Try It: Life Drawing

Until very recently, the thought of Life Drawing conjured images of beret-clad artistes sitting around a classically plump woman, painting canvasses with hand-held palettes. One of the things we feel strongly about at Knock Twice is life long learning, so last week Eugen and I attended the bi-monthly life drawing session at ARTiculations, and there were no berets.

Life drawing (or figure drawing) is drawing or painting from a live, usually nude, model. ARTiculations hosts life drawing sessions with professional models twice per month after-hours in their workspace. They provide easels, stools, the model, and tea. You bring your own materials – things like paper, board, and bulldog clips to keep the paper on the board – as well as whatever medium you want to use. They sell anything you could need, so you’re covered if you forget something, of if you’re starting from scratch.

I took high school art, and had some materials kicking around from mandatory course-packs in university. Before leaving my house I decide to bring a pencil set, coloured pencils, and a big fat charcoal pencil. I haven’t really done any kind of non-photographic art since high school, but that doesn’t really hit me in the nerves until I get on the bus to head to the Junction. I like being good at things, and it’s a little stressful to think that it might be a bunch of professional artists, and then me, scribbling embarrassed doodles in the corner…. but I’m also excited to be trying something new.

Here’s how it goes down:

The Junction bus gets me there five minutes late, and I run up the street to ARTiculations. The store’s front windows are covered in kraft paper, so I knock softly to be let in. Heather knows I’m coming, and has set up an easel for me in the corner. I rummage around in my bag for my charcoal pencil. The lights are dimmed, and there is quiet music playing. About eight people sit and stand in a semi-circle around a low table. Perched on the table is Greg, our nude model for the evening. A strong photo lamp has been set up to accent his pose, and everyone is sketching away madly. The room is quite, except for the soft music coming from the stereo. A schedule on the wall informs me that the group is part of the way through a series of ten one-minute poses. Every minute, a timer beeps and Greg changes his position. I decide to fake comfort and skill for the remaining one-minute poses and dive right in. One minute is not a lot of time, and I know that I need to get my head in the game before we get to the twenty-minute sessions. I draw tiny men on my huge newsprint pad because I don’t want people to see my work. No one cares. Everyone is thoroughly engrossed in their own work, and the model, and getting what they need before the little timer beeps again and the pose disappears.

The night is structured as follows:
10 one-minute poses
5 two-minute poses
4 five-minute poses
2 ten-minute poses
2 twenty-minute poses

The breaks are for Greg as much as they are for us. His poses reference everything from classical painting to contemporary photography. I take the break as an opportunity to walk around the room. There is a wide range of skill in the room, and a lot of different motivations for being there. There are a few other first-timers; like the environmental consultant who recently moved to the neighbourhood and, next to him, the graphic designer who’s coming back to art after years of working at home as a mother. There is also a student at the Toronto School of Realist Art, who does this full time at school during the day, and then comes to ARTiculations at night. To my right is a scenic painter who has been working all night on wonderfully colourful chalk renderings. To my left is a quiet guy who draws in a notebook on his lap with a black sharpie. His figures are super angular, and remind me of wire frame superheroes. It’s during this break that I realize that it’s not really about being good; some people are here to hone their craft, but some people are here just for fun, to get out of the house, and like us, to challenge themselves. It’s not a class. There’s no instructor, no one walks around giving feedback. (With the exception of the one guy who asks to see my work, and then tells me that I drew the head too big. Thanks…)

The short breaks are friendly – people say hello, and pour themselves tea. But for most of the three-hour session, everyone sits, and draws, and is quiet. Talking about it afterwards, I hear the session accurately describes it as “meditative.” I leave with a pad of drawings. Some of them are flat-out bad, but I can definitely see them get better as the night goes on. That’s a definite advantage to moving from shorter to progressively longer poses; you get to kind of warm-up your art. I would go back, partly with the hopes that I’ll get better, but also just because it’s a nice environment to spend a few hours in.

Life Drawing sessions at ARTiculations are $15 per session. Though technically a drop-in session, it’s highly recommended that you reserve a space in advance, as spots fill up quickly. Click here for more information.

Do you have a suggestion for an arts-related activity you think we should try? We’d love to hear it. Leave it in the comments or email us at


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