UI Drafter

Short story
The painter without signature

by Eric Fortis

On the audition for the painting class, only twelve students make the cut every year. Of those, many drop out. Last year, two had left during the first weeks. Cesar knew they were remarkably talented, and he was wondering if they were poisoned with grades prestige. This year won’t be about grades. I rather get a C from him than an A splashing out paint, he thought on the way to school.

In the line to the audition, he noticed the gal in front didn’t bring student‑grade oils, but Olholla ones.

“Melissa, make sure you don’t over saturate the skin,” he said.

“Envy,” she responded without turning her head.

He had always wanted to paint with them, so he wondered: Is this envy?

“Melissa, he’s right. I wouldn’t use them,” said another student.

That’s envy! Cesar thought in relief. Someday I’ll understand why some people don’t want others to have good things.

When entering the classroom, they were given a piece of paper and a pencil, but no eraser. One mistake and I’m out, Cesar thought. No words were spoken there; only moving chairs could be heard. In the middle, there was a girl in a Chinese dress ready to pose, which reminded him of rule number one: don’t make a kid stay still for too long.

The teacher walked from his desk to the girl and slowly raised his arm, palm up, pointing to her face.

Showtime! said Cesar in his mind. He was no longer worried about making a mistake. He sketched her like a master, not with his wrist but with his arm. In no time, he had blocked out a well‑proportioned face and finished the drawing in two minutes.


Cesar drawing a girl. Step one.

Walking between the sturdy wooden easels, the teacher noticed that Cesar had stopped drawing. He told Cesar: “Do it again. Here’s a rag.”

Cesar made a concerted effort not to say anything or make any gestures. He remembered: I’m here to show him what I’ve got. He was ready to make it better, so he grabbed the rag, erased the drawing, and restarted it.


Cesar erasing drawing of a girl.

This time, he drew her more carefully, and as soon as he finished, the teacher told him in an expressionless tone: “Start it over.”

While wiping off the drawing, Cesar noticed her eyes and lower lip were off. That’s the problem, he thought – not in frustration but in satisfaction. Not the satisfaction of having found a way to improve, but the one of having it already fixed. To him, spotting a bad form and correcting it were parts of an inseparable phenomenon, like oxygen and fuel for a fire.

He grabbed an eighty‑grit sandpaper from his bag and rolled the pencil on it until the pencil had a long and sharp tip.


Cesar drawing a girl for the second time.

When he finished, the teacher looked at him and made a small circle in the air with his index finger. Cesar quickly wiped off the drawing.

Well, he doesn’t like my hatching; let’s shade it instead, he thought, and blended some dark regions with his finger.


Cesar drawing a girl for the third time.

Now, the paper was full of charcoal, and his confusion felt darker than the drawing. But this time, when the teacher came by, he gave Cesar a kneaded eraser and an eraser pencil, and said: “Wipe it off again… and bring out the highlights.”

Cesar started out erasing the light areas. Then, cleaned up a bit the midtones. He was excited. He had never seen such a result, and he kept adding details with great joy.


Cesar drawing a girl for the fourth time.

Cesar finished drawing a girl.

When finished, although he knew it was a good drawing, he didn’t sign it. He secretly wanted the teacher to tell him to do so.

While waiting for the teacher, he looked at the other candidates. They were amazed by their results as well, and they were leaving the classroom looking at their pieces with great pride. The pride he could only bet on this teacher’s approval.

When the teacher came by his easel, took a quick look, and calmly told him: “Tear it up.” Cesar’s astonishment rose quickly, and once again, he looked at the other candidates leaving with their precious drawings.

His disappointment made him slightly move his head down, but he sharply straightened it up as if he had intended to nod. An artist needs control over his hand, but today over his whole body. Yes. Today, I’m an artist but also a soldier, he thought. Without thinking more, he tore up his drawing. When the teacher heard the sound, he turned around and told him: “Bring your brushes on Monday. I will teach you painting.”


