Every Friday, 1 artist/painter/poet/writer, letting their work speak for itself.
‘Art Class’, An Extract from A Monster By Violet
The good thing about being in Class 4 is Art. Instead of doing Art in the junior rooms which are just normal classrooms with sinks at the back, we get to go in the art studio. There are huge wooden benches with marks on them like Dad’s workbench in his garage. Some of the benches have little drawings on them, and scratches where people have been using knives. All along one side of the room are proper artists’ easels. Not everyone in the class knows that they are called easels, but I do because Grandad has one. There are drawers with all different kinds of pencils and paints in; powder paints, poster paints, tubes of oil paints, some pastels, and lots of different kinds that I don’t even know the name of. There are big cupboards at the back of the room with different sizes and sorts of paper like tracing paper, and bright coloured card. As well as that kind of art stuff, there is a long table down one side of the room where you can do pottery, and even a potter’s wheel, and a huge, extra hot oven for clay called a kiln.
Our art teacher is short with spiky silver hair that stands up like a punk’s. She looks older than Mum and Dad, but has really bright eyes like a pixie. She wears long skirts that touch the ground, and I imagine that she isn’t walking, and doesn’t have feet, but is hovering like a fairy. Her name is Miss Farr, and Ruth says she’s only temporary because our normal art teacher is having a baby. Some people in the class call her Miss Fart, and say that we are going to Fart Class. It would be funny if instead of paints, all the bottles and jars of different things were actually collections of farts made by rare and extinct creatures.
There are a few people sitting at each of the wooden benches. In my group there is me, Ruth, and two girls called Mary and Harriet who look almost the same even though they’re not sisters. They are nice, but hardly ever talk to anyone except each other. They both have brown hair, wear pigtails, and have glasses. Mary is a bit fatter than Harriet, and Harriet has two moles on her cheek. Gemma is sat on the bench behind us with John the boy with freckles from the climbing frame, a big boy with curly hair called George who is always sneaking food into his mouth from his pockets, and the twins, Alex and Aidan who I like because they are always making jokes. I think they invented the name Miss Fart, and they call fat Mrs Cobb ‘Egg on Legs’ which is funny because she even walks like an egg would if it had legs, with her legs moving out in a circle before going forward.
Miss Farr says, “Okay everybody, today you have some freedom!”
Everyone goes quiet.
“In a minute I’ll give you all an A1 piece of cartridge paper, and then you can choose your tools… pencil, felt-tip pens, oil pastels, or poster paint. You can use any of those, but you can’t mix them… Stick to one style.”
Gemma puts her hand up, “Miss, can I use coloured pencil?”
“No,” Miss Farr says, “I don’t like coloured pencil, and if you’re using pencil I’d be far more excited to see you do some shading, like we learnt last week.”
Gemma shrugs, and makes a bored face, “Guess I’ll use felt tips.”
Miss Farr is handing out the paper. I lay mine out in front of me.
“What are you going to use, Violet?” Ruth asks.
“Fat felt-tip pens, like Rolf Harris on Cartoon Time.”
“I think I’m going to paint,” she says.
Miss Farr stops handing out paper and says, “I forgot to say…you can use a pencil to plan your work out. So everyone get yourselves a pencil if you like as well as the other stuff. If you prefer to just work straight on the paper, you can do that too… whatever you like.”
The room gets noisy with everyone getting their pencils and paints.
“Another thing!” Miss Farr shouts, “This is a big project… we’ll be working on it for the next four or five weeks, so take your time and make it something really special… a masterpiece!”
“Miss!” Gemma shouts, “What are we supposed to be drawing?”
“I don’t know,” Miss Farr says, “It’s up to you…the only thing I want you to do is use the space you have…You have a big piece of paper, and I’d like you to fill it with anything you feel like. You could draw something to do with your family, or nature, or school, or something totally imaginary.”
Miss Farr sits down at her desk and closes her eyes for a while, then opens them and stares out of one of the big windows.
“Are we allowed to talk?” Gemma asks.
Miss Farr keeps staring out the window. She smiles and says, “Yes…of course you can talk.”
Ruth touches my hand, “What are you going to draw, Violet?” she asks.
“I don’t know,” I say, “Maybe a cartoon of the playground with everyone playing, but there are monsters hiding in the school and bushes. What are you going to do?”
Ruth is very quiet and sometimes it’s hard to hear her speak. She is biting her nails, and I see that her nails are really short and the ends of her fingers are all pink.
“I think, an angel,” she says.
Miss Farr sits at her desk drinking from a mug, and sometimes drawing something. She only walks around the room twice to see what we are doing. When she talks to people she is really quiet, almost whispering.
She gets to Ruth before me, and I hear her say, “The lines are lovely…” and “…Don’t be afraid to make her bigger… she’s beautiful.”
I have sketched the octagon and Matthew falling in mid-air. Adam is on the top beating his hands on his chest like a gorilla. Underneath the two hunchbacked ladies from the care centre are holding out a trampoline to catch him. I have left spaces for the forest and the mansion. I don’t know whether to put wolves in the mansion or monsters.
