Drawn from life
Durangoans drawn to life-drawing group

John Grow’s oil painting “Life Drawing” was inspired by his regular attendance at the Life Drawing Workshops held on Thursday nights. Workshops will resume in April./Courtesy photo

by Jules Masterjohn

Traditions – those practices and beliefs that are rooted in the ages – oftentimes get a bad rap as antiquated, bygone or passé. Today’s concerns seem to pit traditional values and customs against those of the modern world. In the art world, however, there is no argument when it comes to acknowledging the present day merits of its oldest tradition – life drawing.

Life or figure drawing, the making of a drawing using a live model as the subject, has always been central to an artist’s training. Whether clothed or naked, the human body has held an allure for artists from ancient times to the present.

In Durango, committed artists have been coming together for more than 25 years to draw from the model. An early group reportedly met above the old Maria’s Bookshop. The most recent iteration of the tradition started more than a decade ago when artist and educator Shan Wells began teaching a life drawing class at the Durango Arts Center. Within a year, the class moved to its current location at the Wild Sage Studio in the Smiley Building. After a time of offering formal instruction within the group, the class morphed into a more casual gathering of artists who wanted to practice their drawing skills. Numerous devotees took turns coordinating the workshop, charged with the duties of hiring the model and collecting workshop fees.

Today, artist and art instructor Barbara Tobin Klema facilitates the weekly life drawing workshops. She is also one of the core group members. Tobin Klema offered, “Drawing the figure is so difficult, yet it increases my drawing ability dramatically. I have always been interested in working with the human form and it makes drawing other things easier.”

If you were a fly on the wall during a Thursday evening workshop, what you would see is a nude model standing, lying and sitting in various poses for one-to 20-minute periods each. Artists are standing or sitting at easels and tables with canvas or paper in front of them, looking very intently at the model in the center of the circle. The ever-changing position of the model is part of the challenge for artists.

One of the life drawing “regulars” is professional artist Pete Campbell. Well-known for his tonal landscape paintings, Campbell attends the group religiously. He approaches the weekly workshops as a time to exercise his powers of observation. “With the figure, you get the immediate response of whether you are doing it right … it’s easy to check the proportions on a figure. For me, it’s a technical exercise rather than creating works of art. Drawing is a means of working out thinking and making sure that you are observing well,” Campbell said.

Though there is no formal instruction during the workshop, many of the more skilled artists generously share their knowledge. Campbell recounted, “Someone will ask, ‘Hey, how did you do that?’ Learning figure drawing is the same no matter who you are … the learning curve is still the same. For some to struggle with the drawing and do what’s difficult together, can be a camaraderie thing. But for me, it’s just another day at the office.”

For “aspiring artist” Victoria Coe, who has been actively engaged in life drawing since the very first Durango life drawing group was formed, her Thursday evening struggles are welcomed. “I like the challenge and aspire to be focused. I find it immensely fun and it makes me happy because it’s so rare to have an opportunity to just focus on what I want to do. It’s like being a kid again … all of us loved to draw as kids, but for me that never went away.”

Coe confesses to drawing a lot and has multiple sketchbooks around her home, ready for an inspiring scene to be captured by her pencil. She’ll set up a still life to draw – the requisite flower vase and a few other small objects – to satisfy her craving, but finds the live model her best challenge. “In the life drawing workshop, with the short poses, the model is moving all the time so I can’t be lazy!”

On hold for the winter season, the Thursday night life drawing workshops will resume again in April. Before then, on Sat., March 8, from 10:30 a.m. –3 p.m., Tobin Klema will host “The Long Draw,” where the model is positioned in the same pose all day – with a series of breaks, of course. All levels of skill and media are welcome. As an enticement, Tobin Klema offered, “After those hours of drawing, it’s almost like you can hardly focus on anything else.” Contact her at 385-7600 or send an e-mail to crimsonsageartyoga@hotmail.com if you are interested in attending.

Deliciously weird

Just as tradition has its draw, so does the new…or relatively new for Durango. This Saturday evening, Feb. 16, from 7-9:30 p.m., “Deliciously Weird,” an alternative art show will be set up at 1021 Main Ave. The event, organized by local photographer and social worker McCarson Jones, hopes to attract participation from artists who have some unusual art to share. “My motivation is to encourage artists to make work they wouldn’t normally make. Some fun things are coming our way,” Jones promised.

Motherhood has not tempered artist Tirzah Camacho who admits to making something a bit “inappropriate” for the event. She is fabricating a fountain out of found objects that include a man peeing into a wishing well. It’s an interactive artwork, and viewers get to participate by identifying things they are “pissed off” about!

A number of local establishments have come together to support the event, which offers music, food and beverages. Donations are requested at the door and will benefit the art program at Durango Academy. •

If you have artwork that you’d like to offer for sale or to show at “Deliciously Weird,” Jones will be accepting works on Fri., Feb. 15, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 1021 Main Ave. The cost is $20 to submit two works. For more information, call her at 759-8404.



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