"Guys we need to make sure that we have a nice greyish black before we start." said the man standing in front of the blackboard. "We obviously want to begin with the most important element of the picture so, can anyone guess what that might be in our case?"
"It's the elephant Mr. Smith" yelled the girl in the front row raising her hand straight up in the air.
"That is correct, young lady. We start with the elephant. Leave the trees for later and the water as the last part. We want to make sure we focus on the most prominent thing first before we move to anything else"
The room was filled with blotched canvases, scattered around like the 3d copy of the same square meter, with drawings that were invisible to the only adult person in the room. Some of them were smothered with harsh strokes of paint thrown at the white sheet filling it with an intense medley of colors. Others were modestly started with some obscure drawing scribbled in the corner as the creator would slowly expand downwards with care and attention and some were simply a blend of radically disparate shapes and colors that had little to no cohesion of the final outcome. That was the situation in the 3rd elementary school of the Blackwater district, where 18 members of the first class, participated in the school's initiative to bring art to the young age, by drawing the image of an elephant striding through the brooklet in a jungle setting.
"You want to make sure that you move the brush in short smooth movements," he said as he stood in the side of a little Bob, showing him the right gesture. He turned around and looked over the square window in the door where he saw the face of Helen Harrington. The red-hair young woman who the actual teacher of the class and invited him to showcase his talent to the young students. She smirked at Ethan from outside the window checking the progress once again as she was doing constantly approximately every five minutes according to his calculations and his response was almost always the same. He would acknowledge her presence with a little awkward smile, raise his hand greeting her in the most prominent fashion possible and then wait for her to leave before getting back to his normal self once again. Continuing his work with the student at hand his attention now grabbed an utterance from behind him that seemed to come in the most unexpected manner possible.
"The elephant is not supposed to look blue Erin," screamed a kid in the back row. "It looks more like a bird than an elephant". The students burst out laughing at the comment all around.
"Kids just focus on your paintings and I'm going to come around through every one of you, one at the time. Just be patient OK?" he said trying to preserve order.
"At least I didn't draw the trees like they were bubble gums." replied the other one and the laughter continued stronger.
"Kids, stop it. No more of this," said Ethan.
"Well maybe if you haven't run crying into Mrs. Helen then none of us would have been grounded" replied the first one and a big vowel of awe came from the rest of them.
"Shut up you dumbass."
"No, you shut up."
The kids repeated the command over and over ignoring every attempt from Ethan to stop and eventually the whole class followed along erupting into a crescendo of yells and clamor that was bound to be heard across the whole school. The uproar stopped only shortly after as Mrs. Helen came back running into the class watching Ethan raising one of the students up in the air like a heavy arm bag, and the rest of the kids swirling around him in screams, bringing the process to an instant halt. And that meant to be the last time Ethan would visit that school after only his very first attempt to teach young kids about the art he so much loved.
"It was just the worse experience I had in the last year. Not even the last year, probably my whole life. Never felt such an embarrassment before. Honestly." He laid back in an Aeron chair while sipping from his steaming-hot coffee.
"Honey, that's how kids act. You shouldn't be so harsh on yourself about it." said the woman.
"The thing is, some people can handle situations like this. They feel comfortable with kids and the kids feel comfortable with them. It's a reciprocal relationship". "With me, I don't know. Some men are better off to try something else. You know? They are not meant for teaching."
The woman, whose name was Meghan, approached him slowly and took her seat in the chair next to him leaning her hand in his knee. "That's nonsense. I think you are a great teacher. Nobody knows your art better than you. You know that."
The man nodded with short-cut moves and sipped from his drink. "You are nice. That's nice," he said holding her hand for a second. "But what I'm trying to say is that maybe I'm just focusing on the wrong thing with all these side jobs that I'm taking and neglect the one thing that I'm really good at. Drawing. That's it. I cannot teach drawing, and I cannot sell drawing. I'm just good in drawing in and of itself."
The woman lowered her head and pulled a mild smile on her face. It had been almost dusk by now. Through the balcony doors there was unraveling the rich foliage of the garden with the Hawthorns and the heather and the Chaste trees and Ethan turned to it with a sorrowful expression as if trying to grasp the last glimpse of it before the night. Ethan was always drawn to nature for inspiration and he had found that in its presence he could find that elusive calmness he was always seeking for himself.
"There is no one in the world that can doubt your talent or skill in drawing." said the woman. "I can guarantee this to you."
"Then why do I have to spend so much on doing things around it and not this particular thing alone. Why do I have to work on projects I don't like for people that know nothing about art. They could never really appreciate anything of what I do yet they are willing to pay lots of money for it."
The woman recoiled in the comment and took a sweet expression on her face. "The world is not gonna oblige you based on what you want all the time. It can be a cruel place that can take away everything you fought for in a split of a second". The woman looked upwards in a dreamy way and stared there for a few seconds before continuing. "My pap used to be a construction worker. He would work many hours every day and we would only take a glimpse of him in the evening where he would return weary and exhausted barely able to articulate a word or two. His clothes would be torn apart and battered. Dotted with white dust as if he was splashed over with a can of sugar while he was at work. But I never heard him complaining about his situation. He would still smile at us every time he would see us and fly us up when we would ask him to play the airplane.. as if he hadn't lifted any weight the whole day. We couldn't really understand back then what was going on," she said as she turned to face Ethan.
"He was a very honorable man," he replied with a slight smirk.
"He was, yes. But he also had a thing for trumpet and jazz and from time to time he would play at bars and concerts that he would be invited on. It's incredible that he managed to do that while he kept his daily job and that he never let go of his dreams. Back then we would be unable to realize it but that was all a sacrifice he was making for us so that we have everything we need."
