Rose couldn’t draw a bit. Her mother’s fine contempt for ladylike accomplishments had even intervened in the high-school days to prevent her taking a free-hand course required in the curriculum, during which you spent weeks making a charcoal study of a bust of Demosthenes. But this lack never even occurred to Rose as a handicap. She hadn’t the faintest impulse to make a beginning by putting a picture down on paper and making a dress of it afterward. She went straight at her materials, or the equivalent of her materials, as a sculptor goes at his clay. She couldn’t have told just why she had bought those three shades of paper cambric.
“I’m really awfully obliged to you for having explained it to me,” she told Burton, the portrait painter long afterward.
“I see!” he had exclaimed, on the occasion of an initiatory visit to her workroom. “You design these things in their values first, just the way the old masters used to paint. Once you get the values in, you can project them in any colors that will leave your value scale true.”
And Rose, as she said, was really grateful to him for telling her what it was she had been doing all the while, just as Monsieur Jourdain was grateful for the information that he had been talking prose all his life and never known it.
What she had felt, of course, at the very outset, was the need of something to indicate roughly the darks and lights in her design. And, short of the wild extravagance of slashing into the fabrics themselves and making her mistakes at their expense, she could think of nothing better than the scheme she chose.
She came to the conclusion afterward that even apart from the consideration of expense, her own plan was better. You got more vigor somehow, into the actual construction of the thing, if you could make it express something quite independently of color and texture.
Rehearsal was dismissed a little early that first night, and she was back in her room by eleven. Arrived there, she took off her outer clothes, sat down cross-legged on the floor, and went to work. When at last, with a little sigh, and a tremulously smiling acknowledgment of fatigue, she got up and looked at her watch, it was four o’clock in the morning. She’d had one of those experiences that every artist can remember a few of in his life, when it is impossible for anything to go wrong; when each tentative experiment accomplishes not only its purpose, but another unsuspected purpose as well; when the vision miraculously betters itself in the execution; when the only difficulty is that which the hands have in the purely mechanical operation of keeping up.
She was destined later, of course, even during the achievement of this first success, to learn the comparative rarity of those hours. Though, as she looked back on it afterward, the whole of this first job seemed to have been done with a kind of miraculous facility she couldn’t account for.