There’s no one to talk to while I work on paintings at home but there’s also rarely silence. To the left of this bookshelf is a record player which is on at least an hour or two each day. Then there are the voices coming from the laptop. Usually podcasts. Writers, filmmakers, actors, and comedians talking about what they do keep me company all day.

When I first lived on my own—in Brooklyn in 1989 with a crazy old retiree in the other room who’d invite his cronies over to talk about UFOs—I used to talk to the walls from loneliness. But with thirty years’ experience and with the help of the aforementioned technologies, the solitude’s not only bearable but is often a solace and safe harbor from the chaos beyond my door.

I wonder whether all those recorded voices, saying or singing words, inform these pictures of books. They have to, don’t they?

I go to figure drawing almost every Wednesday now. I meet different people there every time. While drawing Carly, I talked to Angie. She works at Argonne Lab and is planning to go back to school to become an astronomer. She’s bored living in Lamont so she comes to the city in the evenings sometimes to be around people.

Carly, the model, turns out to be an astrologer. These women and their stars. I never think about the sky at all, rarely even look up at it. She takes a cellphone picture of one of my drawings. Says she’s started posting them on Instagram to get over being self-conscious about posing.

Stacy went to the Art Institute for a bit, then dropped out after getting a job at a hair salon. She’s been there twenty-six years now. She wants to do something else but is afraid her resume doesn’t qualify her for any other line of work. Her son just started school at the University of Iowa. She’s going to visit him over the weekend. I tell her to go to George’s Buffet. It’s my favorite bar in Iowa City. It’s a neighborhood place which serves cheeseburgers from a grill going just to the side of the bar. The bartenders there have to keep an eye on the patties while pouring drinks. There’s also a Nut Hut and a Hamm’s Beer waterfall clock. It’s a classy joint. I can’t picture Stacy ever going in there. 

A young woman came over and said something nice about my drawing. I didn’t catch her name. She asked if I did art outside of this or if it was a hobby. Then she recommended some art show she’d just seen in Austin, Texas. I saw her talking to the guy who runs the drawing sessions. I think she’s planning to model.

I see a lot of the same guys week in, week out, but the women change all the time. I hear the men’s voices while I draw. Some spend half the time there drinking and gabbing rather than drawing. There are always cans of PBR and a bottle of Bulliet shared in plastic cups. I nod to them when I arrive and wave goodbye when I leave but never join in the conversation or the drinking.

Hannah, the model, liked the shading on this drawing. It was the last pose. About thirty-five minutes.

I get home and pin up that night’s drawings on the living room wall to look at for the week. They hang behind and just to the left of the easel set up in the middle of the room for the book painting. Changing them from week to week keeps the room from becoming too familiar. I think back to who I talked to, who was drawing next to me, what the model said.

Between that and the records and podcasts there’s hardly a moment of peace around here.

—I wrote about Duk Ju L. Kim’s paintings on show at the Chicago Cultural Center.