Drawing Sessions: The Walk-In Ateliers of New York

An accomplished figurative artist friend came to visit this week, and it was quickly decided that we should spend a night drawing from life. While she has taught life drawing for many years and shown her work in solo exhibits, I'm am occasional sketch artist, coming late to drawing but with huge enthusiasm. Tuesday night's session of "Jazz & Sketch" at the Society of Illustrators (link below) perfectly fit our needs - a beautiful setting in the society's home on E. 63rd., one with a rich artistic and social history, the exquisite additions of live jazz and a cash bar, excellent models, and a congenial atmosphere. I can't wait to go back.

Several individuals, societies, and studios in New York host walk-in ateliers, sessions of three or so hours with an emphasis on figure drawing with live models. While many follow the traditional format of short poses followed by increasingly longer poses, some sessions emphasize one or the other. Drawing, like exercise, usually involves a kind of warming up - in this case, getting to know the model's individuality as well as loosening up the hand and getting to know proportions. As anyone knows who has attended these sessions, the work can be challenging and intense. Even when the sessions are accompanied by nice people, drinks, and live jazz, the actual process of translating what one sees with the eye to lines on the paper can feel like a workout. Life drawing sessions are not a walk in the park but they can be immensely rewarding.

For art-minded visitors to New York, I highly recommend supplementing gallery and museum visits with a drawing session at one of these studios. Each possesses its own culture, traditions and atmosphere, most often a reflection of its founders, history, and neighborhood within the big city. For art travelers, attending a drawing session is one of the best ways to get inside the life of the city. These walk-in ateliers require no advance planning or reservations, except where noted, but you'll need to bring your own materials.

Like anything, instruction and years of practice make a difference in competency levels. Like life, many people in the room display high levels of talent while others hope to meet those levels one day. After all, many of us move to New York to test our competence by playing with those who are at the top of their game. It's like learning to play tennis with someone who is better at it. But the baseline, so to speak, is the relief and joy of finding yourself in the same room with people who love art so much that they know it's not a game. It's life.

Spring Studio
New location: 293 Broom Street (Lower East Side) (212) 226-7240
The busiest of the life drawing studios, founded by Minerva Durham in 1992. Sessions every day, and six evenings a week. $15 per session (as of Sept. 2009). For those starting or getting back into drawing, take Minerva's introductory classes, "Learning to Draw the Figure."

Society of Illustrators

Sketch Night: Jazz & Sketch, Tuesdays & Thursdays, 6:30-9:30 p.m.
$20/ $15 seniors + students with I.D.
128 East 63rd Street (between Park and Lexington Avenues)

Salmagundi Art Club

walk in art classes
212-255-7740

Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School
See website for details. Most fun!

National Arts Club
Drawing Classes
Monday, Wednesday, Friday 7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Live model drawing for artists of all levels. Bring your own materials. $10 per person.

Also read the 2006 NYT article, "Life Lessons: A Beginner’s Guide to Walk-In Art Classes" August 18, 2006.

* See also The Educated Artist: A Guide to Continuing Education Classes and Workshops in the Fine Arts in New York City, Fall 2009 and The Art Supply Walk from 2007 on WOTBA

Walking Off the Big Apple. May 26, 2009

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