From the New Jersey exurbs, a friend e-mailed a “photo of a kind of erotic ‘still-life’ of peaches.” This was a challenge. Among other things, and borrowing from an old song: If you can’t make my peaches erotic, honey, please leave ‘em in the trees?
I had the idea to print the photo on my black-and-white laser printer. This seemed to simplify the challenge, or at least I could begin work with more confidence. The light values were clearer; all the colors became gray tones.
Around dusk one evening, an employee of my local café was clearing the junk from the outdoor tables; he saw me drawing and the work in progress and, with a smile, quipped: “Gotta love cleavage!”
I can’t say that peach-cleavage was exactly what I was after, but I was emboldened by his remark. At least something erotic was coming through.
Often when drawing models I have in the back of my mind: How could I do this with just a few lines? And it seems at times that one is drawing and drawing above all to build up the confidence to just make those few telling lines and then STOP! Don’t let extra time or insufficient daring cause you to rework and rework.
Most persons have but a very moderate capacity of happiness; but no person ever finds this out without experience, very few even with experience: and most persons are constantly wreaking that discontent which has its source internally, upon outward things.
With this in mind, an American, for example—rather than pursuing more happiness than s/he has reason to expect—might get on with the task of coping with a life in which happiness is not a notable feature. And thus my current habit of drawing and painting sweet potatoes while the New York Mets’ television announcers and baseball players chatter and play in the background (on my TV)?
It was not Mill who led me to this habit, but a duck breast I bought at a farmer’s market, which in turn led me to a recipe for Pan Seared Duck Breast with Sweet Potatoes, Spinach and Onions. So I went to my local Whole Foods, and I found such an architecturally intriguing potato, I couldn’t help but try to draw it. As I have never studied architectural drawing, however, . . . Or could it be because I refuse to sign up for Amazon Prime . . . ? Failure.
Instead of such things, you might say, I have attentively studied and done versions of Rodin’s more or less erotic drawings (example at right). And did this lead me to find a more appropriate potato at my local Associated supermarket? Après Auguste, I used pencil, watercolor and gouache (plus two pens). I have read that he had his models walk and lie around naked in the rooms of his house or studio, and he would sketch them on the fly, as it were. Although my potatoes only moved when I bumped the worktable in my bedroom, they were certainly lying around naked, and one of the “adventitious shoots” (or sprouting buds) did remind me, a little, of the nipples of a pregnant model who I had recently sketched.
 The full text of Mill’s essay may be found, along with others, at Early Essays on Marriage and Divorce by John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill.