Terry Shoffner paints the flyboy – top photo

The very best thing about the job of being an art model is that (when you can get a gig) you can expect to find yourself among a group of people who are actively seeking creative growth. Beyond that inherently excellent vibe, there are also innumerable inspiration-grains, and plenty of silent time to think about what it might be fun to shape them into. I write lots of poetry and even essays, when I’m up on the model stand – most, with their narrative centre well outside the studio or classroom.

But the stuff which I actually see before me is also great and compelling material – without wishing to make anyone self-conscious, I nonetheless feel bound now and then to express my awe, gratitude and just plain appreciation for the extraordinary gifts that the stand-out teachers bestow so generously.

Terry Shoffner is right at the top of the standings – both as a working graphic artist and as a teacher of the craft – when he gets his students painting, they get excited – knowing they are labouring to impress a genuine master, whose humility, penetrating character-insight and keen interest, all allow him to serve them as individual creative seekers, with particular thoughtful specificity.

He’s also a truly nice guy – and boy do sweet and excellent ever work well in combination, when it comes to energizing art-students! The poem below came to me the other night, when sitting for his first-year drawing class, and watching him working on a donkey – a treat which gave my poetic head a nice morsel to chew-on, albeit peripherally – since an easel usually blocks my view of his hands.

The painting above, his work (and very kind gift to me), is from a great class a few years ago. I’m big on active hand-gestures, because hands are the most common heart-break-fail that there is – and everyone needs good reasons to work on them harder – so I usually pose this flyboy character with a big fat stogie (cigar) in his hand. In this class, one especially clever and talkative student ‘lit’ the cigar with his imagination and gave it a curl of smoke – right away, before the very first break of the day – all admired it, and indeed, it spread right around the room – almost like a study of invention-variegation. But Terry really went full-tilt and after lighting my stogie, also invented a whole misty forest and an airplane to go-with – lovely! (Though in typically modest fashion, he immediately regretted not painting a different aircraft type!)

Terry is big on nice round brushes – it quite flummoxed line-man me, how he could use such blunt instruments to get such precise results – but of course he combines expert knowledge with that open-mind fresh observation that always gives great tasty produce. This piece is one of only two I’ve ever seen which catches the subtle and mobile-relational asymmetry of my eyes, one distinctly rounder and one tending toward odd straightness (the other from a demonstration by the inimitably perceptive David Campbell). The fact that Terry caught it on-the-fly at-speed in full-risk mode, truly blows my mind.

And what was his specific demonstration-point with this one? (I do remember the strangest details) – he wanted to show everyone how much red goes into an olive green, to correctly capture the subtlety of my ensign cap (actually from the boy-scouts – shhhh!).

Also must mention – Terry and I had a fantastic late conversation the other night, and the emergent concept is very important and under-discussed. Here is the most refined version I’ve distilled so far (thanks to his instigating meme-stimulus – though I’ve been thinking along this line as well).

Step one for any creator who wishes to pay the bills is to sublimate their instrument to some part of the market willing to pay for it, and then refine the efficiency of that work, to make it profitable.

But Step Two is critical – how do we, after having done this – then commission our very best work from ourselves? The stuff no art-director or editor is smart enough to know we’re capable of. The stuff no one else has for the world.

It’s not an easy question, but it is an important one for every creator to ask.

Then again, Artie Shaw was right too, (I paraphrase) “Is my stuff important? I don’t know, that’s for someone else to say.  My job is just to make it as good as I can.”

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