ActivistArt_Ph.f5.21 Chatterton Art Class Nude© Vassar College / Archives & Special Collections, Vassar College Libraries

The New Adventures of Old Emily: Life Drawing

Emily Christie peers into the world of Art Society, nude models and all.

I’ve always loved art, but thought I was more suited to pretending to understand the paintings and sculptures in galleries than actually creating some myself. In the spirit of pushing myself and trying new things, and newly fuelled from my positive experience with Op Soc, I decided to go for it and attend one of Art Soc’s life drawing sessions.

I expected a very intense experience – someone butt naked on a platform staring at me and people crying and throwing paint at canvasses, all while classical music played in the background. As you can tell, I’m a very rational and realistic person. The reality was much less messy and a lot more chilled.

Walking into the Barron Theatre, I was struck by how many people were there, and by the fact I’d forgotten all my supplies and only had one pencil. Luckily I managed to obtain some paper from the event organisers, who were lovely and supportive. After stumbling over several sprawled bodies preparing some intense pastels and water colours, I got a seat right at the back of the room, a tactical choice to prevent surrounding people or being dazzled by my genius (read: gasping in horror at my terrible creations).

Now, I’m at that awkward stage of young adulthood where I am intensely political, and regularly debate on gender and sex, but still laugh at the word ‘boobies.’ So I was worried I might involuntarily laugh when the model came out. But some calming breaths and the realisation that I’m no longer 12 years old really helped. I found when the session started and the model entered that there was nothing funny or sexual about it. The model was amazingly professional, holding poses for long periods of time and providing an interesting mix of standing / sitting and front / back poses. I never felt awkward or weird and the giggles never threatened to surface.

The session started with some one minute poses. These were a great warm up for the people with some understanding of how the human body works, but I only managed to draw one finger before deftly flipping my pencil across the aisle – which I guess could count as subversive performance art? During the following three short poses I drew some more fingers. My page was quickly becoming filled with a series of E.T-like appendages. I looked around, hoping no one would spot my monstrosity and wonder if I had some strange hand obsession. Fortunately, everyone was engrossed in their own work.

The atmosphere was calming. There was quiet indie music played in the background, interspersed with the occasional Spotify advert about Liam Gallagher. I enjoyed the general atmosphere of everyone doing their own thing, in their own medium, with no judgement. The one problem? The sheer number of people – trying to climb down the stairs during the break felt a bit like a challenge in American Ninja Warrior! But the buzz created by the crowd made up for my own awkwardness, as I found myself standing on multiple bags, shoes and newly created art work.

What I enjoyed most was the longer, fifteen minute poses. I managed to complete three full body sketches. Regardless of my works’ quality, just sitting and drawing and concentrating on shading and lines was a really calming and immersive experience. Chatting to my friends after the session, we all said how relaxing life drawing was, and made a pact to come every week.

I caught the night bus home, proudly displaying my drawings on my lap. After the girl sitting next to me complimented them, I found myself grinning like an idiot. For one evening, all the stress and anxiety of upcoming deadlines and life in general had been taken away, and I was proud of myself for actually creating a piece of art, even if it was mostly terrifyingly elongated fingers.

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