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head study



‘I don’t want to see anybody continuing to draw when the model has stopped posing,’ warned the art tutor. ‘Take a break and when you come back you will see your work – and all its mistakes –  with fresh eyes.’

Some anxious members of the class took no notice and went on fiddling, adding little details, trying to ‘finish the picture’, only to become muddled and wish they hadn’t.

‘You don’t need to draw every outline; the eye of the person looking at your drawing will automatically fill in the gap, will see what is suggested for themselves.’

More advice from the art tutor which tallies with writing: we can leave the reader to work something out rather than over-explaining it. What is left unsaid or barely hinted at might be as effective as what is said.

All this is probably part of the show not tell ‘rule’ which creative writing tutors are always going on about – often tediously and over-dogmatically – but it does seem to relate to visual art as well.

The third useful thing I took away from the portrait and life drawing class happened when I had to be the model. Being confronted with how other people see you might be very good for you but it is not always a confidence-boosting experience! Do I really look as grumpy/worried/distracted as that? It reminded me that what we think we are conveying in our writing may not be what other people are hearing. We can be curiously unaware of the mismatch. Have we left too many of those important gaps?

This is why we are thankful if we can rely on a far-seeing and fearless critique group to point out the truth, however unpalatable it may be. Unstinting flattery in a portrait or praise for a piece of writing is very nice but it won’t help us in the long run. Look what it did for poor Anne of Cleves.