Oil-Painting the Character from My Manuscript

Toronto-20140614-04285ssThe Story Behind My Artwork:

I, Miss Bluestocking, was commissioned by well-to-do parents to paint a portrait of their son, Lucas Creswell. He was a young man, 20 years of age, when he first sat down for me and my brush.

I was initially intimidated by his brusqueness but quickly warmed up to him. He was surprisingly humble and unaffected despite his privileged upbringing.

Toronto-20140614-04282 When I revealed the completed portrait to the family, let’s just say the Creswells did not look too pleased. They were expecting something more along the lines of classic realism than impressionism.

There were other issues with the portrait.

Lucas Creswell asked in a solemn voice, “Why, madam, do I have a moustache?”

I expelled a tragic sigh. “My hands, good sir, shook while trying to paint your lips!

Toronto-20140614-04279But the Creswells were still kind to me despite their disappointment.

To this day I am still well-acquainted with Lucas Creswell. We have kept up a correspondence for many years. He is now in his late twenties and is the magistrate of Devonshire.

But when he isn’t busy wielding undisputed power, fixing wages, building and controlling roads and bridges, I often find him taking long walks with his most intimate friend, Miss Amanda Hollingworth. An uncanny young woman with inky brown hair and a crooked smile.


The Real Story:

I wanted to take a few hours’ break from writing. Didn’t know what to do. So I oil-painted my story to life.

The sketch behind the paint


Painting always reminds me of writing. Draft by draft, brush stroke by brush stroke, we layer the story until it’s completed.



Victorian Era Courtesans: The Man of Pleasure’s Illustrated Pocket-Book (1850)

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In my research, I came across an interesting book (circa 1850) that lists London’s prostitutes, identifying them by name, location, and their special charms. It’s possible to forget that we’re reading about women with a heart and mind of their own, because the way in which they’re described is so objectified.

So-and-So prostitute has…

Screenshot from 2013-09-11 230845“…good teeth…”

“…beautiful legs and feet as the most delicate sensualist would wish to see…”

“…a good complexion, and a fine bloom on her cheeks, but never makes use of any art…”

“…breasts [that] are rather small, but as plump and hard as an untouched virgin’s..”

When describing how these women feel about their profession,  the explanation goes along the lines of: “her life is not worth her care without the thorough gratification of every pleasure.” Prostitution, in other words, allows women unlimited access to their one and only desire: pleasure. Men are therefore assured that there’s no need to feel guilty in seeking out their sexual service.

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But in introducing these prostitutes, the author leaves out one important factor: the reality. Many prostitutes had to deal with sexually transmitted diseases, fickle-hearted patrons/abandonment, abortion, abuse, depression… etc., Life was not always entertaining, glamorous, and pleasurable.

It’s therefore unsettling to read about women as being no more than objects with good teeth, pretty legs, and plump breasts. There’s so much more to ‘fallen women’ than their bodies, but we’re not told their stories, because they’re not given a voiceScreenshot from 2013-09-11 230752. They don’t deserve a voice (or so the Victorian misogynists believed). They were wicked creatures, lesser humans, unnatural, insane…

On a similar note:

In the current manuscript (TRC) I’m working on, my heroine, Amanda Hollingworth, is one of the women listed in the ‘book of prostitutes’. But I give her a voice, so she has a story to tell, and, at present, I’m a little past the half-way point of her life’s story.

I want to write faster (because I really want to share this story), but life has gotten busier after graduating from university. My days can be summarized by this Facebook status of mine:

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My Current Writing Music: