Last week I finally went back to basic inquiry to attend a drop-in life drawing session. I’ve been likely annoying my friends for some time, as I keep talking about how much I miss it, making plans to go and then not finding the time. I have attended some sessions here and there over the years but have not been consistent for a long time.
I have thoroughly enjoyed figure drawing since my first ever life drawing class in 1999. I had just been accepted into Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design (it’s a university now). My first model was an older heavy set woman, who reminded me a little of my mom who considers herself a bit of a closet nudist, someone who’s happy to be naked in her own home. Nudity has never been an issue for me, the human form is beautiful and diverse. That session was amusing because of classmate who I made fast friends with. She was a very conservative Muslim woman who was about my age (she had traveled from the middle east to study art here). We were seated next to each other and in the very first pose the woman had bent over and her butt was front and centre. I am pretty sure I had to stifle a laugh because my friend’s face was a mixture of shock and embarrassment, she did not want to look, let alone draw. She was sure her family would be horrified if they knew about this!
At any rate I don’t really remember the actual drawings I did that day, though if I went digging I might be able to find them. But what struck me at that time was this was a chance to have uninterrupted time to practice drawing what I see – not what I think I see. This process would lead me to find the beauty in the curve of someone’s spine or the subtle shading of the muscles in their arms.
When I went back to school in 2004 to study graphic design, life drawing was a part of the curriculum again – and I was so excited. Again I had made a friend who was far less comfortable about the idea than myself, but I remember that time fondly. I had a teacher who each class would walk us through a different challenge; drawing negative space, making wire frames, anatomy, draping, and all sorts of things. At the end of each class I would wait till all the other students had cleared out of the classroom and bring my drawings to the teacher to get feedback and the next class I would use his critiques and get a little bit better. At the end of that year I got 100% in that class. I was surprised by this and spoke to him about it, and the essence of what he said I will never forget.
He said that when I started the class my drawing were already pretty good but by the end of the class he was amazed to see how much I had grown and how strong my drawings were, and it was because I asked for critique and applied it. He said it was very rare for him to give out that kind of grade and that he hoped I would stick with it after I was finished school.
Well life happens, and there are a lot of reasons I didn’t keep up with life drawing. The next time I got back to it was at some point after my brother got married. I invited his wife to come with me to this life drawing studio downtown, I really wanted to go and she was super curious about it. I had no idea how unbelievably talented she is. I learned that she had attended a Christian post-secondary school and their models had always been clothed. She was not scandalized and we soon started attending every week. We would sit away from each other in the room so we would have different perspectives.
We would often get a cup of tea after the session was over to take a look at each other’s sketch pads and have a chance to look back through our own drawings. I always enjoyed that part – seeing our different approaches, giving each other critiques, and celebrating the successes. I am convinced that that time in our lives was when our friendship was crystalized. I had a new art buddy. It was also fun because we were both pretty conservative church going woman at the time and it was something that was a taboo, but freeing – it was about the beauty of the human form and developing drawing skills in a way that is hard to do in any other way.
Again, life happens, you miss a few sessions and soon you are remarking that we should really get back to it – then years pass. I found myself missing it, seeing my drawing skills get a little rusty around the edges. Like I said earlier, I have gone to a drop-in session here and there but noting consistent. I don’t know why but I woke up one day recently and I resolved to get back into it. I found a time in the week that works for me and a few days later packed up the biggest sketch book I could find and raided the piggy bank for the drop-in fee, a tip for the model and change for the parking meter – and I just went.
I of course left the house a little bit too late, then remembered that I left my headphone in the house and ran back (there’s no way I am getting stuck listening to someone else’s weird music while I am trying to focus). Then I underestimated how long it would take for me to find parking in that part of town, walked three blocks annoyed at every empty parking spot I saw on my way, I arrived 10 minutes late. There were only two spots left in the room, the artists were already engrossed in gesture drawing, they were so focused, and it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. I fumbled with my stuff trying not to rustle my key excusing myself as I squeezed through the tightly packed drawing horses trying not to bump or obstruct anyone. A wash of relief rolled over me as I found my seat and carefully pulled out my pencils and put my headphones in, I selected a killer playlist, the first song started playing and to my horror the phone had not paired with my blue tooth headphones and I was playing my music for the whole aforementioned very quiet room. Never have I been so grateful for the slow build of Pink Floyd’s “goodbye Blue Skies”. I quickly rectified the situation feeling like a clumsy weirdo. I finally started drawing.
I found myself catching a glimpse of what other people were drawing and then quickly focusing back on my own work trying to be respectful and not fall into the comparing game you know that thing that many artists do that make us feel like amateurs. My neighbours were brilliant, the person on my left clearly had some animation experience and the person on my right would examine the model carefully and then quickly draw a line and slowly block out the form and it would be incredibly accurate – but hey, I wasn’t looking, I don’t know what you are talking about. It took some effort to get out of my own head and just focus on the task at hand.
I really enjoyed that first day, I could see the rust of the past few years all over my drawings but I was so happy, even when the act of sitting on the drawing horse hurt my back more than I remember, and even while I felt like the most awkward person there, I was finally back at it. I as struck with two Ideas on my way home that night. The first was that I would like to take one drawing or one element of one drawing that I think was interesting or successful each week and make an art piece using that drawing (time will tell if that’s realistic or not – I have started the first one). The second was this blog, I am going to share the good, the bad, and the ugly. I want to keep myself accountable and have something to look back on this time next year to see how my drawings evolve.
Here are the drawings from my first week:
I started the gestures late so I don’t think I have any 1 minute poses.
I like some of the shading in this one
I think this one came out well
I decided to focus on one area this does not actually look like her but it was fun to work on the face
The head is too small on this one but I love the shading in the body, the light was great.
On this last 30 min pose I was not feeling it and stopped early
On the last pose I decided to take a minute to try to draw the face and it turned out super durpy lol.