Open studio

I found a small studio in Tacoma that hosts an open figure drawing session Thursday evenings. $20 gets you a seat in front of a model who holds a single pose (with breaks) for 3 hours.

There are easels and “horses” scattered around a small platform. “Horses” are small benches you straddle, like riding a horse. The front of the bench is a tall plank which props up your drawing board. There are grooves cut into the bench to keep your board from sliding away. I usually sit on a horse and brace the board with my knees.

There are big, dark, drapes hanging from the wall behind the platform. The dark drapes provide dark contrast and dramatic shadows behind the models.

The models are young and old - big and small - a great variety of humans. The models are patient and kind. Some are quite interested in the work going on. Some seem to be there only to meditate quietly for 3 hours. The fact that they are paid to be nude under a spotlight is incidental.

A very talented young man, Tim, runs the studio. He takes payment, but never nags about it. He helps you find a seat. He makes sure you have enough light. He chats amiably. He also shushes people who start prattling on while we’re working. His drawings have a strong, monumental quality, very weighty and geometric. Tim is very tall.

The students are a mix of mostly retirees and art lovers. Here and there Tim offers some sage advice. One is an architect. One man is a serious charcoal artist. One brings a full palette of oils to paint. Most are timid and afraid to mark the page.

When I found out about this drawing session, I dug out a disused sketchbook that laid dormant for years. I caused a small stir when I sat down to draw with the fountain pen and black magic markers I shoved in my bag.

“But I’d be too nervous that I’d make a mistake“

That’s the trick. You always make mistakes. Might as well do it early. Once you put a permanent black mark down that you can’t fix…you have two choices. Make it work or throw it away. It’s freeing. Like anything, drawing requires practice. You will make more garbage than not. A stray mark on the page is nothing in the grand scheme of things. One of my professors once said that you have 50 bad paintings in you to get out. True also for drawing. And computer programming. And omelets.

After a couple of sessions I started trying to draw with these brush markers. At first the choice in color was overwhelming - but then I settled into using three or four shades and building up tone slowly during the drawing session. Finally, once I had up the nerve, I brought my iPad.

I really didn’t want to be that guy who brings his iPad to an art studio. I am that guy. But I don’t want to be that guy. I worried that the bright screen would be distracting. I worried that I’d get eye rolling and muttering. But like most things we get anxious about, it turned out to be nothing. Only the architect commented me using an iPad. He thought it was interesting.

Maybe being the weirdo who draws with permanent markers instead of charcoal primed the crowd for other strange behavior. Maybe the second time I pull out an iPad they’ll be bored.

I use Procreate for drawing on the iPad. It’s the best I’ve found. Drawing from life with Procreate is lovely. Procreate takes very little learning time to be proficient. Once you are proficient it sort of melts away and disappears. I have the smaller iPad Pro with the “True Tone“ display. This display knows how bright to be in a dark room and knows how to shift colors so that white is still white under yellow incandescent lights. This is probably why no one commented on the iPad; It was not a giant bright blue glowing rectangle in the corner.

Drawing from life with Procreate on the iPad was much nicer than trying to work from a photograph on the iPad. Procreate - or really none of the major drawing apps for iPad - have any sort of good tool for a reference photo. Sure, you can put a photo on a layer - but then you’re tracing. You can use the split screen capability to a certain degree - putting Procreate on the left and photos on the right. But that sucks. I want these apps to allow me to float a picture next to my canvas without it being a part of the canvas.

Regardless, now I’m encouraged. The next time I go, I’m going to warm up a little in the sketch book and use the remaining time to try and do a proper “painted” portrait on the iPad.

Michael Barrett

Tacoma, WA 98402