The Art of Sitting Still

First of all, I should clear something up: Robert Bly isn’t dead, as the emcee erroneously reported at the reading. And then I erroneously repeated. I’m sorry if you’ve walked around all week thinking he died. Second: look at how you’re sitting while reading this. Now, don’t move until I tell you.

I majored in English in college with a minor in studio art, and although I’m putting the English portion of my degree to work every day, I’ve all but given up drawing, and that makes me sad. I can’t even display my work in my apartment because my lease doesn’t allow me to put holes in the walls.*

I drew this. It was really hard to keep the white spaces white. Charcoal.

I drew this. It was really hard to keep the white spaces white. Charcoal.

I used to draw all over everything: doodles in my notebooks, sketches on scrap paper, even chalk pictures on the sidewalk. I come by it honestly; my mom is a great artist (watercolor, pen-and-ink, pencils, pastels–you name it), her father and his mother were both great painters, and I have two artistically talented siblings. When I was younger, the downstairs hallway was the Turner Family gallery and our best work is still on display in frames on various walls of the house. Art is in my blood.

So, when I met Gabriel and his partner, Tony, at a wedding a few weeks ago, I felt we were kindred spirits. Gabriel told me what he did (for a day job) but when he handed me his business card, ( it was all artwork. “You should tell people you’re an artist,” I said, having just started doing that myself. When people used to ask what I did for a living, I would tell them about my office job first and maybe mention writing as an afterthought. Now it’s writer first, everything else second.

I also drew this.

I also drew this.

Gabriel and Tony came to my most recent improv show and supported me last week at the reading. It’s nice to have friends like them. After my improv show, I told Gabriel if he ever needed model I’d be happy to sit for him, not really thinking he’d take me up on it, but to my surprise he said sure.

Last Friday I had the privilege of serving as a portrait model for a group of artists who meet every Friday evening at Old Town Artists Coop in St. Paul. I didn’t give much thought to what that would entail until I actually planted myself in the chair. I mean, I sit all day in an office, then come home and sit while I write, so how hard could it be?

It is really hard to sit still.

Are you still in the position you were in when you started reading this? I didn’t tell you to move. Try it again. Just sit there. Don’t bounce your foot, scratch your nose, or shake your head. Don’t. Move. A. Muscle. Does something itch? Has something you can’t ignore just now made its way into your eye? Are your muscles twitching from holding position?

Obviously, there’s no way anyone could do that for too long. They break the two-hour session into four 30-minute chunks (25 minutes “in pose,” 5 minutes on break). It’s more manageable but still hard. I found out after the fact that I could have moved a little during “in pose” time, I’d just need to get back into position, but as a former artist, I remember how difficult it was when the model moved. Movement changes the shadows on your face, the way your clothing falls against your body, even the way your skin stretches against flesh and bone. Small movements can mean the difference between a double chin or no chin at all.

I enjoyed the breaks and meeting the artists afterward. One of the artists even gave me his painting–pretty neat, huh?


Painting by Nels Femrite.

Sitting got uncomfortable at times, but I didn’t pick a very good pose, so when I do it again in a few weeks, I’ll be sure to choose a pose I can hold for a longer period of time without issue. I’m hoping they’ll do some quick improv-y poses in the beginning so I can practice my tortured face, my angry face, and my “you’ve just won a million dollars” face.**

If you’re interested in joining the group to sketch or paint, it is open to the public, there are no commitments (unlike a class), and they have wine and popcorn afterward. There is a fee if you aren’t a member, and they don’t provide materials, but the group is pretty nice and it’s a great way to practice drawing or painting if you don’t have the space (or willing models) at your disposal. If you’re not an artist, but you don’t mind modeling, they’re always looking for someone who can sit still (no iPod, iPhone, video players, though). Check out Gabriel’s blog ( and contact him if you’d like more information. Okay, you can move now.

*The original building manager said he would drill holes for me to hang things, but then he left suddenly, and the management company is pretty strict about things, so I’m guessing it’s a lost cause.

**Look out, Zoolander. Blue Steel’s got nothin’ on White Heat.


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About Sarah in Small Doses

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2 responses to “The Art of Sitting Still”

  1. Gabriel Garbow says :

    Awww… Good stuff. Your charcoal drawings have rich tonal variety, dynamic compositional movement (ironically), and well-observed forms. It’s fantastic to be able to see this side of you.

    P.S. I want to drop everything and go draw in charcoal right now.

    • sarahwithanh25 says :

      Thanks, Gabriel! It means a lot to hear that from a real working artist. I haven’t drawn in a very long time, but maybe this fall I can get back into it.

      P.S. Go for it–charcoal is fun. Messy, but fun.

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