Friday, 8 January 2010

Anyone Can Draw a Saltpot

28th December 2009
Alan called me up yesterday. He invited me to L'Etoile, a swanky French place I've never been able to afford.  "Only if you're paying," I said.  He'd always been a rich bastard.

He was waiting for me when I arrived. "I'm Alain now," he said. I asked him to spell it.  The waiter showed us to our table.  Alain explained the menu to me and chose the wine.

With old friends, school friends especially, you always talk about the past. Then about girls.  Occasionally the conversation turns to what you're up to now.

Alain's an artist. A world-travelling artist.  Has been for two years.  "You should show me your paintings sometime," I said. I was half-serious.

He looked confused. Offended. His tone was patronising.  "I haven't painted anything yet," he said. 

I tried to react as if this is normal.  "Oh, why's that?" I asked.

"I haven't found anyone worthy of my effort to study and paint them," he said. "No one I have seen on this earth is beautiful or flawless enough."

What a weirdo.

2nd January 2010
Met Wes today at Harry's Tea Chest.  He was already there when I turned up.  "Coffee please," he said when I arrived. "Eight sugars." Some people never change.

Turns out he's an artist too.

As I sat down with my coffee - sugar free - and handed him his dentist's nightmare, he grabbed the salt pot from the side of the table and thumped it down in front of me.

"Draw it," he said. He took a biro and a sketch pad from his bag, and placed them next to the salt pot.

"I can't," I said.  I pushed the pen back towards him.

He laughed. "Anyone can draw a salt pot."

"I can't."

"You can," he said. "Look."

I opened his notebook. Inside was page upon page of scribbled portraits. Before the last blank page was a sketch of me queuing to buy the coffees.  The portraits were profoundly simple. They were all scrawled line drawings, yet in every portrait you could see something of the soul of the person being drawn.

Everyone Wes had drawn, he'd asked to draw a salt pot next to their portrait.  I had to admit, all the drawings were alright. And all of them were as unique as the person who'd drawn them.

"Draw the salt," he said.

"Alright." I took the pen.

As I contemplated the outline of the salt pot, Wes explained his philosophy, the philosophy of his notebook.

"I draw everyone," he said.  "Every café I visit, I buy a coffee and I draw someone."

"What if there's no one to draw?"

"There's always someone to draw.  Even if it's the bored waitress.  Everywhere I look, in everyone's face, there's art happening."

"Even the ugly bastards?"

"Especially the ugly bastards," he said. "They're the most beautiful."


  1. Was just thinking of you this morning and here you are!

    Loved your story. Pompous Alain who can't see anything to draw. Weirdo indeed.

    And Wes of the 8 sugars who can't stop seeing things to draw.

    Now I'm going to be a pompous arse. The french use a word to denote ugly/beautiful. It's belle laide.

  2. Thank you Marisa - tis always nice to know that someone is thinking of you :)

    Glad you enjoyed my story. Your pomposity is much appreciated as it increases my French vocabulary.

  3. This one speaks to my heart. People are such works of art and sometimes the more imperfect they are the more interesting they are. Well written!

  4. The "eight sugars" cracked me up. :-) I saw a woman pour probably half a cup of sugar into a coffee mug once. Crazy stuff. Besides that, I thought it was a fun story, too. Strikes the same sort of chord as the folks who say, "I want to write but I don't have any ideas." You just have to be open to them. Great job!

  5. David, This story is an excellent rendition of optimism vs pessimism, or is the saltpot half full, or half empty. I really enjoyed it.
    So many stories to tell . . . so little time.
    Write On,

  6. Hey David, really like the style of the story you have written today. Almost like a journal. You have captured the nature of people exceptionally well, their habits and reactions. Great!

  7. Wabi Sabi - the perfection of imperfection...I'd rather a white canvas with a black spot on it anyday. Life is messy, complicated, loose ends never tie up...but that's what makes it great! :-D

    Thanks David - wonderfully true characters!!

    Hiranya x

  8. Hi David,

    Thanks for this. Great story. Loved the pretentiousness of Alan (Alain is a nice touch) & the down to earth Wes, much more loveable character. "Especially the ugly bastards" is a great way to end.

