I painted a nude man thinking it was a woman!
Anyway, I think I did.
This happened three years ago, and I still don’t know for sure.
“Can you paint a nude from a photo?,” a young gentleman asked on the other end of the phone line.
Of course I can, just bring it by and I’ll look at it and give you a price.
We met and he handed me a black and white three- by four-inch photograph of a nude from the back, with not an ounce of fat, a beautiful body with narrow hips. The right arm showed off a black bracelet and the hand meshed in thick black hair cropped at the back of the neck. A necklace was obvious from the chain dangling down the back. On the left ear was a hoop earring. The face was profiled in shadow. The body wore nothing except these three pieces of jewelry.
The bracelet was a gift and the gentleman gave me explicit instructions that it was very important that I capture it just as it was.
He began his story. It was a holiday on a Caribbean Island on the beach, and he wondered if I could incorporate the impression of a seashell into the painting.
Yes, I was on the right page; I felt that I had opened the book and was reading the story.
I will not disappoint you and the deadline is not a problem, I assured him. We agreed on a price. I asked him if he had a title. He wrote a name on the paper, “El Milagros.”
I carefully wrapped the photograph in the paper, knowing this was a treasure and I wanted to return it in the same condition.
Immediately ,I went into my studio and began to work on the drawing, making sure that every detail was measured perfectly. I understood the importance.
I had previously made arrangements for friends to come and stay in the guest house for the weekend. Ten of us were having a painter’s weekend. We would paint and critique each other’s work.
As one of the women looked at the painting she said, “Betty, I think it is a little masculine. The hand seems a little big for a woman’s hand.”
Another said, “I thought so, too.”
I contended that I had measured exactly. Then I told the story about the Caribbean experience and the seashell and passion this gentleman had. I was feeling embarrassed that maybe I was a little naïve. I couldn’t believe I had just painted a nude man and thought it was a woman.
Then, another person entered into the conversation. He thought the neck was a little stout to be a woman and, by the way, the nude was standing and looked like a man.
Then Sweet Al came into the studio. Under a lit magnifying glass he examined it and examined it and examined it and said that he didn’t know. It must have been on his mind all night because the next morning the first thing out of his mouth was, “Do you think it is a man?”
He reminded me that when he first saw the photo, he told me to make the waist a little smaller.
I told him “no,” I was going to do it just like the photo.
Another guest posed from the back, cocked her hip and said, “This is the way a woman would stand and this nude is standing like a man.”
One of the male guests piped in and showed how a man would stand. Another woman said, “Look at my butt; it’s flat. It’s just like mine; it’s a woman.” The others disagreed.
I finished the painting, framed it, called the gentleman and we met at a coffee shop in town. I shuffled around, stammering and said that I was sure his friend would enjoy it. He noticed how I was trying to avoid the gender and he quickly said, “She will love it.
I still don’t know if I painted a woman or a man. I painted a beautiful piece of art with an impression of a turquoise seashell and titled it “El Milagros” (The Miracle). I also captured the gift on the arm.
I will never know who I painted. The photo was returned; the painting is hanging in someone’s home and, hopefully, they love it.
I’ll never know the real story. It was his story and apparently it was important enough to have it painted.
The final brushstroke: Allow yourself to become vulnerable to someone else’s story. It might bring a few anxious moments, a little embarrassment, but it will always bring new understanding about yourself and maybe a little enlightenment.
“Any fact facing us is not as important as our attitude toward it, for that determines our success or failure.” — Dr. Norman Vincent Peale
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