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Making a mark with figure drawing

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By Megan Tackett
Sopris Sun Staff

“There you go, good job! That’s beautiful!” one of that night’s participating artists encouraged Kristina as she nestled into the position she would be holding for the next 20 minutes on a well-lit couch in the middle of the studio. She was completely nude, and it was her first time modeling in that capacity.

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As I picked up my borrowed pencil, I stared blankly at the very blank sketch paper in front of me. I was no artist, save for some promising drawings in my third-grade art class. I was sure that the moment the graphite met paper, it would be a mistake. And somehow, any mistake felt like it would be an insult to the model sitting in front of me. If I was this intimidated, I couldn’t imagine how she must have felt.

But the soothing, unobtrusive guitar music that played in the background urged me to make a mark — any mark. Hair. I could make squiggly lines and call it hair, right? I made my first squiggle, and it wasn’t a disaster. It was trepidatious and done with obviously little pressure on the pencil, but it was a line. And then I made another. To my right, I glanced over at local artist Staci Dickerson. She was poised, intent and unwavering in the lines and shadows her charcoal — at least I thought it was charcoal? — made. I looked back at my curvy outline of what I hoped resembled a face. I sighed. I tried to remind myself that, as was the case for Kristina, this was my first time.

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But it certainly wasn’t the first time for Hone Williams, a local artist and Third Street Center tenant who co-facilitates Monday evenings’ figure drawing sessions with Dickerson. While the sessions have not always been held at their current location in the Senior Matters room at the Third Street Center, live-model figure drawing has been available to the experienced and the curious in Carbondale since 2011. A one-time “drop in” costs participants $20, and those who would like to make the sessions a weekly event can commit to an entire month for a discounted $10 per session ($40 per month, unless there are five Mondays in a month, which occasionally happens). Most participants opt for the monthly plan, Williams said, adding that most of the money goes toward paying the model, who receives a $75 stipend in addition to tips.

“We have a real core group,” he said. “We have a couple people who’ve been doing it for three or four years and have immensely improved; it’s amazing,” though he stressed that any gains have been through the experience, not education. “There’s not teaching — nothing like that. Come in, listen to music and draw.”

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The sessions are very structured: the evening, which begins at 6:30 p.m., starts with two back-to-back 10-minute “warm-up” sessions, as Williams called them. Then, the model will sustain a single pose for the duration of the night, broken into five 20-minute sessions.

“I don’t miss many Mondays,” Dickerson told me during a break between sessions. “As a drawer, [figure drawing is] a really important skill that keeps your observational skills really sharp. If you were a musician, you would have scales and things that you would do regularly to keep that… figure drawing is like that for me. It keeps my eye-hand coordination really sharp, and it’s always changing and always challenging.” Then, after looking over my shoulder at my very-much-a-work-in-quasi-progress, she said, “You’re doing great,” adding, after my awkward protests, that “there’s no right or wrong or judgment or anything. You just have to make observations. Just look at that little shape right there. It’s the cast shadow from her nose. This shadow that happens right here naturally on most people is what gives you the information about this shape here, so you don’t have to actually draw it, you just start drawing the shadows that indicate it. And that’s what happens with most stuff.”

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“Okay,” I thought as the next session began. I felt encouraged — empowered, even. I could do this. Just focus on the simpler shapes that comprise the larger whole, and let the shadows do the work. I felt like a female Jack Dawson drawing his French girls. I started shading with more confidence. This was actually coming together. Maybe I could do this. The 20 minutes seemed to fly by, and before I knew it, the timer buzzed to indicate our next break. I stood up from my work bench, ready to admire my piece from afar. Wait a minute — did I draw her eyes lopsided? Yes, yes I did. There was no mistaking that her right eye was slightly yet distinctly higher than her left. Any potential artistic ego I was trying to pump up deflated immediately. “I’d better stick with writing,” I thought. I looked at Dickerson’s work again; it had taken on a life all its own during that last session. Just one word took over my next thought: wow.

“Figure drawing, to my way of thinking, anyway, kind of raises the bar on everything,” Williams said of the practice. “It’s an observation thing, trying to bring life to a 2-dimensional form… I think it just raises the bar on everything in art.” And while he enjoys continuing to fine-tune his skills with figure drawing via his Monday evening sessions, there is one scarcity he’d like to address: “It’s very difficult to find male models. I would like to find male models.” Gentlemen, take note.

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