|About this: recently I was reminded about the demands placed upon illustrators, stuff like: Draw it this way and no he's too tall. I could go on the list would be endless, when someone's paying you for your effort there's a tendency for them to view you as proxy for their own vision, of course it doesn't work like that and when faced with overbearing demands I would occasionally hand the offender my pencil and say, 'Here you go!'. Well anyway I wrote this story quite a while ago and it got a certain amount of feedback, mostly hostile it has to be said although one rather conscientiousness fellow did offer some rather good criticism which I did mean to act on. Unfortunately I haven't got round to that yet. Anyway I though I'd give the un-amended version an airing here. There was some withering views from a jolly fellow, who I gather didn't appreciate the humour, at the time this was quite a surprise cos I hadn't intended any, which is probably not a good sign. Our protagonist's plight here does reflect actual events although you shouldn't interpret him as literally autobiographical. When I took up illustration for the short period I did, I'd given up drawing for a number of years, I only really did learn to draw properly, on the job, so to speak, when you're doing it professionally the incentive to learn is acute, so his rather incredulous initial inability to draw female figures, does actually reflect reality quite closely.|
Work, a reprographic studio just before they went electronic, had become a chore and I was suffering under the tyranny of my immediate superior, a woman named Cheryl. First names at work, don’t you just hate them? I view those days, when the mutual disdain shared by manager and underling was more honestly acknowledged, with a certain degree of regretfulness at their passing.
Cheryl’s hostility towards myself was never overt and always something of mystery to me. In fact, for a while, the surreptitious nature of her malice left me wondering if it was indeed deliberate and not just the fact that we didn’t get along. It wasn’t until the day she pulled out some of my artwork, to verify that it was square, that I caught on that our problems together had been at her contrivance. Indeed the artwork was out of square and she made sure that every one in the studio knew about the deficiency. She chastised me as loudly and vehemently as she could manage without shouting. After this indignity had passed and when she was out of the studio, I took the time to examine the parallel motion on my board. The sabotage was subtle, it had been wired up asymmetrically with an extra turn around one of the pulleys at the top of the board. From then on I was always extra careful to furnish her with as few opportunities as possible for her to justify her contempt. Of course this didn’t do anything to pacify our relationship, fuelled by frustration, her sniping became more frequent and her accusations more demonstrative.
Working in this atmosphere I contrive to stave off depression with frequent lapses into daydream. The usual fayre, crushed coral beaches, populated by bronzed maidens, the white sand clinging to the soles of their feet as they kneel attentively beneath shade of the palms. Today though, I’m in Peach-nut Grove, a pastoral haven blessed with orchards streams and idealised children, who spend their days fishing and playing hopscotch.
‘Why are there are no women in any of the panels?’ she inquired her malice concealed neatly.
It's an illustration, in the form of comic strip, I perform some duties as an illustrator as well as the tedium of reprographic artwork. The reason there's no women in the comic's panel is that I'm not good at drawing them. Excepting a few prosaic life classes my limited skills have been honed on the imitation of comic strip super heroes. My efforts at portraying feminine pulchritude make the Libyan Sibyl appear as svelte as Michelle Pfeiffer in comparison.
‘No reason,’ I trip my answer out, my mind invoking an image of an innocent child skipping through a lush field of green punctuated by the occasional vibrance of daisy. Unfortunately someone’s been busy building,and there now seem to be a railway line bifurcating my summery idyll. It's not long before a thunderous smoke belching diesel appears.
‘Don't you think...’ oh dear I think that innocent child's in trouble ‘...it's a bit...’ yep things are defiantly looking dodgy in Peach-nut Grove ‘...Sexist?’
Of course It’s rhetorical, I’m supposed to nod like one of the ugly steel riveted nodding donkeys that’ll soon accompany those diesels with an incessant thumping. ‘No, it's not sexist,’ I assert, reinterpreting her question, to an inquiry of fact instead of opinion, despite the fact I completely lack any innate comprehension of the concept of sexism.
Her eyes narrow, ‘I think it is sexist’.
‘Nah you're mistaken, why would I draw anything sexist?’
Now it's her turn to state fact, ‘It is sexist, you're going to change it, add some women in the group in the bottom panel.’
‘There's no time, the bike is here in half an hour and Clair's already signed off these drawings.’ I say knowing my protest will be as fruitless as the sickly trees poisoned by the incessant trains running through Peach-nut Grove.
‘There's plenty of time, we'll hold the bike until you finish.’
Undermined by my own productivity with pen and ink and mindful of Cheryl’s devious malice I return to my drawing board. As I take my seat Carlos, my neighbour in the studio, offers some mocking wisdom. ‘Yeah, can't have you being sexist Mick, I think should point out that all the figures are white too.’
‘What, oh no please Carlos...’
‘Thank god for that, I haven’t a clue how to do black skin with ink, they'd end up looking like golliwogs.’
‘Careful,’ says Carlos.
‘Oh god yeah, I mean, looking like that racist artefact, children used to play with that was fashioned to resemble a Minstrel.’
Carlos chuckles and returns to his work, I sit and look at a blank page in a Frisk pad for a few minutes before I gather the will to hone my pencil to a point. More precious minutes pass while I try to forge my Venus of Willendorf into a recognisable female figure. It's a cruel fact that nature robs the feminine form of much of the elegance of youth soon after puberty. There's a reason why people will pay to witness the athletic grace displayed at professional football. While the ungainly gait and flaying arms of the women's game, requires the devoted eye of a parent or spouse to be truly appreciated.
