On Friday evening, April 5, I had a most unusual (for me) experience. A few months ago I was enjoying one of our three-times-a-year breakfasts with a dear friend, Carli Cichocki, who was and is the inspiration for a new continuing fictional character, Carli Wysocki, in my Milan Jacovich mystery series. In the course of breakfast she mentioned that she’d recently posed as a model for a group of artists who get together every Friday night at a little mom-and-pop shot-and-a-beer tavern in Tremont (a trendy old/new neighborhood just west of downtown Cleveland), the Literary Café. The group calls themselves The Pretentious Tremont Artist Group, run by artist Tim Herron—and the members themselves run from being “just beginners” to established NE Ohio artists. The model sits at a table in the back room, and everyone sits around them, some just a few feet away, and they sketch, paint, and draw what they SEE. Carli suggested it might be fun if I did it, too. They don’t pay models anything, but they give you all the originals to take home, and you can pretty much drink whatever you like during the session.
So she set it up for me, and I arrived up shortly before 9 pm; the bar itself doesn’t open until 8:30, thus the late hour. I never make too much of a fuss about my wardrobe; unless I’ll be on TV or in some sort of personal appearance, I hang around mostly in jeans and sweatshirts. But the pictures I’d be given at midnight, I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life, so I’d thought all day about what I should wear. (Think of all those who were painted or photographed in the sixties and seventies wearing things like Afro hair, Nehru jackets, Elvis Presley sideburns, etc. and now, in the 21st century having to LOOK at them!) I finally decided on a tan sweater over a dark brown shirt; sweaters NEVER go out of style. (No, they DON’T paint models in the nude—at least not in this venue. At MY age, I wouldn’t be sitting around naked in public for three hours while everyone is looking at me).
The first “shift” was 45 minutes, then fifteen minutes off; the rest were half hour on, quarter hour off until midnight. They sat me down so I could see (but not hear) the TV set at the end of the bar in the next room and asked me to try not to move too much. They’d chat with me while they worked, but I couldn’t move my head to look at them. It was weird for a while, someone not five feet away from me talking, but I never met their eyes with mine. I’m used to teaching, giving talks, signing books, and I’m used to being looked at—but during those times I’m always talking! This time I was relatively quiet. Now I know how lions and gorillas in a zoo feel when people are staring at them, and even making comments! (Many of the artists talked with each other about drawing my hair; it turned silver when I was about 30, went all white twenty years later., but I don’t remember people discussing it with one another where I could hear them.)
It was also going to be impossible for me to smile broadly for three hours while they drew me—I feared I’d wind up looking like a severely disturbed maniac. Instead I concentrated all evening on trying NOT to look as if I were pissed off about something.
Just before ten o’clock Carli arrived. She doesn’t draw, but everyone there knew her from her modeling gig, and absolutely adored her. (One of the artists said “Carli? The tall, beautiful brunette who’s always smiling?”) She’s probably the least moody adult human being alive, and has a smile for everyone; her appearance buoyed my spirits even as my butt grew numb from staying motionless. At the end of the evening, I guess someone had given her a sheet of paper and SHE drew me, too—a circle, with two dots for eyes and a smiling mouth. I complained that the circle had no hair, so she obligingly drew of them sprouting from the top of my bald head.
At the end of the evening I was very pleased with the sketches the artists gave me—some more than others, naturally. They all had different styles, different techniques, some more modern than others. I’ll not single out anyone; suffice to say that I will soon change my Facebook profile photo for one of these—and maybe even use one as my “author photo” on the jacket of my next novel.
So my thanks to Tim Herron–and of course Carli—for inviting me to sit there trying to look halfway decent all evening. And thanks to all the Pretentious Tremont Artists, too. You’re not “pretentious” at all; you’re pretty damn good!
But I’m NOT planning to frame all of the portraits of me and hang them all over my house to look at all day every day. I mean, there’s ego—and then there’sEGO!!!!