Every Tuesday at the Button Factory you can sketch or paint (or macramé I guess if that's your thing?) from a live model.
If you have never been to art school, or sought out a figure drawing class, you might have some preconceptions about the experience just like I did.
When I imagined what it would be like to attend a class with a live model, I pictured a beautiful woman, wrapped in a sheet, long hair piled up on her head, silent and still. Or a lithe, young thing perched on a tall wooden stool; perhaps Adonis himself gesturing imperiously from a plinth. Twenty earnest artists crowd around the figure with easels and long paint brushes measuring the form and transferring their findings to paper.
I was about 20% right.
My first live model experience was at the Homer Watson Gallery for a figure drawing class. The instructor arranged the models and we had a different one each week for the class duration.
The first model was a man, let's call him Will. Will was about my age, that age where things start not being where they used to be on your body and body fat tends to increase and is harder to lose.
This was my first shock. It was a welcome one. How often do you get to see a body like yours on a stranger? Beautiful, athletic, thin bodies are everywhere in our media feeds. We are bombarded with them. The bodies that don't meet that standard are covered up. Not that he was unattractive… Okay notice how you make that snap judgement? Attractive vs unattractive? More on that later in the post.
The setting was intimate, just 6 people at tables angled in a rough U shape. Will was there when I arrived and he had already changed into a robe. When we started he shed the robe and stood on a very low plywood stage in front of us. Will used a stick to support some of his poses and he held them as long as necessary for that segment. We started with warm-ups: 8 poses of 1 minute each. As the session went on, the poses got longer and fewer in number. We ended with two 25 minute poses. And I just sketched. This class had an instructor (Scott McNichol - we were lucky to have him) and he guided us through the activity when he saw we needed support.
In subsequent weeks we had an older man, a young and athletically built woman, an older woman and a fat woman.
Back to Will, and his um, willy. Call me 12 years old but honestly I didn't know how to draw his penis. When I draw an ear, I can spend 5 minutes on it and I really stare it down, I measure it visually, and get intimate with my eyes on the all of the contours. I didn't really want to do that with a strange man's penis. It was very unprofessional of me, I know! I felt much more comfortable with the intimate body parts of the women (and let's be honest, there is much less to see!) maybe because I am a woman or because I am heterosexual, I don't know. So especially for Will, my sketch was a little rudimentary in that area; roughed in at best. Sorry, Will.
Now that class has ended, I try to go to the weekly figure drawing drop-in at the Button Factory Community Arts Centre as often as I can. I don't know where the models come from but I know they tend to do the "circuit" of schools and galleries in the region and they are hard to come by. Yes, they get paid. Somewhere in the $50 to $100 range per class, I think. I have only seen women modelling there to date (I am sure that is not intentional) and they come in all ages and shapes. The human body is a miracle in diversity and form. Intellectually I always thought so, but now I KNOW it in my gut.
And they are so beautiful but when I see a new model for the first time, I don't think about unattractive versus attractive, they are all so beautiful because their humanity is on full display. When you meet someone, especially the first time, your civilization instincts go into full throttle -- we characterize and categorize everyone all of the time in everyday life. We make our assumptions and judgments without even knowing we are doing it -- based on what they are wearing, where they are, how they speak, their hairstyle, their walk, eye contact….. We are so judgmental! But that's normal for us. We have evolved to make these judgments to identify our own tribe because from an evolutionary standpoint, we needed to in order to survive.
But we don't need to now, so mostly this function just serves to separate us, and make us feel like crap if we don't somehow look like what we see in the media. How often do we look for our common humanity instead of physique?
Participating in these classes has changed the way I look at other people's bodies. When I look at these nude women (or men), I don't see fat and have my mind jump to all of these assumptions (oh I bet he doesn't work out, I bet she eats too much sugar, obviously they eat CARBS! (god forbid, right?)) about this person. No. Instead I see contours, and shadows and a body that has carried this person from birth to where they are today and I think of the courage and character it must take to disrobe in front of strangers. And I envy this confidence and comfortable relationship between the soul and the body in front of me.
These classes have changed how I look at my own body!
And I am grateful.
Grateful for the chance to grow in my craft.
Grateful for the chance to evolve from a place of hate and body dysmorphia to a place of less-judgement and increased compassion for myself and everyone I meet.
Grateful to learn to love my contours and shadows.
Grateful for the confident example of the live model, who for me, models not only their physique, but their character.
I have been working on a series of self-portraits. Some of them are nude. But they all explore my humanity and all the stuff I am made of. I hope to share some pieces soon.