    One question - is the narrator the same person, meeting two different friends? Or is the first piece from Wes' point of view and the second from Alan's. Either way works really well, just wasn't sure.

    Virginia (Chris C's wife)

  9. Great and funny story!
    I personally like at least 3 teaspoons of sugar in my cappuccino and everyone looks at me funny for having sugar in it at all... don't know how big the sugar in the story was, maybe it is eight sugars :)
    I loved the ending, the ugly bastards being the most beautiful. Really well done!

  10. I LOVED this. This could be expanded to all art forms - photography, sculpture and, of course, writing. This profound wrapped in simple. Brilliantly done.

    For what it's worth, I agree with Wes. There's always someone to draw (or write about).

  11. Thoroughly enjoyed the illustration of different points of view. How one can be so closed and another can be so open in their perspective.

  12. Were you aiming for a hardboiled detective voice? I don't know why, but I started reading it out loud from the first paragraph onto the end of the first segement and the whole thing sounded like a serial detective hero, despite no mystery popping up.

  13. What actually made the story really pop off the page was the slightly wry tone of the narrator, and how he learned through his friends.

    The reader was supposed to like Wes for what he drew compared to "Alain"; but I think his real gift was what he made the narrator (and the others he drew) learn about themselves.

    Can Alain meet Wes and draw a saltpot? That could be an interesting follow-up story. I'm curious how Alain would respond.

  14. People! great to read about - well written
    Loved the tone you've used

  15. I think you've managed to capture the meaning of life here, David! Loved it! One finds nothing beautiful while the other finds beauty in everything.

  16. Ha! I bet it's more fun going out with the second guy than with Alain!
    I like your saltpot by the way :-)

    And I think the term Marisa was thinking about was " jolie laide"

  17. Thank you everyone, for taking the time to read my story, and for all the lovely comments.

    elizabethditty: delighted to have made you smile :) When I worked in a coffee shop, one of the regulars would always have eight sugars.

    Siona: You're exactly right. This piece was meant to be two entries extracted from the narrator's journal.

    Ginia: Welcome to #fridayflash! thank you for pointing out the ambiguity. The narrator and Wes both have a similar voice - I think this shows they've maintained more of a connection since their school days compared to the narrator and Alain.

    Laurita: I agree with Wes too. I'll tell you a secret: I actually borrowed the barebones plot of this story from Kirkegaard and updated it for the 21st century. Kirkegaard also has a much dryer tone.

    John: I was aiming for the cynical-hip 22-year-old male voice. It's good to know I can do the hard-boiled detective voice, I've always wanted to write a mystery.

    Pegjet: It's certainly feasible that Alain and Wes could meet, they went to school together after all. I'll think that one through. Thank you for the idea.

  18. Laura: What an accolade! That's something to share on Twitter. Thank you most kindly.

  19. David, I loved it :) Thank you for sharing this.

  20. David,

    That was Fun! It was an excellent way to show how important our perspective is in life!

    My goodness, that 8 tsp. would take up a lot of the cup, probably has to ask them to leave room for sugar.

  21. Great yarn, great flash. Really enjoyed it, and also your drawing of a saltpot :)

  22. Excellent comparison David. Very Nike-isk moral.

    I've always enjoyed your style of writing. Loved this post too. Thanks for letting me know about it.

  23. Good story! It was a funny contrast between the two artists: one who hadn't painted anything because nothing was worthy of his efforts, and one who couldn't not find someone to draw, no matter what their appearance might be. Great life lesson in there!

  24. Once I knew a guy who carried a sketchbook everywhere he went. If you stopped in front of him for five minutes he'd be sketching you. His sketches were all scribbles and when he painted his paintings were all dabs and swirls. Once I looked at his painting of dirty sneakers and said, "Man, I can smell those things." He was so pleased that I knew it was the greatest compliment I could have given.

  25. I loved this story! Put a big smile on my face! I've read two of your stories now and you are like a breath of fresh air. Look forward to more!