For an art form that has at various times in history been considered risqué, life drawing has become perhaps more popular than ever in Ballarat.
In Ballarat alone, a variety of life drawing classes are on offer each week – sometimes there are even multiple classes on the one night.
Each class is booked nearly to capacity. For a city with a population under 100,000, that’s a dense concentration.
The Lost Ones gallery offers regular six-week tutored courses. Owner Tara Poole said life drawing was increasingly seen in Ballarat as a way of exploring a person’s creative side.
She said most of her students would not even consider themselves as part of Ballarat’s arts community – rather they tended to be professionals working in left-brain occupations during the day seeking a creative outlet at night.
She said one of her students was a WorkSafe officer, another was a young cartoonist, and another was in her 70s, who had made it a “bucket list” goal to master the art of perspective.
“I think it’s always been a popular art form in Ballarat. I think there’s always been a consistent following – you’ve always been able to find classes across the city from Suttons to Sebastopol to the art gallery,” she said.
“It’s always been a prevalent form of being creative. If you’re busy and working, going to a life drawing class keeps your hat in.
“You don’t normally have the opportunity to draw someone nude and practice the form and style and tone. Having access to a physical person is just a wonderful asset.”
Ms Poole said life drawing was an opportunity to reactivate a part of people’s brains that had sometimes become dormant.
“When you’re a kid you have that freedom to draw and everyone would congratulate you on your wonderful creativity. Something happens when you get to your teens – you start becoming really self-conscious about your drawing,” she said.
“So part of life drawing is helping you return to that drawing and helping you understand that shape in front of you and translating that from 3D to 2D.
“We teach people to shake out their brain a bit and stop judging themselves so badly.”
Ms Poole said participants were often not just interested in the beauty of the human body, and were intrigued by the models, who ranged in age, sex and appearance.
“It can be a bit boring of reproducing the same forms you find on the internet of airbrushed tummies,” she said.
“Some people, yes, are looking to draw beauty and things that are beautiful, but most people are there to draw the tone, the shape, and there’s something very powerful about drawing the human form.
“It’s less about drawing beauty; it’s more about drawing humanity.”
Donna Hearne hosts Thursday night sessions at Suttons House of Music – an untutored course that encourages participants to take time out and relax.
She said she had noticed the art form becoming more popular in Ballarat.
“In the last year, definitely my numbers have increased, which is great,” she said.
“I think there’s lot of people who are creative out there and maybe they didn’t realise we had life drawing so readily available.”
But why life drawing, rather than still life, portraits or landscapes?
“It’s very challenging and you never stop learning when you’re doing life drawing,” Miss Hearne said.
“You’ve got a different model each week. I think there’s something engaging about dealing with the human form.”
Miss Hearne said she had a lot of local models on her books, many of them performing arts students.
“Other people just have an interested in modelling, whether it’s a personal challenge or do something different for themselves.”
Art Gallery of Ballarat life drawing teacher Alison Parkinson said life drawing offered something else too – a return to the concept of an early 20th century art salon, of a collegiate arts community.
She said recent studies showed drawing was beneficial for the brain – something she witnessed all the time in her classes.
“When the class is very focused, it’s very very quiet and there’s a real stillness in the class. It’s very still, very mindful, very focused,” she said.
“It’s just wonderful – it’s letting go of the world – it’s time out.”
She said life drawing in particular was challenging – and rewarding
“It depends on people’s expectations of their work, if they want to do something lyrical or expansive or recreate a likeness,” she said.
“You can look around at all the drawings and there’s a sense of what the person got off the model – an emotion, a drop of the head, an emotional enquiry, a feeling in the drawing.
“It’s not just a static object. It’s a challenge, portrait has its challenge of re-creation of the image of that person and the feel of that person. I feel that the life drawing goes deeper – there’s more aspects to look at, more relationship.”
She said the difference in results at the end of a class was astonishing.
“I talk in class about how we’re cartographers, we’re map drawers – we’re drawing a map of that body,” she said.
“People see in different ways – some people see edges, they see lines, and other people see shapes and colours.
“I love it, often at the end I say all turn your easels around and they’ve all got these amazing differences and for me it’s a metaphor for life – we live differently and we have differently values and all these pieces have different aspects. It reinforces that it’s okay to be different.”