Life Model Sketching in the Tam Art Program

By Ephets Head

Drawing live models is somewhat of a standard landmark in an artist’s education, but often the experience is romanticized and exaggerated for entertainment purposes by Hollywood and in movies. When the average student hears that those in Tam’s drawing and painting course have their own sessions with live models, they  might imagine Leonardo DiCaprio sketching a naked Kate Winslet by candlelight, and think to themselves, Wow. I can’t believe that’s actually happening at school!

It’s very important to understand that that’s not what drawing live models is about… or how it is done in an environment such as a high school classroom. First of all, the models wear swimsuits for the entirety of the session. Secondly, the environment is not about the scrutiny of the human body, but respect for those people who are giving the artists the opportunity to hone their skills. “I think that, baseline, people enjoy drawing from a live model because it gives you a deeper understanding of human anatomy than a photograph does,” said sophomore drawing and painting student Marley Constantine. “But people often expect a live model to be in perfect shape and fit all the cultural standards of beauty, when in actuality, the majority of people do not fit that exact body mold.”

Besides defying modern beauty standards, many of the art students believe that live models enable them to make more individual choices with their art. “It allows artists to break the rules of regular proportions. If I draw someone free hand, I will use traditional proportions, which is what I’ve been taught. You can’t teach the proportions of every body type because that will never be the same!” said sophomore Maren Curtis, who runs her own art account on Instagram and has already turned her artwork into a small business. “That is what makes live drawing so wonderful. You can draw a person that most people can relate to. Art is very emotional for many, and having a figure that glorifies and achievable body type can give girls more confidence in themselves.” With more up to interpretation and angle, students appreciate the diversity of the sketches that can be inspired from just one model. “It allows the artist to make their own decisions, that taking a picture would make for them. You can make a personal connection with who you are drawing,” said fellow sophomore student Kamala Rose.

The session, which rolls around only once a year for each art period, serves as their midterm exam, which means it takes place during their two-hour final period in December. The program for the day is relatively loose; one can use whatever materials they wish and sit wherever they want, as long as they are continuously sketching the model in all of their various poses. Considering the anxiety, tension and sleeplessness of finals week, a final that doesn’t add to the chaos is widely appreciated. “It’s really relaxing and nice to have a final that isn’t stressful. And it’s so nice to just sit down and sketch without having to have a perfect drawing,” sophomore Sofia Reis said.

In the beginning of class, there is a long string of quick one-minute poses, then a handful of five-minute poses, and then two or three ten-minute poses. Even though the curriculum seems relaxed, no one says a word during the work time– the silence is broken only by faint music and the sound of everyone’s breathing. It is almost as though giving your complete focus to the model and the paper in front of you is easier than peeling your attention away. “You are able to capture their essence, making decisions based on your own eye and still keeping it recognizable,” said Rose.

Human anatomy has had artists obsessed for hundreds of years, but it became a subject of particular interest to the artists of the Renaissance in the 15th century. Leonardo da Vinci was so infatuated with the human structure that he would perform autopsies on corpses to try to understand the causes behind their demise. Seeing an actual human being before you, made of muscle and fat and skin and bones, with real shadows and real intelligence behind their eyes; nothing has been able to replace such an experience, not since the genesis of art itself.