Just Call Me Mona Lisa (Or: “Is My Nose Really That Big?!”)

One of the things that I love most about living in a rural part of Japan as a foreigner is the fact that sometimes I’m afforded opportunities that would never drop into my lap if I lived elsewhere. In a huge city like Tokyo, foreigners are a dime a dozen, but in Aomori, we’re a far rarer breed. And on this occasion, that fact served me well.

For two six month periods during the past year and a half, I’d volunteered to sit as a model for an art class in Aomori-shi. This particular class likes to paint foreigners, since our features and body types are usually quite different from the typical Japanese person. As it turns out, my big nose and pale skin apparently made me a good candidate to let strangers stare at me for around thirty total hours.

Sitting for art class
Sitting for art class

As a side note, I find the very fact that I can use the term “model” to describe something that I’ve done in my lifetime pretty hilarious, as I’m almost always a “t-shirt and jeans” kind of woman and have been known occasionally to skip my morning showers on days when I think the state of my hair will let me get away with it. (Though I admit that I harbor a major weakness for pretty sundresses from ModCloth.)

A portrait from my first cycle in the class
A portrait from my first cycle in the class

Last month, I finished up my second cycle with the art class, and I’m honestly sad to see it end. If nothing else, volunteering to sit gave me something to do to fill up my Sunday afternoons, but it genuinely was an experience that I’m glad I had.

Even if it tortured the circulation in my feet to within an inch of its life.
Even if it tortured the circulation in my feet to within an inch of its life.

For one thing, it definitely made me a more patient person. A basic art class went like this: twenty minutes of painting/modeling, ten minutes of rest, and then repeat that six times for a total class time of three hours. Twenty minutes doesn’t at all seem like a very long time…until you’re told to sit in a single position without moving. Make it six twenty-minute sessions, and you’ve got a solid recipe for feet that turn into numb blocks that might as well be made of granite. But once I got into the groove of it, it was amazing how quickly art class would fly by when I had nothing but my own inner monologue to keep myself occupied. (Though it also helped that the spot on the wall that I’d fix my stare had a splotch shaped like a running horse…I got my entertainment where I could.)

Different versions of the same form.
Different versions of the same form.

IMG_7114

Another thing that I really loved about art class was the fact that I saw myself from different perspectives. Whenever the timer would ding to signal that my twenty minutes were up, I’d hop (or more accurately, gingerly hobble on feet fallen asleep) off the platform and sneak glances at the drawings and paintings on which the students were capturing my likeness. Inevitably, I’d have moments of “Oh god, is my nose really that big?!” or “That’s what I look like from that angle?!”, but for the most part, it was fascinating to see myself through the eyes of others. And in several cases, the portraits were, in my opinion, dead ringers for the real thing.

An acrylic version of myself.
An acrylic version of myself. (See what I mean about the nose?)

In a few cases, I even found myself thinking, “I wish I looked in real life the way they’ve painted me!” If only I had a fancy fireplace over which to hang them, I’d have tried to buy one or two of the oil versions of myself…

My personal favorite, though it wasn't completed at this point.
My personal favorite, though it wasn’t completed at this point.

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