Friday, May 11, 2012

Sketch Sanatorium at the Kettle Gallery

As someone who obviously loves modeling for figurative art, I occasionally do web searches for photos, videos, and events having to do with life drawing. One of the things I've found but have never experienced is the concept of life drawing marathons. Pallette & Chisel in Chicago hosts three 12-hour long drawing marathons per year with "models in multiple studios." In San Francisco, the Bay Area Models Guild hosts occasional six-hour-long drawing marathons with "many models posing at once: males, females, nude, costumed, short and long poses." I've also seen information about drawing marathons with multiple models held in several east coast cities (like Washington D.C.).

To my knowledge, such a marathon (with multiple models) has never been attempted here in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, probably because the interest from the art community just doesn't seem to be there. Most of the open, drop-in sessions that I do are sparsely attended. The last drop-in session I did at the Creative Arts Center, which turned out to be a wonderful experience, only had four artists present. I've done an open session or two at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center with only one artist in attendance.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area is one of the largest population centers in the country, and I do think that interest for a drawing marathon and more figure drawing events could be cultivated. About three years ago, the Fort Worth Community Arts Center, at the request of some of their regular artists, tried to hold a special double model session. Due to a scheduling mistake, there actually wound up being three of us models that night, but there were at least fifteen artists in attendance, the most I had ever seen there. We all had a great time during the three-hour session, but the FWCAC has, to the best of my knowledge, stuck to one model per session since.

So I started thinking about what I could do to generate more interest in life drawing in the area. I realize that part of the problem is that Dallas lies in the Bible belt where nudity and public and semi-public displays of the unadorned body are generally thought of as prurient by the general population. Those of us who have spent time in life drawing class know that that isn't the case. It's about seeing us, human beings, as we really are and as we were created. And for the artists, it's about lines and values, shadows and darks, perspective and proportion.

I started looking into galleries in the Deep Ellum area of Dallas, thinking that perhaps I could inspire a live figure drawing event. I've never drawn or painted, but I've always considered modeling as my artwork. I was thinking of a big art-show-opening-type of event, open to the public, with me and at least one other model posing. People could draw, watch the models pose, watch the artists draw, or just mingle. Paper and pencils would be available for anyone who wanted to draw.  Artists have been drawing nudes for centuries, and it is entirely natural for a model to be seen posing nude. So the goal of such an event would be to normalize life drawing from nude models. The more people see it as normal, the more people will be interested in it.

Anyway, that's my vision, and perhaps it will happen one of these days. In the meantime, I found a small gallery called Kettle Art in Deep Ellum that holds monthly Sketch Sanatorium nights. The "rules" of Sketch Sanatorium, as listed on the website, are as follows:

1. Come ready to draw
2. All drawings can be traded with other artists, or bought by anyone else for $10 (all proceeds go to artist)
3. Come to meet, greet, and share with other artist and collectors in an open environment.
This is a chance to get to know what the Kettle is about, and let the Kettle know what you’re about.

I contacted Richard Ross, one of the people who run the monthly sketch night, and asked about the possibility of volunteering to model for the group.  He seemed OK with the idea and invited me to the next one, on April 5th.  I arrived not knowing what to expect or whether I would even model or not.  As it turned out, Richard wasn't there, and that session was being run by Amber Campagna.  Amber had invited a friend of hers to model as well, a young woman named Kristin with an amazingly frizzy head of hair that everyone agreed would be fun to draw.  Kristin arrived in a green dress, and she intended to wear it while she modeled.

At the beginning of the session, I asked Amber where I could change, and she directed me to the bathroom in the back room.  She then asked me what I had brought to wear while modeling.  "Nothing," I replied.  "So you want to pose nude?" she asked.  "That's how I usually model," I said.  She paused and seemed to think about that for a moment before giving me the go ahead.

Amber got a couple of people to help her cover the windows as I changed into my robe.  There was still a lot of activity going on in the gallery around the table that had been set up for those participating in Sketch Sanitarium.  The sketch nights were also portfolio review nights for artists who would like to get a show in the gallery, and there was one lady there having a member of the Kettle's all-volunteer crew look at her work.  Amber was working on her paintings and didn't intend to draw with the others.  And a couple of other people were doing something else with something that had been on exhibit.

Once the sketch artists had their sketchbooks and pencils ready, Kristin and I got into place, and I dropped the robe.  Those first moments of exposure are always the most intense of any drawing session for me as the model.  Scary, liberating, exhilarating, vulnerable, and humbling are just a few of the adjectives that could describe the moment, and those feelings were even more intense that night in such an open place and with another model who was not disrobing.  I was a little fearful of the reactions of non-sketch night people in the gallery, but the other activities continued normally around the artists as they got busy sketching Kristin and me.

While the majority of my modeling is done solo, I have had more than a few sessions with another model where both of us were nude.  I've also had a couple of portrait sessions as one of two clothed models.  But I had never done a session like this, where one model was nude and the other fully dressed.  It made for an interesting dynamic.  As the session continued, Kristin and I got comfortable with each other, and we did a few interactive poses.  We took several positions that looked like we were in deep conversation, and we even did a pose as if we were dancing a waltz.  I even had a little fun with one where Kristin was seated in a chair and I pretended to sneak up behind her, my fingers bent as if they were claws.  A couple of people in the gallery who were not drawing even took notice of the pose, and Amber grabbed her phone and took a couple of pictures...

Personally, I had one of the best times I had ever had modeling.  Perhaps it was knowing that I was volunteering and not "working" that made me more relaxed.  Or maybe it was the openness of the session, that we weren't in a closed classroom but in a gallery that was open to the public.  Throughout the session, people came and went, although I later learned that most of them were members of the all-volunteer Kettle gallery crew.  Some of them had shocked expressions upon entering, and a few others couldn't hide their amusement.  But I never once felt uncomfortable because I was in my natural element, modeling for artists.  I can only hope for more opportunities to introduce people to the wonderful discipline of drawing the unadorned human figure from life.

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