Upon squeezing through the tight doorway of Spring Studio in lower Manhattan, I immediately gained a deep appreciation for its lowkey aesthetic. Overlapping sketches lined the walls, the scratched wooden floor peeked out from under a clutter of easels and chairs, and people miraculously settled into the closet-sized space to prepare for the three-hour artistic journey of figure drawing ahead.
The models are always a pleasant variety of shapes, sizes, and skin tones, making each class vastly different from the last. I always opt to sit towards the back, so that I can not only observe the model, but the sketches of the talented audience members as well. From the 20-year-old art school student to the 70-year-old professional artist, they constantly offer me new techniques to apply to my own drawings. The studio founder, Minerva Durham, walks zen-like among the figure drawers giving helpful mini anatomy lessons.
To many, the concept of paying money to draw a nude stranger might seem awkward or intimidating. However, artists typically find this process to be beautifully raw. The model standing in front of you is not viewed as a nude stranger, but as a compilation of unique curves and shapes. The challenge becomes doing the subject justice by capturing their essence within a strict time limit.
Normally, a figure drawing session begins with one-minute poses. Your typical approach to drawing must adapt to this restriction, as your careful lines will be rudely interrupted by the buzzing alarm and an abrupt pose shift after what feels like only 10 seconds. When approaching a one-minute drawing, there’s no time to plan, critique, or add detail. Once a few poses go by, you begin to get the hang of budgeting your time to render the entire figure. With each additional minute earned, as the poses become longer and longer, you appreciate the ability to add more detail. Eventually, you work your way up to the twenty- to thirty-minute poses and gain the opportunity to give it your all and tediously perfect the light and shadow, capture the model’s facial features, and maybe even experiment with a new medium.
Arguably the most rewarding aspect of figure drawing is sitting down after the session to finally take in all that has been accomplished. It is exciting to pick out the drawing you feel the most proud of and witness the growth that took place in that session alone. It’s always a morning well-spent.