ArtBeat: Columnist takes first-ever life drawing class

  • Rita Jaros draws her interpretation of the still-life model posing for the class at The Art Garden in Shelburne Falls. For The Recorder/Trish Crapo

  • Trish Crapo

For The Recorder
Published: 11/8/2017 2:05:34 PM

I was nervous as I chose a spot at one of the four large tables arranged in a rough semi-circle at The Art Garden in Shelburne Falls. I got out my supplies. For the most part, I’d cribbed my random assortment of graphite and charcoal pencils, some graphite crayons and a couple of erasers from various stashes of my daughters’ leftover art supplies. I also had a stack of nubby gray paper, scraps given to me by a friend who runs a letterpress operation.

This was to be my first ever life drawing session. Art Garden sessions cost $15 and are held from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on first and third Thursdays of every month. Participants are encouraged to arrive closer to 9:30 to settle in, and to bring their own supplies, though they are also welcome to sample some from The Art Garden’s bounty.

Leslie Clark of Hawley volunteers her time in hiring models and running the sessions. She also pitched in, along with Rita Jaros of Shelburne Falls, in holding short 20-second, fully-clothed poses for the rest of us while we waited for our model, who had gotten held up by roadwork along Route 2.

Jaros, my tablemate, offered me a few tips. Use the short poses — which would start at 20 seconds and progress to 5 minutes — to loosen up, she advised. Don’t try to get too much detail down, just go for the broad strokes, or gestures of the pose.

Jaros said that she had not pursued a career related to the fine arts degree she had received decades ago but that she had found herself returning to art again and again throughout her life. Now retired, Jaros found that coming to the life drawing sessions, as well as an open studio for adults held on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to noon, provided her with a structure to make art again.

“It’s all about being disciplined,” Jaros said. “About getting to your work.”

Smiling, she added, “Of course it helps that it only takes me about two minutes to get here.”

In an email prior to the session, The Art Garden’s founder and director Jane Beatrice Wegscheider had written, “To me, drawing from a live nude model is about relationships and responding to the energy of the model as well as the lines, form, shapes of a person/body seen from your unique perspective. It is helpful to look at how different parts of your drawing and different parts of the body drawn relate to each other. The drawing can be believable even if it isn’t “correct.”

I reminded myself of Wegscheider’s gracious outlook as I struggled with the seemingly near-impossible task of transferring what I saw to paper. I really had had no drawing instruction except whatever had been folded into my high school art classes. Yet, drawing had always fascinated me.

Before the session, artist Sandy Denis had said that drawing from a model, “Helps sharpen your awareness to proportion.”

Primarily a landscape painter, Denis said she doesn’t think of the model so much as an individual person or body but looks for shapes.

I saw shapes, for sure, and they often confounded me. I had to fight my preconceived notions of what a “leg” or “arm” looked like in order to draw what I actually saw. A leg coming at me had an odd, foreshortened shape. An arm held partly behind the model’s back took on a rectangular look that seemed unlikely. Yet there it was, every time I looked. And every time I drew it, that arm looked wrong. Ruefully, it occurred to me that I might not be very good at drawing, but I was great at erasing.

Finally, I had one shining “ah-ha” moment when I realized that, in order to draw that arm, it would help if I looked at the shape created between it and the model’s torso. Drawing that shape instead of the arm got me closer, though I never did get that part of the drawing exactly right.

Faces were the most difficult to draw. Several times, I just didn’t have room for them at the top of the page — so much for proportion. And when I did attempt a face, the features came out cartoonish, ruining whatever else might have been all right in the drawing overall. I ended up erasing what I’d drawn and leaving the faces relatively blank, indicated by the lightest strokes I thought I could get away with. I was relieved when the last couple of poses turned the model’s face away from me entirely.

The difficulty of drawing what I saw made me wonder how much of seeing is anticipation. How often do our brains fill in what we expect to see? Taking the time to try to draw what I saw subverted that. And drawing badly made me look more closely, again and again — however many times it took.

In her email, Wegscheider had likened the process of drawing from a live model to meditation.

“It is all about the looking/seeing,” Wegscheider wrote. “And losing oneself in the process.”

Find The Art Garden at 14 Depot St., Shelburne Falls. Contact: 413-625-2782; or check out the website at: Look for other life drawing opportunities at Artspace Community Arts Center in Greenfield and Guild Art Supply in Northampton, among other places.

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