I was 12 years old and really bored one summer when I found a book on European impressionist on my mother's coffee table. I sat down and started leafing through the pages unaware of what I was going to find.
What I saw caught me completely off guard, like a light coming on in the middle of the night. It was one of those defining moments that changed the way I looked at the world forever. I had never seen anything like those drawings before. I was stunned at what I was seeing and the depth of emotion it evoked. For the first time the human form was presented to me in a way I had never imagined. Nudity was without pretenses and shame, but completely naturally, awe inspiringly beautiful.
That day I lingered the most over Renoir. I wanted to devour the pages with my eyes, drinking every aspect of his subjects searching desperately for more, hoping to find some small detail I missed. I had tears in my eyes while I tore furiously through the book looking for more pages that made me feel that way. I couldn't find them fast enough. I must have sat there for a couple hours with my mouth open in awe at the beauty of the human form exposed. I wondered if I was that beautiful and I wondered what it must be like to be able to capture that.
I did my first figure drawing that year in my 6th grade art class in school. The assignment was to draw either a Pilgrim or an Indian for our Thanksgiving program. I was excited by the project and threw every ounce of my determination (which was considerable) perfecting the shadowing and muscular structure of my subject in what I imaged to be ritual dance. When it was complete, I felt I had done well and I took the drawing proudly to my art teacher. I was disillusioned by her response. She looked at me in utter confusion and said. "But Ursula, he doesn't have any clothes on." It took a while to register her displeasure and I stared at her blankly for a second before replying quietly, "It's an Indian... they didn't wear clothes sometimes. Then pleading, "He has a loin cloth over his front…" It was no use and she instructed me to return to my desk immediately and draw some clothes on him. I returned to my desk and just sat staring at my drawing amazed that she didn't seem to get it at all. I turned it in unchanged when class was over.
The following week the hallway was filled with drawings, but mine wasn't among them.