso look as realistic as it did in real life. As soon as the teacher came around to my sketchpad when examining the class drawings, I felt a warm shade of strawberry red arise on my cheeks. On top of that, he had just finished congratulating Picasso next to me on his perfect, full-body, five-minute sketch. Without saying a word when facing my sketch, he called out to the class for another five-minute sketch and this time, deciding to stick around beside me while I sketched.

Once again, stupid me began with the torso. My frustration grew as I realized I was not able to replicate the detail on the model's body in the way that I wanted to with the pressure of five minutes and my teacher breathing down my neck while at it. I could just not phantom what it was that the other students were doing that allowed them to come out with effortless masterpieces. I blamed it on their older age and told myself that they have probably practiced their time management so that it would make me feel better. This, however, didn't make me feel any better and I left the classroom that day absolutely defeated.

As the weeks came on, I became very close to my teacher, always asking him countless amounts of questions. Every day, he would walk around, skimming through the class drawings as the model posed and would talk to me through my areas for improvement. It was during one of those moments that he would give me a pointer that would change my whole way of viewing art--one that would become the key to all of the goals I had set for myself going into the class and beyond. I was told that all a drawing really consists of is a bunch of lines, shapes and shades. When you stop trying to make a drawing look like whatever you are intending to illustrate, but rather look at it in the form of lines, shapes and shades, the process of drawing will become that much less stressful. On top of that, time will not be an issue when captivating movement and the true essence of the piece. As soon as I began doing this, my art took a major turn. My perspective had changed and my drawings had life to them. My drawing of a woman picking up something she'd dropped made you just want to go over and give her a hand. Those people I had drawn dancing grew a yearning within you to want to hop on that dance floor too. Whenever I reach a challenge today, this pointer comes to my mind and I am able to finish up those five-minute sketches in three with no hesitation!

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