Today when I walk into the studio Oleg Vassilievich points out a still life that he has set up against one wall. He’s draped a yellow cloth over a chair and placed a jug, a piece of ceramic, and an apple. “Today you’re going to paint that,” he says. “But first, pick up a pencil and sketch it in.”
The studio is flooded with light, and I’m euphoric because of this, and because I’m here, not at work or reading a book, or otherwise passing time. I sit down to work, pull the easel into my lap, pick up a pencil, and...freeze.
Oleg Vassilievich watches me for a moment.
“Where do I start?”
“Very simple.” He takes the pencil from my hand, and sketches one, two, three lines on the paper. “Here is a kind of lopsided triangle, this is the shape of the work. Here are the edges. The apple, the top of the jug. Now fill it in.”
He hands me back the pencil. Without giving myself time to think, I draw. The shapes begin mysteriously to appear on paper. My teacher goes out of the room for a moment, and when he comes back I show him the start I’ve made.
“Here is a problem,” he says, in typical Oleg Vassilievich fashion. “Here is good. Here the line goes...like this. Drawing is comparing. Compare the line of the jug with the apple. Like this.”
As he talks he makes quick, precise scratches with a very sharp pencil. “These folds” indicating my attempt to sketch in the drapery, “we don’t need to draw, you can get them later with the paint.”
He hands me the pencil, sits down at his work table and picks up his latest etching. The sun streams in through the window, making me feel warm and sleepy. I listen to the scratchy flow of jazz from the radio sitting on the windowsill. The sketch seems to draw itself.
Suddenly it’s finished, and I show it to him, proud and surprised at how well it has gone. I haven’t drawn so easily since my last art class, back in 2001. Oleg Vassilievich draws axis lines for the jug and ceramic piece, makes a few corrections, but it’s is generally sound.
“Now paint it.”
I have no idea where to start. Again, he watches me patiently for a few moments. Then he asks “Where is it most clear to you?”
“Here,” I point to the neck of the jar. “And the apple.”
“Good. Watch how I do this:” and he picks up the brush, leans over my shoulder, and begins to paint.
The actual still life is drab and muddy, mostly shades of brown. The apple is the only bright spot. But the colors Oleg Vassilievich lays down are bright, surprising - purple, blue, orange - unrelated shades, which echo the light and shadow on the jug without any attempt to be brown. He works quickly, making confident strokes along the contour, each in a new shade. The jug comes to life. With a wide, flat brush he creates a background - a pure, sweet yellow, with green shadows.
This is all very different from what I thought one did with watercolors. I tell him so, and he nods abstractly. “You see, you can paint a brown jug, but who cares? It will just be a brown jug. What you have to do is fantasize with colors, like music, like jazz.”
The painting takes shape quickly. I notice that he works without correcting. “Watercolor should be fresh,” he says. “Watercolor is depressing unless it is fresh and new. You have to learn to take risks. Be bold.”
With that he hands over the brush, and I manage to complete the work, with frequent corrections and advice.
When the painting is done it looks fantastic, like a piece of sunlight.