Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sultana Stares

While I was at work at Full Sail, I got a text message from Hannah Miller saying she planned to stare at Brian Feldman that afternoon while wearing her wedding dress. Brian and Hannah got married several months ago when Brian put a invite on Facebook saying he would marry any woman that showed up at the Orange County Courthouse. I got off work early and rushed over to Frames Forever & Art Gallery to start the sketch. When I arrived Brian was relaxing with his head bowed after having just stared down Mike McDonnel. I had texted several times prior to my arrival just to let Katie Windish and Brian know that something special might happen involving Hannah. I started a sketch blocking in the big shapes and leaving the participant seat empty.

I began getting text messages from Hannah outlining a series of unfortunate incidents. Her hair had been died the wrong color, she got a ticket for turning left at a spot where left turns are not allowed, then she was helplessly stuck in traffic. She finally gave up and went home for a bit to eat before heading off to work at Pinocchio's Marionette Theater. My plans to see husband and wife staring off went up in smoke. When it became clear that Hannah wouldn't make it, I told everyone about the sketch that could have been.

A small crowd had gathered for the final hours of the staring competition. Emma Hughes took the contestant seat and lasted long enough for me to get a decent sketch. Then I begged Sultana to take the seat. She hesitated, but finally relented. I suspected with her triathlon training and a strong will, she would last longer than anyone suspected. I rushed the first sketch thinking she might give up at any time but she held strong. I then started a second sketch and I felt giddy. This was the perfect event for a sketch artist to record. There was a constant penetrating stillness. There was much to read in what went unsaid. Sultanas expression would light up with laughter sometimes as people joked around her but she never lost her gaze. Later her expression turned serious and then sad. I wanted to dash off a series of sketches trying to catch each subtle change but I remained committed to the two sketches I had started. There was something sublime about the time these two locked eyes. The air was electric and I soaked up some of that energy and directed it into the sketch. This was an important moment. Time stood still.

The record for staying seated opposite Brian had been set by Mike Maples two days prior, but Sultana easily cruised by that record by staring at Brian for 1 Hour 59 minutes and 50 seconds. She said that when she broke free of his gaze it was like she was coming up from under a blanket, or surfacing after being underwater for some time. She felt a total sense of seclusion as if in a cocoon. She came to realize that no one had ever looked at her for that length of time before. For a moment after an hour of starting she felt like he was looking straight into her soul. I was ecstatic and felt all the drama in the moment.

For being the person who could stare at Brian the longest, she won a free 4 by 7 inch frame. When she got up she stretched a bit and rubbed her neck. She had to leave right after she was done to get home and work on some homework.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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