Every Monday at Centennial College’s East York campus on Carlaw Avenue, David McClyment hosts aspiring artists from the community at an open drawing class. For $5, you sit or stand at an easel, set aside the cares of the day, and draw to your heart’s — and hand’s — content.
This Observer reporter took the opportunity to attend one recent Monday. I’m by no means an artist, and I don’t have any formal training. But I learned that regardless of artistic background, it can still be beneficial to try a life drawing class.
Life drawing has a long history. It started with stick figures in caves and on ancient pottery. As time has drawn on (pun intended), artists have become obsessed with sculpting or drawing a realistic imitation of the human body. Every culture has had an interest in drawing nude figures, whether it’s for science or entertainment.
If you want to jump into life drawing, I say you should. Here are a few things to consider:
The paradox of thinking not to think
McClyment is an artist, art teacher and the coordinator of the college’s fine arts program. When I first met him in his office, he pointed at my head and said I’d need to turn my brain off. I thought, “I can do that!” When I sat down and started to draw the model on Monday, I reminded myself: “Turn your mind off, turn your mind off.” Telling this to yourself doesn’t means you’ve tuned out the world around you entirely. But it’s still much easier said than done. The more you draw, however, the less you think. So don’t think about how to stop thinking; just draw and let it come naturally.
Think not, judge not
If you have no training, or don’t have natural talent for drawing, think of it as “like riding a bike,” said McClyment. You don’t have to be Leonardo da Vinci to go to a class; just go and have a good time doing it. This is a time to try something new, so don’t judge how well you do, especially if it’s your first experience. The people attending won’t judge you either, and some have helpful tips to share.
The messier the better
McClyment gave me a synthetic charcoal pencil to draw with before the session. I used charcoal in high school so I knew it was messy, but figured synthetic charcoal was less so. I was wrong.
McClyment has a strict rule for his art students: “Friends don’t let friends leave with charcoal on their face.” Thank goodness I became friends with the girl running the session, a college art student. Before I left, she told me I had black smudges all over my hands and face.
Change your point of view
The easels at Centennial give you an option of whether you’d like to stand or sit. I sat for most of the time, but my bum got sore, so I had to stand. Standing gave me a better field of view and also gave me the chance to lengthen my arm away from the page. When you sit to write or draw, your wrist does most of the flicking, but when I stood, my wrist got a break while I used the movement from my shoulder down to draw. I had more freedom to move, which gave me the physical and mental space to draw better pictures.
Life lessons from life drawing
When you look at the model to draw her/him, don’t disregard who they are. Instead, use your utensil to draw a story about the person. The model is a human too and every person has a story. Let your art — the strokes and flow of the picture — show whom the person you’re drawing is or could be. This profound thought opens a world of possibilities and extends beyond the three-hour drawing session. This is a life lesson from life drawing: treat every person like they have a story. (You might find yourself living in a happy, healthier and balanced world!)
You can find more information about the open drawing sessions by contacting David McClyment at Centennial College, at