Cesar woke up on Monday ready for his first day of class. It was far from any other first day. He felt as if he had known the teacher for years.

He arrived early, and to his surprise, the teacher was already there. Moreover, he was welcoming each student with a warm good morning.

The next minutes felt like seconds to Cesar. He wondered if the teacher had been cold on purpose during the audition or if he was like that in class. Maybe it was a bad day, and today he’s fine, was his last thought.

“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. Today we are going to continue with last week’s lesson. No, I’m not going to ask you to tear up your paintings.” He paused for a collective sigh. “Today, you’ll paint with water.”

“Watercolor…” said a student.

“Water. You’ll paint anything you want with plain water.”

Bewildered, Cesar took a brush and started painting. While watching the water dry out on his dark canvas, he heard: “Keep painting. Keep painting.” He couldn’t tell if he imagined it or if the teacher said it. Nothing made sense to him, but he trusted the teacher.

“Notice the difference?” the teacher asked the watercolor student.

“Yes, it vanishes out.”

“Notice the difference?” he asked Cesar, who said nothing at first.

The answer must be the lesson, Cesar thought. Subconsciously, his focus went from his painting to himself painting. I’m not rigid, he felt. “I’m painting more relaxed, teacher.”

“That’s close, but keep painting.”

Right, tearing up the drawing wasn’t relaxing at all. Why do I trust this man? Of course, his paintings. Trust him, keep painting. He looked around, and the student next to him was painting a circle over and over. Cesar imagined him drilling a hole through the canvas.

Patience! That’s it. Patience is the lesson. Wait. I mean tolerance. Patience is the water; tolerance is the tearing up the drawing. But that’s two lessons; I bet it’s only one.

He kept repeating the tasks to himself: erasing; tearing it up; painting with water. Suddenly, with a hint of satisfaction, he said: “Sir, results don’t matter.”

“They matter,” the teacher quickly replied.

At home, Cesar kept painting and watching the strokes disappear. His mom asked: “Do you need money? That’s the cheapest paint I’ve ever seen.”

“No, Mom. I’m fine, thank you.”

“Why are you painting with water?”

“That was today’s lesson.”

“And for how long do you have to practice that? The priest is coming by, and I don’t want him thinking that you need money for school.”

“I’m not practicing, Mom.”

“Sorry, I forgot how much you love painting.”

He smiled. He put down his brush and went outside. When he looked at the sunset, he knew there was something different. Today, that orange was more than cadmium red and yellow ochre. It was the exact color his soul was glowing.


“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. As the semester is about to end, I want to do something different these two last days. But first, thank you for staying with me. Thank you, Guillermo, Melissa, María, and Cesar. It’s been a great pleasure.”

He went to the classroom next door and brought back the girl they had drawn the day of the audition. “I’m sure you remember her, and I know you wanted to keep those drawings.” A slight pause was his only apology. “Today, you will paint her, and I want you to keep the painting for the rest of your lives… You may begin.” He wanted to avoid interfering with the lesson in any way, so he headed to his office. There, he hoped for the impossible for two long hours.

Before entering the classroom afterward, he closed his eyes for a few seconds. “As you may know, all of you have a C. It’s an honestly earned one, and I hope you are proud of it.”

He wanted to take a glimpse at all the paintings, but he went one by one.

“Guillermo, the scratch on the table, why didn’t you paint it?”

“Sir, it’s a fixable defect.”

“Melissa.”

“It’s not beautiful, sir.”

“María.”

“I didn’t see it, sir.”

“I sanded it out in my mind, sir,” said Cesar.

“María, come here… Can you see it now?”

“Sir, I can see it from my chair. I didn’t see it on my painting.”

With a hand gesture, he told her to sit back. While she sat down, he looked at her straight into her eyes. “María, now you have B.” He walked around and said: “So do you, you, and you. I will see you on Friday for the A.”

Their eyes watered on the last ‘you’. María dropped a tear and said: “That’s just water for painting.”


