By Vita Forest
A giant cat lounging on the grass beneath the jacaranda trees, the train clattering over the elevated tracks behind it.
I’ve been pacing up and down, forward and back, looking at the tiger from every angle, judging the view and judging the heat of the sun, the amount of shade, the location of seats and weighing up whether I will be able to sit there and draw comfortably. But I want to focus on the tiger’s head, I want to look right into its eyes, so I choose this place, beneath this tree in front of the MCA on the lawn. The ground is slightly damp, so I look in my backpack and find a scarf. I drizzle it into a puddle of fabric and it falls from my hand in layers and layers, a spiral on the damp grass. I sit cross-legged on my fabric seat in the shade of the tree and look across at the tiger.
I remember Quentin’s sketch of this same cat, his use of watercolour, how he caught the vibrant golden yellow. But I have not brought my paints today. I will have to catch it another way. I rummage through my pencil case and find my graphite pencil, 6B – capable of the darkest blacks at the press of my fingers. I decide to use that.
I map out the figure on my page, lightly drawing in the bulk of the body, the angle of the head. The tiger’s toes are often obscured by children bouncing on its limbs (before its keeper in an official high-vis vest tells them off) and adults stepping boldly between the tiger’s paws to smile at a camera, to catch the encounter forever, though they have hardly stopped to look, hardly paused to stare up into the eyes of the tiger.
I stroke its face with my pencil and it seems to like that, it rocks back and forth as if dancing, as if moving in time to the clashing cymbals accompanying the lion dancing somewhere out of sight in The Rocks. Its eyes emerge on my paper, its stripes, the shadows that I notice when the sun bursts through the clouds in a brilliant dazzle. Is it watching me from those deep streaked eyes, or is it looking over my head to the ferries, or across the bay to the pink gridded pig snuffling beneath the sails of the Opera House?
Does it welcome the rain that splatters my paper, that sends us all running and huddling for a few brief minutes beneath the deep overhand at the entrance to the MCA, that leaves watercolour fireworks, a happy accident amongst Lara’s bright sketch of fighting cockerels? Perhaps it is a longed-for respite, those fat drops that pit its tight yellow skin, that staccato drumming across its shoulders.
The rain stops as quickly as it starts and I return to stand beneath the shade beneath the tree, the ground too wet to sit on now. I cradle my sketchbook in my arm and continue to breathe life into the outline on my page. It’s strange what your mind notices in these moments – the colours of the tiger’s stripes are also found in the carriages and doors of the trains that streak beneath the Cahill Expressway and onto Circular Quay.
And after I have met up with the other sketchers, after we have admired each other’s work and told our stories and taken our photos and said our farewells, after I have caught the train home and made a cup of tea and lain down to rest on the couch, one of my own cats, my Isaboe, casually walks along the length of my body before settling, purring, like a sphinx on my chest, weight on her forelegs, in a pose that mirrors that of the big cat in the city.