Miss Farr puts her hand on the bench next to my picture. She has short nails which are painted green, and a ring with an orange jewel in it on her little finger. She says very close to my ear, “Wow! You’ve got a lot going on there…. good details though, I can tell who everyone is…. What are you going to colour it with…paint?”
“Fat felt-tip pens,” I say.
“Mmm,” she says, “Be careful not to do the pencil lines too dark, or they’ll show through the pen.”
She smells like lemons… much nicer than Mrs Martin and her sickly coffee smell. Then she says to me and Ruth, “You’re a talented pair…If you like, you can come to my extra class on Thursdays after school…Ask your parents.”
At the end of school I go and wait for Mum in the car park. I sit on a tree trunk kicking my shoes in the gravel. Someone’s hands cover my eyes. I scream and kick because I think it’s the hunchback. I jump up and trip on the tree trunk and my school bag falls in the mud. Someone starts laughing.
“Got you,” Adam says.
I smile but feel strange inside like I’m full of cold water. “I thought you were the hunchback,” I say.
“I crept up on you for ages… all the way from the gym.”
I’m a bit angry that I didn’t notice him. “Oh… well done.”
He is smiling a lot because he frightened me. “What’s class 4 like?” he asks.
“Okay… At least there’s no Esther stinking out the classroom.”
“You’re lucky,” he says, and stops smiling, “I brought my gameboy in today, and Esther told Mrs Martin…and she took it. My Dad’s gonna be really angry… I wasn’t supposed to take it to school.”
Adam’s mum is really nice, and lets Adam do what he wants, but Adam’s dad is a policeman and quite scary. He tells Adam and his brother off a lot.
“Say you lent it to me because I was sad about my brother,” I say.
Adam holds out his hand, “Brainwave!” he says, “Gimme five.”
“Adam!” someone calls, and we see Adam’s mum calling from her car.
“Gotta go,” Adam says. He runs to the car.
“Violet, come here!” his mum shouts, so I go up to the car. “Do you want to come swimming with us on Saturday? Ask your mum… tell her to call me.”
“Okay, I will,” I say.
When Mum arrives we walk home together holding hands. She isn’t speaking much, and only says ‘yes’ or ‘mm hmm’ when I tell her stuff. I keep talking anyway. Her hand feels cold and dry.
When we get home, she gives me lentil soup. We eat it together. I am eating much faster than her.
“Can we watch telly together tonight Mum?”
She breaks off a piece of bread crust and says, “No… we have to go to the hospital tonight… Dad and I have got our special class, and you’ve got yours too.”
Because my brother died, we have to go to a meeting with other people who have had cot deaths.
“Do I have to go?” I say.
I hate the care group. Everyone just eats jam sandwiches and draws pictures, and the other children are babyish. There is a horrible fat girl who cries all the time. She had a little sister who died a whole year ago. I think she is just one of those people who can make themselves cry so everyone feels sorry for them.
Mum doesn’t say anything. I tear my bread into pieces and throw them in the soup. I push them under with my spoon.
“Can’t I come in your and Dad’s class?”
The doorbell rings and Mum sighs, and goes to answer it. The pieces of bread have absorbed the soup, and now there are just lots of pieces of heavy bread in the bowl. I put one in my mouth. It’s all squashy like baby food.
I hear my mum start talking loudly, so I go to see who is there.
There is a man at the door holding an encyclopaedia. He has a big shopping bag with lots of encyclopaedias in it. Mum is holding one and she is crying. The man is reaching out to take the encyclopaedia from her and looks like he wants to leave.
“Okay, Madam… thanks for listening,” he says.
Mum is holding the encyclopaedia really tight and shaking it like she wants to break it. “They’re just fucking words!” she shouts.
“Please, if you’ll just hand me the book,” the man says. He sees me and sort of smiles.
I stay by the key cupboard; I don’t think Mum has seen me yet. She sounds horrible when she swears, it’s like it isn’t actually my mum.
“Fucking books! Fucking KNOWLEDGE!” she screams, “It doesn’t mean ANYTHING!” When she says ‘anything’, she kind of growls. She holds the book up over her head, and I think she might hit the man if he doesn’t move. I go and hold Mum’s sleeve. She moves her chin a little bit towards me, but doesn’t look. She is shivering, and I can feel her arm shaking through her sleeve.
The man lifts his bag up and moves backwards. He trips as he steps off the doormat. He says, “I’ll just come back later for the book.” He looks frightened of Mum.
Mum doesn’t care that she’s scared him. She throws the encyclopaedia at him and he puts his arms over his head. The encyclopaedia hits the ground and skids on its cover. “Leave us alone!” she shouts, and slams the door so hard I think the glass almost breaks. Mum kneels down on the floor with her arms covering her face.
Everything is quiet in the house. It is as if the slam of the door has blasted away all the other noises. I look up the stairs and see Cupid looking at us through one of the banisters.
Then Mum makes a horrible groaning breathing noise, and starts rocking and crying. I put my arms around her and cuddle her, but I don’t think she even knows I am there.
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