Thursday, 6 June 2013

Figure Drawing Sessions at the Baggage Building

     Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy, had trouble when it came to artists. He hated Wagner’s mega-opera, The Ring, and he had a lot to say about painters, including wondering why they had nude models. Why couldn’t they be drawn with their clothes on, he wondered.
     The answer is quite simple. For most, it is very difficult to draw the human body. As a result there are lots of benefits in attempting to do. One major benefit is that if you can learn to draw the human body, with feet and hands and face and figure, you can draw ANYTHING!
     Why is it so challenging? Because a normal object of any shape is rather predictable. A square, a circle, a triangle, a tube shape, etc. can be depicted easily in your mind and as result is fairly easy to draw. If we picture a hand, a foot, a face, a belly, an arm, etc. what comes to our minds will vary dramatically. And we know that the shapes are complex, so when we try to translate body parts in two dimensions by drawing on paper, our minds revert to preset ideas, something like a template of what the parts should look like. Yet perspective, reflections and the ability to measure with your eyes get in the way of translating 3D into 2D.
     This is why some artists pretend that drawing doesn’t matter. They hate that being able to draw a human figure acts like a discerning element in the arts, that it separates those artists who can do art from those who talk about it.
     Some contemporary artists say emotional expression is more important, or new and modern aesthetic challenges are more interesting than the old human body. For decades one particular director of the National Gallery of Canada had a hate-on for drawing. The Gallery purchased not one drawing during his tenure.
     For most of us that template of what a person is supposed to look like is too strong to overcome. For example: draw a nose. You will most likely draw a line from a corner of the eye to the nostril. Take a look in the mirror and tell me if you see a line. You might see a line if you turn your head at an angle and there is a harsh shadow cast on your face. That line is evidence of the template, because in most instances there is no line, but very subtle shadows. And of course, shadows are difficult to draw.
     Thomas White, a professional artist and a graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design is running a figure drop-in session Tuesday nights beginning at 7pm at the Baggage Building in Prince Arthur’s Landing. It’s open to everyone, and he’s willing to give instruction, so if all you’ve ever drawn were stick people this would be a great opportunity for you.
     Thomas has built the studio “horses” in which to sit with a board to accommodate up to ten students. Unlike other drop-in sessions he provides the boards, the paper and the charcoal, but you’re welcome to bring your own materials. He’s built a professional model stand and has lights set up to cast interesting shadows. He can teach a variety of approaches, and he’s very proficient with the “deep anatomical” approach to drawing “where the bones are like the foundation of a house,” he says.
     More than just rendering an accurate likeness, Thomas sees drawing as a way of “Exploring the human condition through the act of drawing.” He believes that similar to the way a human face tells a story of a person’s life, so does the body where there is also a great deal of expression involved. 
     Thomas, who once worked in the area as a tree planter and crew boss, moved to Thunder Bay from Toronto five years ago, graduated from teacher’s college and bought a house in the country with his wife. He has two children. He loves the accessibility to the forest and laments the distances from nature in Toronto. Locally he’s become more involved in the arts, doing auto body painting as seen on his own motorcycle. He’s also producing fine art, working towards an art show in the future.
     Thomas prefers the models avoid static poses, which results in the models being more animated. The drop-in students start with warm-ups of 30 second poses to a minute, then five minute and up to half an hour.
     His model for last Tuesday night, Julia Postigo-Rombola has modeled for 3 years at LU and at the Painted Turtle. Julia got into modeling inspired by a fictional book character who did the same. Julia thought it was incredibly brave. Challenging herself she gave it a try.
     “I don’t really mind being naked. It’s not sexualized. And everyone has the same body. Our North American culture is pretty afraid of nudity. I never really understood it.”
     Julia says she constantly fidgets, so she enjoys the challenge of sitting still. She uses the time to meditate and think of the next pose. “It’s fun and it’s like you get paid to learn, because you listen to the instructor and you can try it at home.”
     Julia studied sculpture and is now an outdoor recreation student.
     Thomas is still looking for more students, and looking for people of all body types and ages to pose for the sessions. It’s a paid gig for the model. Portraiture is also taught in his sessions. You can email him if you would like to join the group, or pose for the artists, at You can also register through the Baggage Building Arts Centre: 684-2063.

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