There are only a few things in my very nomadic life (in the last 18 years I have lived in 18 houses on 4 different continents) that have been constant. Just before I turned 18, I attended my first ever life drawing class, something a couple of friends and I campaigned for in our year 12 design class. My secondary schooling was poor for anything other than sport. Art was virtually non-existent, but our normal teacher took long service leave, and our fill in, a young and far more enthusiastic and inspired man, helped us convince the school to give us the chance to draw from the model. And, from the first day after school when we stuck brown paper over the windows to prevent curious teenage onlookers, and had our first lesson in life drawing, I was hooked.
For me there is not much that compares to the relaxation and satisfaction I get from a couple of hours of staring at a model and doing fast and furious sketches. I like the quick ones better, when you have 30 seconds, or maybe up to 5 minutes, to get the essence of the model – their pose and personality. The challenge is great. I still remember being horrified at how clumsy my first sketches were of whoever stood before us, and now, 18 years later, I still sometimes want to apologise to the model and ensure them they don’t look anywhere near as old, or round, or lumpy as my sketch. I think it would be possible to spend an entire life drawing the human form, and still, at the end, feel like there was so much to learn.
In some of the places I have lived, I have managed to find a life drawing class. In the others, where I didn’t, I dreamed of the day when I would again be able to sit with a group of other people and spend two hours just seeing, clearly, what is before us, and trying to somehow capture their essence. In the first place I lived out of home, Warnambool, a town on Victoria’s southern coast, I drew almost everyday and had regular chances to draw. In China, Kenya, Nepal, Mongolia, and Hobart, this was less possible.
Melbourne’s inner north must be home to some of the densest number of life drawing classes of anywhere in the world. I was lucky enough to spend almost three years in a row here, and attended (religiously) one of my favourite life drawing groups every Monday evening in a beautiful room upstairs in an old building off a laneway (so very Melbourne). Here, a small group of us drew together for years. It was magic. When I left and moved to Hobart, I just couldn’t find anything like it.
Now, I’m back in Victoria and often, after work on a Wednesday, I go to a new favourite place – a life drawing class unlike one I have ever before attended – in the beautiful treasure that is the Nicholas Building in inner Melbourne. Life Drawing Melbourne means that every Mon, Tues, and Wed up to 80 people (I actually counted one night) crowd into a beautiful (but not so large) studio. Private space is minimal, but the atmosphere is electric. Lou, who runs it, is not only an artist but an inspired DJ. The music is good. People are friendly. The models are marvelous. And, I sit there blown away with happiness at how wonderful it is that so many people just love to be together and draw.
To end this year, the drawing group held an exhibition “People Drawing People”. The brief was a sketch done during a life drawing session, not of the model but of someone else in class. I was lucky enough, based on popular vote, to win! I am not one to win things. The only other thing I have ever one in my life was when i was about 8 and I won some derwents in a colouring competition. So it was such a surprise and wonderful and encouraging experience to win at something I love so much.
I don’t think I am every happier then in the studio with other people, all drawing.