The first exercise at last night’s class was easy. Draw a face. I’d had a little practice with faces while playing with watercolours and clay, and I knew enough about the basic structure (eyes in the middle, bottom of the nose in the middle of the bottom half, etc.) that I was pretty confident I could produce a face that resembled a face.

But then she pulled out mirrors for the second exercise. “Time to draw your OWN face.” Ugh. Really?

That’s where I’d given up drawing in my long ago (feeble) attempt to work my way through the book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”. Attempts at drawing my face had resulted in dismal failure.

With a mirror clipped to my easel, I stared at the blank page, at the mirror, back at the blank page, at the mirror, again – not sure where to begin. That’s when it started – the wise-cracks to my neighbour. “Do we really have to be HONEST, or can we just draw what we WISHED we looked like?” “Maybe if I put in a few less shadows under the eyes, I won’t look as tired – or as old – as that face in the mirror.”

The truth is, though, I don’t really hate my face. There are other features of my body about which I could write long lists of flaws and weaknesses, but my face is… well, it’s not horrible. I rather like my eyes, and my smile is pleasant. Members of my family like to chide me about the fact that there are very few horrible pictures of me. They’re right – if I can say so without sounding arrogant – I’m fairly photogenic. (No, I didn’t say I was beautiful – just pleasant-looking in photos.)

But start looking closely in a mirror, start drawing every little line that appears, every shadow, every imperfection, and suddenly the truth seems a little different then you’d always thought. Suddenly you’re aware of the way your eye lids are beginning to droop, the way the frown line between your eyebrows has deepened,

In drawing, though, it’s best not to think of your subject as a face (or a box or a tree). It’s best just to see it as a series of shadows and highlights. Forget what you’re drawing and just pay attention to the way it picks up the light.

And so, once again, I got lost in the moment. I drew, and I was happy. The imperfections didn’t matter. The shadows were just that – shadows. The lines added character and personality.

In the end, it at least looked human and somewhat resembled my face. I like the top half best. The mouth and nose are a little pinched and cat-like and the neck should be a little thicker and shorter. But those aren’t flaws in the way I look, they’re just the mistakes one makes in the learning process.

But maybe there’s a deeper lesson in all this.  Maybe the reason so many people are having plastic surgery is because we’re staring in the mirror too much, focusing on the imperfections, and not turning our gaze to the easel. Maybe we’re forgetting the values of shadows and highlights – of character and personality – and trying too hard to make things look smooth and flawless.

Maybe we need to spend more time focusing on the way that we reflect light.

Self portrait, drawing class #4

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