"He was a great man," uttered the man as he sought out and held her hand of the woman who now lachrymose with watery eyes. "I wish I could be as strong as your father was. I just don't know if I have the courage to deal with all this."
"Don't speak like that. Please don't. You have it. I know you do."
The woman now leaped up and moved to the room next to it as the pale afternoon light was completely gone, and so did the man as he trudged his steps along towards his studio. It was a particularly large room. Not because of its size per se but because most of the central space in it was vacant, occupied only by a skirmish, short stool, and a drawing board, glued on a skeleton wooden structure that was giving the impression that it might be shattered with a slight nudge from the wind. Around the room, the walls were covered with finished artwork, so much of it that one could trace a drawing pattern making the whole circle around it and it would make you question whether all these drawings were part of a bigger whole or just randomly independent ones.
All the drawings of Ethan had a common tone. Α theme that was strongly disturbing in ways not apparently obvious. Sometimes it could be just the face of a man or a person in a standard pose and it could still send a shiver up your spine by the profound detachment of the emotion. They were mostly dark drawings, made with a pencil and having no other shade in them other than black or shadowish grey, and not a single of them would depict a spectacle of joy. People would often point that the more you would look at the painting the sadder they would get and they had always the ability to create strong responses to the audience that happened to get a glimpse of them.
"I brought some food and tea for you. You haven't eaten anything all day," said Meghan as she slid into the studio. It was a rich edgeless toast, with green leaves sprouting out of the middle and the transparent glass that it had turned into orange out of the tense tea color.
"Look," said the woman as she placed the disc on top of the table in the corner. "I know I probably gave you the wrong impression earlier. I just wanted to make sure that you understand how strongly I believe in you. I'm sure someday people are going to speak of the great talent of yours. No matter how long it's gonna take for it to click with them."
"I hope is not going to take too long. Or we are going to starve to death," said the man teasingly.
"It won't be. You just have to be patient. I know people don't know how to appreciate your work yet. But they will learn. Little by little. You just have to give them time" said the woman nodding with her head for emphasis.
"I'm afraid I have no other option at the moment," said Ethan who started to feel uncomfortable with the conversation once again.
"Not in that aspect you don't. But you control where you can focus your energy and what artwork you expose to the public". She strode onwards to the mainboard in the center of the room and scrutinized the drawing. It was a black ink painting, depicting a woman figure inside a lump of water, thrusting her hair backward with force, while her mouth was distorted in pain and agony. A very tense painting that Meghan found it hard to take her eyes away.
"This is beautiful," she said leaning her head on one side, "Beautiful within its ugliness. I simply love it. Strong and wonderful like all your work is."
"Thank you," said the man sternly.
"But this cannot be your main focus of work at this point in time. At least not for the most part."
The man turned to face her with a probing expression, cocking his hands over his waist as he pressed himself to not react impulsively. He was always afraid to enter these conversations because he could sense that his drawing was most of the time too intense for the liking of others and he knew fairly well by now that they would almost always suggest to try and make them milder.
"Look, I know this must be hard for you." continued the woman, "You have a very distinct style and unique way of drawing. Something that most other people lack and they can never get in their entire life. But what I'm saying is, nurture it in the side while you still engage with what people know and are familiar with. Foster it and give it time for people to catch up with it. And you'll see that they will eventually take the step to meet you halfway". The woman smiled as she smudged the cheek of the man making him comply with a smile back.
"Mr. Saunders still awaits for his portrait, is he not?"
"He is," said the man reluctantly.
"And he has paid a good heft of money in advance for it, no?"
"He has," the man nodded. "He has."
"But you still haven't made any work to start with it. You haven't even bothered to create the sketch yet. Am I right?"
The man stood reluctantly averting his eyes from her before replying. "Meghan, Saunders doesn't want the real painting. He doesn't care about it. He wants simply a depiction of his stupid photo with paint like the ones that everybody can do."
"So do that," replied the woman blatantly. "Why do you care?"
"Because this is not what I do. Look at this," he said pointing in a dark drawing. "And this, and this...these are not simple portraits. This is what I really aspire to get out for the world. My art. My representation. I know it's not easy to achieve but still, I'm speaking with a number of galleries all around the country at the moment. At some point, one of them is going to accept my proposal and once he does then things might change for the better. You never know when luck is gonna hit at your door."
"No, no you don't," said Meghan with a bittersweet smile and she slowly dawdled out as she tapped the man in his right shoulder.
Ethan stood for a while back in his stool and he recollected everything that was said between them, as he iterated through them on his own. Just a few weeks ago he was doing the portrait of another exclusive society member with artistic ambitions on his high-class lifestyle and he had devoted a good amount of time to fulfill his portrait to the best of his abilities. The end result had the combination of both the clarity of the portrait with the distinctly visible characteristics and the tone of his personal style with the longer than usual lines and the blurred dark colors that swayed his works. A great artistic achievement by his standards and one that he was highly proud of by all means accountable. Yet when it came for him to present his work to the man, he received a comment he would least expect of.
"That doesn't look like me at all, dear Ethan. I'm afraid you have misadjusted your measurements because this painting lacks the quality of a portrait that is supposed to have. That is 'portraying' the person in front of you", he said with emphasis.
Not the sort of appreciation that such a work of art would be qualified to have, he thought. And he definitely couldn't allow himself to expect anything more from this world of hypocrisy and smugness. He took his palette back in his hand and stared at his dark work as he followed the contours of the shape along with his hand. "At least this way there is no more dishonesty," he said softly and he continued his work with the company of the full moon that was now visible through the window.