The odour of her perfume transformed the ochre yellow she was using into the pale green I saw on the canvas. I was beside her, too close for comfort, and inhaled the deep aroma of both colours. The model, whose love I hadn’t fallen out of, the artist whose delicate touch of a silken paintbrush was ready to turn me over onto a blank canvas. Both destabilised me. The three of us in a small cluttered studio, a triangle of emotions with unequal sides. My past was in the canvas too. Silent as always, she casting an eye and a judgment. Her hands, delicately crossed on imperceptibly open thighs, reminded me of times gone by, of mistakes we made. I would have to tell the artist, eventually, too frightened that she would guess. But I wanted to be part of her life, she who held the paintbrush. 

“I like it,” I said, “maybe you could do my portrait one day.” 

“Sure,” she said. “They would go well together.”

“We could discuss the commission over dinner.”

I expected a ‘no’ from one, and a retribution from the other, but got neither.

“I’ll see in my agenda,” she said.  

She had discreetly left the door wide open. It was a meeting to discuss a work of art – my portrait and nothing else. I looked once more at the canvas and still saw pale green instead of ochre yellow. But the model had changed. The face of my unfinished love carried the mask of a sphinx.

Instructor Response

Good work. I can feel and admire your love of words.

In the main, I can’t figure out what is happening in the first part of the paragraph. I’ve made comments and suggestions. I’ll make comments on dialogue too. Nothing wrong with the dialogue but I’ll make suggestions as to opportunities to make the dialogue contribute to characterization, imagery.

The odour of her perfume transformed the ochre yellow she was using into the pale green I saw on the canvas. [This confuses me. Because of the construction and word choice and unclear imagery. Perfume, a scent, transforms yellow to green? Is this the pigment or in the protagonist’s perception? And how did it all work out on the canvas. Simplify your description and accurately describe what you see in your head and the action you see occurring.]  I was beside her, too close for comfort, [try: I was beside her, uncomfortably close] and inhaled the deep aroma of both colours. [I don’t think you can inhale a colour, a sent maybe,] The model, whose love I hadn’t fallen out of, [awkward prose: consider “I loved the model . . .]the artist whose delicate touch of a silken paintbrush was ready to turn me over onto a blank canvas [[Does this mean “She would paint my image? This sentence, as is, mixes imagery and action and unclear image–what is a silken paintbrush. Are the bristles silken? If so why are you saying it now when your predicting action.] . Both destabilised me. [Find a better word for destabilized. It doesn’t let us know what happened to “you.”] The three of us in a small cluttered studio, a triangle of emotions with unequal sides.[Nice!] My past was in the canvas too. [I don’t understand. If it’s important, dramatize or clarify what you mean.] Silent as always, she casting [casts] an eye and a judgment.[Nice!] Her hands, delicately crossed on imperceptibly open thighs [the oxymoron doesn’t work here], reminded me of times gone by,   [when you say “mistakes were made” the reader knows it’s in the past, so don’t use “of times gone by.”] of mistakes we made. I would have to tell the artist, eventually; I was too frightened that she would guess But I wanted to be part of her life. she who held the paintbrush.[Unnecessary, and diminishes the power of what you’ve said very effectively before in the sentence.] 

“I like it,” I said, “maybe you could do my portrait one day.”  [Find dialogue that has a purpose here. An e.g: “You paint with a certain joie de vivre. I don’t excite people often. You probably wouldn’t want to paint me.”

Sure,”  “Possibly.” she said. "They would go well together."

“We could discuss the commission over dinner.”  “How much would it cost then?” [Keep the interaction alive using suspense

I expected a ‘no’ from one, and a retribution from the other, but got neither.    “Much more than you might afford.”

“I’ll see in my agenda,” she said.  

She had discreetly left the door wide open. It was a meeting to discuss a work of art – my portrait and nothing else. I looked once more at the canvas and still saw pale green instead of ochre yellow. But the model had changed. The face of my unfinished love carried the mask of a sphinx. [Interesting. Clarify the green instead of yellow. I think I know, but unsure.] 

Comment. Solid ideas. Work on delivery, accuracy of word choice, and an underlying timeline and progression along that timeline in the prose. Even though short, there is a story working here that is effective.

Thanks for the submission,

All the best,

William H Coles

  1. Thank you so much for your comments, really instructive. At last the sort of critique I’m looking for. I felt that with your corrections you showed me how to reach a higher level that I truly feel I’m capable of reaching. I’m certainly going to work on delivery of my thoughts into words and make sure my line of thought really transfers onto the page by analysing every choice of word. The beginning was indeed his perception of the colours that was being changed by her presence. The blank canvas: not only did he want her to paint a portrait of him, but he wanted to start his life anew with her. His former girlfriend was not only the model, but also appeared in the canvas as a woman who reminded him of his past, whilst the model had the impassive look of a sphinx. She knows that it’s all going to end in tears. (I should have said all that, now I think about it!!!) – Thanks again for your wonderful advice! George

  2. Thanks for your reply. I’m pleased to know I’ve helped in some way.
    Best,
    WHC

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