For the next few months, we are sharing writing that happened in fundraising workshops, Write Around the World. This is one way we are celebrating the AWA-certified workshop leaders & writers who joined together to raise money in support of AWA. Thank you to those who shared their voices in each workshop and especially to those who have offered their words to be shared in this space. If you’re inspired by our work and would like to be part of the fundraiser, please donate!

Writing from Peggy Simmons’ Green Windows workshop in Oakland, CA:

The Artists’ Model

Art Room. I hate this room. The windows are up high so the models can have privacy. I feel trapped, no air, no sunshine, no gentle breeze, but I use the breathing exercise our psychology teacher taught us, to calm my nerves.

“Why, why in all the heavens did I change my major from med to art? Can I really do this?” And the model is setting up. Our teacher—this is painting 171 Portraits—is telling the woman to put her hair up, to semi-smile, to cover her breasts and set her right hand on her left shoulder.

“Oh no, are we all crazy? This is not going to work. I like to paint sad faces, it is easier and I like breasts, you can never go wrong painting breasts, but the hand at that angle…from where I am, it is foreshortening. I am not good at that technique. The hand will look like a brick.”

And just at that very moment the woman turns her face looking exactly into my eyes and she has a sweet, almost mischievous smile; it is a contagious smile. I smile back at her as my friend Laura whispers in my ear: “Oh not again, not another old fart, why does the art department not hire young women or men?”

Laura goes on and on with her blah, blah, blah about a “young man, we need to learn to draw “those parts” of the body…” I heard her saying, and I am thinking, for a young woman so liberated as she claims she is, she can’t even call body parts by their proper names.

I am glad when the teacher sets her timer for the posing session, and silence falls in the room, only the scratching of our graphite bars touching the canvas of the paper. Some of us, like me, need to draw many sketches before going onto the canvas.

And all the time as I am drawing, Dorothea, the model, she keeps that smile. I am wondering if she is tired of it, but I will never know. My brain, my hands are now engaged full speed and her eyes, her smile is assuring me to go ahead. I can do it, she knows I will be a great portrait artist. It is like she is almost giving me permission to use her, to exploit her beauty.

And I did, and my portrait or hers, won a special mention, and I went on to succeed as a portraits artist, making a good living off it. Dorothea’s portrait is sitting in my studio, my agent wants to buy it, collectors too. I do not want to sell it, Dorothea. I do not even know her last name or anything about this woman who gave me a life even I did not believe in.

Catalina I. Arabia

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