The Embodiment of Trust: Figure Drawing Initiative in the Dorms

By Koko Christiaanse

— A chair, a carpet, a small space heater, and two bright stage lights. These are the only things Florence Springer, third-year Humanities student, needs for the free figure drawing sessions she organises in her common room.

“I always wanted to follow a figure drawing course, […] but they were always far away and really expensive,” says Springer, “I was thinking, maybe I can get some of my friends to pose for me. And then I realized that it’s probably easier doing it in a class format, where there are more people available to model and draw, and it would be more fun as well.”

Springer created her first Facebook event on the 15th of September. The drawing sessions have taken place every Sunday since.

Entry is free. “I think art should be free, everyone should be able to do art, I don’t want to make money. I want to attend the classes myself,” says Springer. Springer was offered support by the Art Committee but did not require anything except for some clipboards and coverings for the windows. She sets up the common room with the help of her friends.

The classes offer a judgement-free space for artistic development and practice, fostering a communal atmosphere. “The classes are for sure for any level,” says Springer. At the end of the session, students are encouraged to share what they drew. “It’s really nice to see, because everyone compliments each other and comments on each other’s artistic style,” says Springer. 

Anyone is welcome to volunteer as model. Although models are preferred to be nude from an artistic perspective, models are given the choice to wear underwear. “We let people do what they feel comfortable with,” says Springer. She estimates about half of the models choose to wear underwear.

Dhriti Kamath, second-year humanities student, attended several classes as a participant before modelling herself. “I was not expecting to be confronted with so much apparent nudity,” says Kamath, adding, “it was the first time for me being able to look at the body for art.” Kamath found being a “figure” (a term she prefers over “model”), a valuable experience. “You realize your body doesn’t have to be ideal,” says Kamath, “you learn how to draw everyone’s body, [it] doesn’t matter what you look like. […] In the end, you’re taking a person and turning them into a figure”.

Charlie Hofer, second-year Social Science student, confirmed the positive impact of the classes on her self-perception. “It gives a boost of confidence to be seen in an artistic way. Normally, when you’re naked and in front of people it’s sexual, but when you’re sitting there nobody cares. […] You think, this is normal, this is my life, this is beautiful, and I feel beautiful in it.”

As models, Kamath and Hofer note the influence of seeing the drawings students made of them. “It’s really amazing, it’s way different than seeing pictures of yourself,” says Hofer. Kamath added “You forget there’s subjectivity behind it [your body]. […] It’s pretty cool to see the people’s drawings of you, they have different interpretations and stylistic choices.”

Kamath and Hofer both found comfort in the fact that the classes take place in the Dorms. Hofer says: “it wouldn’t be the same atmosphere if it wasn’t in the dorms, this way it doesn’t feel like a big deal. It feels like friends getting together, a very comfortable and homey feeling […] It’s a very lovely, trusting atmosphere.” Kamath notes, “There is a sense of trust. […] There is a shared sense of everyone being kind of in it together. […] Judgement kills the vibe”.

“Figure drawing and life drawing, you can’t replace that with anything,” says Springer. “My favourite thing about figure drawing is, you look at all bodies like art. […] It makes you more accepting of yourself. That’s a really nice aspect of it, I think.”

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