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Local figure drawers drawn to Greenfield group

  • Kim Sebrey, who coordinates a figure drawing group at Artspace in Greenfield, sketches using pencil during one of the group’s hour-long sessions. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau

  • Lenore Gaudet of Northfield draws in her sketchbook during a figure drawing session at Artspace in Greenfield. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau

  • Annette Kilminster focuses intently on her drawing during one of the Sunday sessions of the Greenfield figure drawing group. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau

  • “Figure drawing is very complex and takes intense concentration,” says Alan Hopkins, a former member of the Greenfield figure drawing group. “For me, I might prefer the longer poses to actually develop a more finished drawing and work on developing a ‘style.’” Contributed Image

  • Nina Rossi of Montague says she has established her own style — geometric — through regular figure drawing sessions at Artspace. She often uses a ruler and sometimes a compass for curves in the body, “without being strict” so she can work quickly and decisively. Contributed Image

  • Nina Rossi of Montague says she has established her own style — geometric — through regular figure drawing sessions at Artspace. She often uses a ruler and sometimes a compass for curves in the body, “without being strict” so she can work quickly and decisively. Contributed Image

  • “This group provides a way to nourish the soul, if you will, without getting too corny,” says Alan Hopkins, a former member of the Greenfield figure drawing group. “We encourage each other to ‘keep the dream alive’ as it were.” Contributed Image



Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 07, 2018

A circle of artists, some sitting, some standing, surround the perimeter of a room. The only sound heard is the short dragging of graphite on paper as they stare at the model, illuminated by two lights.

Just as the perspective of each artist ranges depending on where they sit in the room, so too does their medium and motivation for being part of a figure drawing group.

The Greenfield group was organized by Laura Garrison roughly 30 years ago in the old library building across from the YMCA, according to former longtime member Alan Hopkins of Greenfield. The group moved to Artspace at 15 Mill St. in around 2005.

“My guess would be that the building was closing for public use and being sold,” Hopkins said of the old library. “Hence, the move to Artspace. It was a very small space with limited model participation.”

The group regularly invites the public to view its work in semi-annual shows that are held after the end of each session. There are two eight-week sessions a year — one beginning in the fall and the other in the spring, meeting every other Sunday.

The draw for people is not so much meeting on Sunday mornings for three hours, Hopkins said, but the ability to draw professional models from various locations, including Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont.

Different poses, different preferences

Poses range in length from one minute to an hour. The artists maintain contemplating stares as they try to record what is in front of them as accurately as possible.

In any drawing session, there are five one-minute poses, five two-minutes and five five-minute poses. Then, after a 10-minute break, there are longer poses, increasing in length to the final pose, which is one-hour long.

The longer poses allow artists to work on developing a specific style, Hopkins said.

“Figure drawing is very complex and takes intense concentration,” he said. “For me, I might prefer the longer poses to actually develop a more finished drawing and work on developing a ‘style.’”

Lenore Gaudet of Northfield, who was part of the group for four to five years previously and has since returned, agreed with Hopkins that figure drawing takes intense concentration. Each session, she focuses solely on accurately recreating the figure before her.

“I don’t think about anything else,” Gaudet said. “It forces you to look carefully at shadows and shape. I don’t like every one of my drawings, but I work on getting the proportions right, getting the shading right.”

Gaudet finds figure drawing to be “very relaxing, and de-stressing.” Unlike Hopkins, though, she prefers the shorter poses.

“They force you to be really loose, and I like that,” Gaudet explained. “I tend to use charcoal and be very loose, then darken a little or erase.”

Nina Rossi of Montague is one such participant who has established her own style — geometric — through the regular sessions.

“I rather like the private nature of the sessions. They don’t critique, there is no instruction,” Rossi said.

Her process involves looking at “intersections of various lines.” She often uses a ruler and sometimes a compass for curves in the body, “without being strict” so she can work quickly and decisively. The ability to draw different people gives her work variety.

“I find it exciting to make decisions about what particular qualities make the model unique while I’m drawing — their face, chin, eyelids, what give them their character,” Rossi said.

