Rob Cameron considers himself a drawer of all sorts. While he doesn’t have a problem drawing from imagination, or putting together comics from what he calls “His weirdest thoughts”, it’s easy to see one of his main focuses is life drawing. You can see his work on Very Satisfied, and even join him at Plan-B Wednesdays 7pm to 9pm for the life drawing sessions he administrates. We took some time to talk with him and find out what makes life drawing so interesting.
A lot of your recent work is drawing from life, what draws you towards it?
I was really into drawing from life when I went to art school even though I had only really drawn from imagination pre-art school. After school I kind of stopped, but got back into it about two years ago after going to a few life drawing events around town and then one at Plan-B… Until the person that ran that had to give it up and I took it over. Even though I would try to go every week anyway, now I’m committed to going every week. There’s something incredibly addictive about drawing a human being standing in front of you.
It’s definitely a combination of a unique experience every time and good practice.
I do like it for the practice, but I’m also fascinated by people and a big part of art and creativity for me is trying to understand people, interact with people, and learn about people. It’s why I like drawing portraits because you kind of feel like you’re learning something about someone just by the way they carry themself. You can pick up a lot of subtle things about people’s physicality beyond surface appearance. Not their body per-say, but what they’re doing with it.
As an organizer do you give some prompts to the models or is it just “Do what feels right and interesting”?
Typically with most of the models we get, unless someone drawing has a request, they just do what they want. And I prefer it that way with the model being themselves and doing what they want to do. I think another big part of drawing a human being is that there are very few circumstances in life where you are allowed to just stare at someone and they feel comfortable.
It sounds like turbo people-watching. I won’t say it’s voyeuristic because it gives the wrong impression, but more like barriers being down for both parties.
Think about how even if you’re talking to someone right in front of you, you generally don’t have an unbroken stare at them. You don’t just gaze at someone and soak in every detail. You may do that to someone you’re sleeping with. Or maybe a baby. You know just look at a baby and they’re not aware. But you don’t typically don’t do that with other people. There’s a social barrier around just staring someone down. It’s interesting with life drawing that you’re given permission to circumvent that barrier. To me it’s fascinating.
Permission sounds like the important thing there. Everyone has had that sensation of being watched. You can feel it on you and aren’t entirely yourself.
I’ve modeled a few times myself and even with your permission it’s an interesting feeling having people studying you.
It’s also interesting that it’s not just a dialogue between you and the model. They’re generally done as these big group sessions.
A big part of what I like about groups like the life drawing or the e3c is the community part of it. When I first went to a bunch of life drawing events everyone would just pack up and leave afterwards. A few of us who knew each other started going out after Plan-B to bars a little way off. Eventually we just said “Why not go to somewhere everyone can get to” and picked a place closer to the event. Now it’s become a nice regular thing where everyone brings their sketchbooks, have a few beers, and look at what everyone else has done.
Then you get to see how other people have interpreted the same person you were looking at. It’s much more enjoyable to see other people’s work and have a social engagement. It’s nice in the way that finishing a project with someone and then having the celebratory beer is nice. If it’s life drawing, or building a campfire, or some home improvement project, there’s a level of bonding after a shared activity.
Sounds like it becomes a work you’ve done together rather than, “Yes! We have executed this skill in each others presence and now we will leave”.
Exactly. You’re sitting in silence drawing for two hours, and when you go out together after there is a heightened social side of things.
You’re of the opinion that the more of these style of events the better then?
Absolutely! I would love for there to be three of these events a week, and if anyone ever organizes one I promote it. I love these sorts of things and if I’m not busy I’ll go to it. The only thing I’m concerned about is that the model gets paid in these events. Which comes from administrating one now.
Which brings up that you’ve gone from someone who just showed up to these events to someone who organizes them. How has your perspective changed going from participant to actively responsible?
I talk about it all the time trying to get people to come. And I do derive more pleasure from feeling that bit of ownership over it, but I can’t lose myself as much in drawing as before. I’m responsible for everyone else being able to lose themself. It’s why I still like going to other life drawing events so I can just draw and not have to time anything or make sure the model is okay.
…now I could not give a fuck if I was in front of someone doing a drawing and it wasn’t the greatest. To me that’s so good because it means you have no hesitation to try something, and are not held back by the fear of failure.
It must be interesting trying to balance the creative and administrative.
It’s funny you should bring that up. I was just reading this book that everyone in the creative field should read called Daily Rituals by Mason Currey. Basically he brings up the daily work habits of accomplished writers, artists, scientists, and creative people of all sorts. Some people made their money off creativity, and others always had another job. Even if you’re not running an event you’ll always have to deal with the minutia of creative versus administrative.
For me one of the reasons I run it is because I need to do a certain type of drawing, and being responsible for the group makes it a habit. So the administrative serves the creative.
In a way the life drawing group becomes your accountability buddies. One of the benefits of community focus?
It helps in making the habit, but also helps in other ways. When I first moved back to Halifax I was really nervous about drawing in front of other people. I would do that thing where people only see a finished product that you want them to see. Going to these groups and events became my version of that Eleanor Roosevelt quote “Do one thing everyday that scares you”.
Which is a good quote because the things that scare us today usually aren’t life threatening. The thing that scares us the most usually involves some sort of social interaction. So these sort of creative groups helped me get over my hesitations. So yeah, I think going to these sort of things have value. It opens people up to other people, and can help kind of introverted people be a little less timid.
For me it means now I could not give a fuck if I was in front of someone doing a drawing and it wasn’t the greatest. I wouldn’t even bat an eyelash. To me that’s so good because it means you have no hesitation to try something, and are not held back by the fear of failure.