Pressing the charred grapevine to the paper with his thumb, he shifted his gaze between the subject and the sketch. It was only a moment, a second at best, just long enough to capture the next curve and smoothly execute it, leaving a firm black mark in its wake.
The air was heavy with the dank smell of cigarette smoke. His eyes stung from endless hours of studying his subject in a haze filled room, endless hours of making sketches only to then tear them from the easel and add them to the growing pile of discards sliding across the floor. His irritation at being unable to capture the right mood, the feel of the composition, had caused him to work in strained silence. Only the constant clicking of the ceiling fan and occasional sighs of frustration interrupted it.
Pausing after making another studied arc on the paper, he stood tall stretching his back and reveling in the popping sensations that rippled down his spine. A blackened thumb dug into bleary eyes one by one as he stifled a yawn.
It was time for a break.
Actually, he was long overdue for a break. He hadn't moved from his position in front of the easel in hours and his legs were stiff from inactivity. If he closed his eyes he knew he'd see the scene clearly in his mind. It was now, forever, burned into his memory.
"Why do you do it?"
The female voice, soft and sultry, snapped him back to his task. Eyes open once more, he positioned his right hand a fraction from the paper and went back to observing her. His model.
His model. Nicolette.
He blinked to clear his vision and gazed at her now. Not her hair, not her delicately shaped fingers, not even her perfect mouth that pouted seductively. Her. It was the first time he'd really looked at her as more than a collaboration of well formed parts since he'd hired her this morning.
His tongue snaked across dry lips briefly before he replied, "Why do I do what?"
Caramel colored hair spilled over her shoulders in a long wavy curtain as she leaned forward on the chair she was lounging on, her feet tucked comfortably beneath her. She cocked her head back, displaying the full length of her pale throat and gazed at him from behind thick lashes.
"Do not play games with me, Monsieur." she began in a thick French accent, "You know what I mean. This!" she waved her right hand around absently, leaving a thin trail of swirling smoke hovering inches from her face.
"Why do you spend hours cooped up in here, drawing again and again and again and again?"
He watched her animated form and the resulting chaos of looping smoke and curling hair dancing through the air with interest. Something was happening here, he just couldn't put a finger on what it was.
"I do it because I'm paid to," he retorted, quickly smudging out some of his previous strokes on the paper with the pads of his fingers.
Nicolette snorted and chuckled. "I don't believe it."
Her elbow rested on her knee now as she motioned out the window with her thumb. "I do what I do out there because I am paid. I do this because I am paid. I do not believe it is the same for you."
She paused as she gazed at him and took a drag on the half burnt cigarette. The click click click of the fan filled the silence while he waited for her to continue. "Tell me...why do you do it?"
The reason, the one she wanted to hear, was one she wouldn't understand. Less a statement about her intelligence or financial ambitions, it was simply that he wasn't sure he understood himself why he did it. There was something that drove him, made him toil endlessly as if each commissioned piece were the last he would create. A legacy deserving of the lost sleep and missed meals that left him a thin Slav in a foreign land. Something, beyond the money he was being paid, that drove him to pick up the charcoal pencil in the first place; to create that black mark upon a sea of white that would invite another mark and then another, until it culminated into a finished product.
She sighed at his continued silence, tapping the cigarette with her pinky to dislodge the ash. It was at that moment that something in him began racing furiously. His heart trembled excitedly and everything, even his skin, felt more alive, more infused with energy. Clutching the edge of the easel with his left hand he began making rapid movements over the sketch; changing curves, adding the smoke swirls in wobbly scribbles as they rose from the cigarette held idly between two fingers.
"You want to know why I do it?" he asked, his voice mirroring the excitement the teetering easel already displayed, "This is why I do it. This moment right now, the moment you find the image. The moment you-you-you..make that all important...discovery! That's it then, it's about discovery!
"It's about the moment of creation."
He stopped then and stood back from the focus of his passionate release. It was incomplete, but the essence was there. She was there. Already he could see the fancy ornamentation he would frame her with, and the brand name that would be displayed behind her. It might be an advertisement, but it was a work of art as well.
This could have happened when Alfons Mucha studied his model for the poster Job, 1896.
See the poster here: http://www.123posters.com/art/mucha1.htm