Last Friday, I took my first journey on the Eurostar to Brussels, and made the short connection to Bruges. I’ve settled in to my somewhat quirky guest house (described as ‘bohemian’ by a friend,) and I’ve worked for one week so far as a model for the Flemish Classical Atelier down the road. The gig is for the month of June.
We’ve fixed on a pose that may last the entire month: I’m seated, with a robe just off of my shoulders, my hands holding it closed in front of me, my back supported by the chair. It is comfortable but not so comfortable that I’m struggling to stay awake (except for that time about half an hour after I eat lunch…)
There are six students in the class, one of whom organises the Atelier. There is a guest artist who is teaching the class, William Whitaker – Bill. He’s an absolutely lovely guy, and sets the tone for the rest of us; I must say this is an exceptionally pleasant group – polite, mostly laid-back, fairly quiet. Diverse enough to be interesting but also comfortable hanging out together or doing what we’d like on our own. It’s quite peaceful so far.
Over the first few days – half of Saturday and all of Sunday – everyone was settling in, setting things up, running back and forth to the art shop down the road, and discussing poses with me.
I spent Sunday modelling nude, but the studio was (is) freezing and the space heaters simply weren’t enough of a heat source in the huge, dark room. I was exhausted.
We scrapped that idea and set me up with an electric blanket! Thank goodness. Bill emphasised right away that I had to be comfortable and warm, for my own sake, and also because they can’t have their model catching pneumonia.
I feel cared for in a way that a precious commodity might be handled. ‘Get some rest’ is a phrase I hear quite a bit. ‘Bill wouldn’t want you to be tired.’
It feels odd to need to look after myself for my looks; to some extent, my brains probably don’t matter very much in this situation. That said, I’ve been able to have some excellent conversations with Bill and some of the students about their thoughts on art. My own knowledge (not about art, but about other things – like how theories of child development might have influenced 18th c paintings of baby Jesus) – is something I can keep to myself or share as I wish.
I’m writing many notes about this experience, and hope to shape it into a more formal non-fiction piece; hence my brevity here.
Today was my first day off, and I went to the Groening Museum, meeting Bill and his wife and a few of the students. It was excellent to go around and hear Bill’s thoughts on the paintings, especially his appreciation for Jan Van Eyck.
Afterwards, I went to lunch with a few of the students who’d joined us – there are six students of all ages; the youngest is 27, exactly my age, and the oldest are just about 50; we think Bill’s in his 70s. Oddly, everyone, from the woman who lives here and runs the Atelier, all but one student, Bill, and myself, is American. How did we end up in Bruges? One student is from Manchester, England. So, not a particularly exotic bunch, but friendly.
Bruges is a pocket-sized city, and fantastically walk-able, but tricky, too. I got completely lost this morning trying to find the Groening Museum, even though I’d walked there a few days before. I’ve spent my evenings going for wonderful long rambles, to stretch my legs and move, after sitting from 9 -12:30 in the morning and 2 – 5 in the afternoons. I sit in 20-minute blocks with 5-minute breaks.
It’s going well so far, and I think it’s important that I do yoga stretches between poses, and go for walks in the evenings. It stays light here until 10 or 11pm, so it feels like the afternoons are extraordinarily long.
I’m hoping to learn Bruges well, and I’d been navigating confidently. I must look like a local because people keep asking me for directions if they’re tourists & speaking to me in Dutch if they’re locals.
The city must have felt I’d become overly confident, because I was about a block away from the museum this morning, walking all around it but not finding it, for nearly half an hour, with two different maps, ready to burst into tears. I think the city is a trickster like that, because I’ve noticed many lost-looking tourists and overheard not a few tense spats about directions. My evening walks are wonderful and stress-free, because Bruges works if you don’t need to strictly navigate it. Just walk, and you’ll end up where you’re going eventually. But if you try to navigate & need to be there at a certain time? Forget it. Thank goodness the Atelier is five minutes from my house!
Once I finally found the museum, I had a lovely day.
I’ve taken some photos of a few of the works-in-progress by some of the students/painters in the workshop. It’s amazing to see the variety of styles and the progress they’re making in even one week.