Friday, the teacher didn’t present himself. He left a note on each student’s chair with an assignment based on their particular weakest point. The blackboard said: I’ll be in my office until midnight.

Melissa had to paint a portrait illuminated by a red light. Although her skin colors were perfect, they were always the same ones.

Cesar’s note said: You can paint like a master, but can you paint like a kid? He grabbed the note and went outside. Walking back and forth in the hallway, he remembered Picasso’s famous line: ‘It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.’

Walking faster, he hit the road, and each step made him remember something different. I’m going nowhere, he thought and stopped. He crossed the road to a cattle field, and when he was about to climb over the fence, he laid flat and rolled underneath it. He smiled. That’s how he used to cross them as a child. He didn’t have to run on the field. When he saw the cows at a distance, he said: “Good God!” He remembered the days when his mom couldn’t afford the milk. He had wanted nothing but a cow at home.

I want a cow in my exhibitions; a holy cow! he thought on his way back. He made a few drafts. One of them was of a cow contemplating tens of paintings of lovely blue and green grass fields. He knew it was impossible to paint all that in a day, so he then drafted a cow looking at a single painting. It’s good, but that’s not going to get me an A, he thought. So, he went outside, and as he didn’t want to focus on any particular idea, he just looked at the horizon. When he brought the cow to his mental picture, he said out loud: “This is it!” He juxtaposed the cow with a painting within the painting. He was as happy as a kid drafting it.


Cesar Córdova - Vaca y Paisaje (draft)


He painted all day. His eyes felt tired. I can’t be sleepy, he thought, not realizing that today he had blinked less than a baby. He closed his eyes, and opened them while stepping back.


Cesar Córdova - Vaca y Paisaje (work in progress)

He took a photo of the painting and walked to a cafeteria that had closed hours ago. He sat on the stairs. When looking at the picture, he noticed the sub-painting horizon and said: “Sorry, my little cow.” In an app, he previewed a few color adjustments and headed back for the final touches.


Cesar Córdova - Vaca y Paisaje

When finished, he grabbed the painting – not like a masterpiece but like a shield – and went to the teacher’s office. The teacher looked at the painting and while stepping away said: “Cesar… sign it.”


Cesar headed back to the classroom imagining how his signature would look on the painting, but when entering, he noticed at a distance that Melissa was staring at her painting in frustration. He knew the worst he could do at that moment, was to rub out his A by signing the painting. So instead, he put his brushes in mineral spirits and went to her. “Tell me,” he said.

“She needs to be illuminated by a red light.”

As Cesar saw no hint of such light he said: “Glaze it.”


Cesar Cordova portrait, before glazing.

“What’s that?”

“It’s easier if I show you.”

“OK.”

He grabbed two heat guns from a drawer.

“No! It’s going to crack the paint,” she said.

He knew the teacher wouldn’t mind cracked paint, but he said: “Not if I heat it from the back.”

“Don’t melt it.”

“Take this one; hit it from the front.”

When it had dried, he started glazing it.


Cesar Cordova glazing a portrait.

As soon as she saw her painting ruined in red, she left the classroom, and without looking back, screamed, “Envy!”


Cesar Cordova portrait after glazing.

She never saw the result.


Years later, Cesar became a teacher as well. On the first day of class, his students have to draw from an upside‑down reference. He explains: “We all have preconceptions. We form opinions without adequate knowledge. Drawing is no different. When we draw an ear, we think we already know how it is. We’ve drawn many, but we’ve seen few.

“By drawing upside down you will learn a way to stay to true to form. Outside class, you may trace with projectors, augmented reality overlays, or any other technological aid.

“You may be wondering: isn’t that cheating? No, it’s not. Painting is not skill-bragging.

“Outside, you’ll also decide if your paintings stay true to form. That’s your choice. But it’s not a choice if you can’t draw.”


Based on a true story. You can listen to Cesar Cordova telling it while drawing the girl in his YouTube video: The Reason Why You Should Destroy Your Work.

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