The most challenging art

Gail Gagarin of Sunderland, who was once involved in figure drawing groups at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and in private homes in the 1970s and ’80s, started drawing with the Greenfield group this fall, after a friend invited her to join. She said the ability to draw figures strengthens numerous artistic skills aside from focus.

“I think improving hand-eye coordination is very helpful for an artist. So much is available when drawing the figure — foreshortening, viewing negative and positive spaces, staying loose to draw longer poses,” Gagarin said.

“These drawing sessions are a great way to hone in on my drawing skills because it forces me to observe and record line, shadow and contour accurately in a short period of time,” agreed Annette Kilminster of Greenfield. “Plus, the feedback is immediate because you can see if your depiction of the figure resembles reality.”

In fact, Kim Sebrey, who coordinates the group, argues that figure drawing is the most challenging art to master, opening up doors to other art forms.

“Once you get it, you can draw anything I suppose,” Sebrey said, noting that she experiments with different mediums like charcoals, conte pencils and graphite in figure drawing to achieve different results.

The mere idea of drawing regularly on a schedule allows for inspiration, Hopkins explained, noting the ability to work with professional models in an optimal location and the group’s reasonable prices of $85 per year (which amounts to a little over $10 per session).

“The discipline from just getting to the Sunday sessions and the concentration needed can only recharge their batteries for their own work,” Hopkins said. “As artists, we all live or work in a vacuum of sorts. So, this group provides a way to nourish the soul, if you will, without getting too corny. We encourage each other to ‘keep the dream alive’ as it were.”

The group has kept Rossi coming back for six or seven years, providing her with a scheduled time to focus on drawing what her eyes behold.

“Otherwise, I wouldn’t be doing this consistently,” Rossi said. “It’s useful to do the work. You have ... to pay attention to record what you see. That’s what it’s all about.”

“I would like to draw every day, but I just don’t,” Gagarin agreed. “It is valuable to have a group like this.”

For some of the artists, drawing the human body never gets old. The variety of models and poses, the opportunity to be in an art show and an eagerness to improve motivates them to return.

“My proudest work is the next piece I will start. At least that’s my goal — to improve my skills with each image I create,” Sebrey said.

Hopkins said the group has opened doors for him, such as introducing him to juried shows.

“I have had my work accepted to several local and national juried shows from our drawing sessions. Had I not attended the group’s drawing sessions, I would never have had those experiences, and that’s pretty cool,” he said.

Camaraderie

Given their regular weekends spent drawing together, Hopkins said the artists have developed a camaraderie.

“You could not find a better group of people. There has been a core group of six to 10 regulars who have been there from the beginning,” Hopkins said. “They are all serious artists and work very hard to get the most out of each drawing session.”

“Sunday mornings is a hard sell to most people. So, we have developed a camaraderie on that basis alone,” he continued. “But Laura Garrison, the original guiding light for the group, set the tone and it has stayed ever since.”

Friendships have blossomed within the group. Gagarin said she paints with a group on Wednesdays and four of its members are now part of the figure drawing group, too.

“It is fun to be with friends, but also to meet new artists,” Gagarin said.

Although the artists are tight-knit, they are silent during the minutes of each of the poses in a session. Still, they like it that way.

“Mostly, I really enjoy the time with other artists, even if we aren’t chatting too much,” Sebrey said. “It’s a great feeling, or you could say energy, to be around all the creative minds. I hope it rubs off on me.”

Sebrey said the group will continue to draw and invites people to apply for open spaces so they may join, too.

“It’s a great group of people and we have a bunch of new folks this session. I am glad for this as we need to have a good-sized group to afford the space rental and, of course, the model fees,” Sebrey said. “We all thank Artspace for renting out the room to us and we hope to continue this for many years to come.”

Although the group is full right now, with 17 members, if people are interested in joining, Sebrey said they will start a waiting list. Interested people can sign up by contacting Sebrey by email at ksebrey@gmail.com.

Staff reporter Melina Bourdeau started working at the Greenfield Recorder this year. Her beat includes Montague, Erving and Gill. She can be reached at: mbourdeau@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 263.