As I cast around to discover the genius of the female form, I recall my experience in the life drawing class. Our models were women in their thirties or late twenties, deliberately posed to resemble a sack of swede in order to suppress any sexuality or eroticism in our drawings. I smile briefly as I imagine the scandal and embarrassment caused if one of us had produced something akin to a Klimt drawing at one of those life classes. I had always done rather well at those classes though, mainly because I didn't bother with the ungainly bits. While others included the elephantine hips together with every crease and buckle formed in the sack by those bulging swedes. I kept my drawings focused, omitting anything I didn't care for. Women have these rather elegantly curved clavicles so I'd concern myself the neck, face and bust area. This would, of course, incur accusations of a breast fixation, during those tedious post class crit sessions. The unfortunate practical upshot of this though, was that it left me unpractised at rendering the wider female form.
So I find my self drawing this clavicle as a starting point and the familiar curve inspires an idea, why don't I use that curve for the rest of the figure? After all that's what distinguishes the female form from the male, its er, interesting curves. I start marking out the curves of the figure with my clutch pencil, hesitantly at first but pretty soon I've finished my first figure and when take a look I find I'm rather pleased with her. Her head with its neatly flowing hair, askance atop a serpentine spine and her purposeful arms terminated with delicately poised fingers, I quickly integrate her into the composition and decide to try it again. The second figure is better, the next better still, hey, I'm getting good at this. By the time I've finished the women are in danger of outnumbering the men. I use a brush to ink the figures because the artwork is on drafting film and pen work takes too long to dry. ‘There finished with time to spare,’ I say as I set the artwork to dry under my Anglepoise.
‘Lets have a look’ Debbie one of the girls in the studio is curious, Carlos too and they saunter over to inspect the masterpiece. ‘Why was this changed?’ Debbie Asks. Debbie’s fair, with waist length hair about 5'2" and a be-freckled complexion, I suspect she’d be very attractive if she wasn’t so bloody fat. Don’t get my wrong while I appreciate svelte figures and flat bellies, I’m rather partial to women with somewhat rounder curves, just not that round. With her figure being as it is though, Debbie finds herself having to try harder than most to lure men into the sack.
Just how much harder I was to find out some time later when she employed a bottle of gin to in effort lure me into such a position. I was saved from disgrace only by the fact that she had to encourage me to consume such copious amounts of alcohol before my natural reluctance was overcome, that I promptly passed out.
‘Oh Cheryl said, the original was sexist,’ I inform her.
‘ I don't think this what she had in mind when she said that.’ warned Debbie.
‘This is the non-sexist version?’ Carlos chimes in.
By now a certain trepidation is starting to arise in my mind ‘Yeah...’ I say, looking for reassurance, ‘...It's the new non-sexist version, that is totally non-sexist!’ I exclaimed with poorly feigned assurance.
‘What...’ Debbie tilts her head slightly as she examines the drawing, ‘...what are they wearing?’
‘Look I didn’t have time to think up a wardrobe, I just covered up the curvy bits with a few lines.’
‘The bikes here!’
Cheryl moves to join us. She arrives at my desk and I hand her the artwork. ‘Here it is, I finished a few minutes ago. I think you were right about the first one, this version is much better’.Cheryl lifts her eyes from the artwork and stares at me, Given the right pretext Cheryl could instantly conjure up the mood to take a flame thrower to every child who ever ventured onto the meadow at the long since idyllic Peach-nut Grove. Instead though, I witness a curious self satisfied smile appear, it's then I realise this was a obstacle I was never meant to hurdle.
‘This is no good, give me the original.’ Cheryl barks.
‘That's is the original.’ I reply.
‘No the first version, the one that Clair's signed off.’ she presses.
Cheryl’s attention is momentarily diverted as one of the admins calls out to her, ‘Clair’s on the line for you Cheryl.’
‘Ask her to hold, I’ll just be a minute.’
‘It’s gone,’ I say as she turns her attention back to me.
Now she is getting angry, ‘What do you mean? give me the drawing I saw this morning.’
‘Sorry to interrupt Cheryl,’ the admin interjects timidly ‘it’s just that Clair says she needs the artwork for the back page. If they don’t get it soon they’ll have to put back the print run.’ this plea arouses the attention of the studio manager, David, who walked over to join us.
‘Don’t you remember?’ I say, ‘you used the last of the drafting film yesterday to register those separations for the 35mm slides.’ She’d done so in the face of my protest that they could’ve just as easily used acetate but as soon as I revealed my interest in preserving the stock of drafting film her determination to deplete it unnecessarily grew implacable. ‘But it’s okay, I used this,’ I reached over to my desk where I pick up a T20 eraser. I hold it up between my thumb and forefinger to best display the label clearly, Rotring T20 Ink Eraser.
‘What’s the delay?’ David asks, ‘I thought this artwork had been finished this morning.’
‘But...’ she stared at the artwork as the penny clattered to the floor, ‘...but, it’s ink’. Wonderful stuff drafting film, it's has its disadvantages, the ink takes an age to dry on its impermeable surface but one of the benefits is that you can neatly erase even Indian ink from that surface neatly, with the right kind of firm rubber.
What’s that? I think I hear birdsong in Peach-nut Grove.