I spent the weekend in a house with 12 other artists drawing nude people in the dead of winter. It was one of the most amazing three days I have spent in a very long time, and I have the kind folks of Red Clay and fellow participants to thank for it.
Red Clay Studio Society (RCSS) is a non-profit group committed to developing art in rural communities. Located in Lower Economy, it is famous for the Red and White Rabbit artist retreats/festivals as well as artist residencies. This year they introduced a weekend retreat for figure drawing, and I was lucky enough to be one of the 12 artists to attend the second installment.
From the moment I walked into the three level house built by organizer Tom Young, I was floored by how comforting and familiar it felt, though I had never been there before. Built with rotating artist residency in mind, there were cubby holes and loft style beds located all over the place to call your own. Strangely enough, while there was 12 of us in the house at one point, finding a private space to reflect or just to relax was never hard.
Strike A Pose
This retreat focused on indoor figure drawing. There were about four one-hour nude sessions a day plus a costumed session Saturday and Sunday. An interesting aspect was that it was us attendees who were the models. Most of us had limited or no modeling experience, and we all worried we wouldn’t live up to our own standards of what made for good modeling. Dynamic poses! Visually interesting negative spaces! NO MOVING!
Posing was on a volunteer basis, and those that did always commented on the same thing – a sense of coming to terms with one’s body image and a new appreciation for the five minute pose. Positioning yourself with pizzazz for that seemingly short amount of time felt like an eternity, and holy Hell can you work up a sweat. Full disclosure – it’s been a bucket item list of mine to do nude modeling for a group for years. The environment at Red Clay was so safe, that even though I only knew a handful of people there, I was completely comfortable and signed up at once. I figured being in somewhat of a ‘character’ would make me less nervous, so I wore red ram horns and posed to crazy rock music. No regrets, add it to your own list. I didn’t fall over and I didn’t even fart. Bonus.
A Weekend For All Drawers
The kind of artists that attended had a lovely variety of background and skill levels. Some people were seasoned artists or regular attendees of the Plan B life drawing sessions we promote here on E3C. Others were getting back into drawing after a long absence, while some were drawing the human form for the first time. Props to those last people for diving right in at a retreat level!
Pointers, art supplies and new techniques were shared by all, and there was no pressure to show your work after each session. Everyone did though, simply because it was like entering a new gallery every hour. With the amount of encouragement that went around was so positive, why hide your work? A new technique I picked up was from an animator named Kyle who cut out random shapes out of coloured paper, looked at the pose and then glued them down. The goal was to draw on top of the shapes and where line and shape meet, you push or pull the that part of the figure in or out of space. Or simply draw over them, being conscious of an overall composition. Loads of fun and certainly got my brain working differently in relation to line and page environment.
Affordable And Accessible
The cost of the retreat was only $20, which made it beyond accessible for anyone to attend, and coordinating rides was a breeze. Above that cost, we were each required to bring food to contribute to two meal times we’d chosen ourselves. WE ATE LIKE KINGS. The variety and artistry in the meals blew all our minds, when you consider that no one had a real plan until we all showed up and looked at the items we brought. From homemade spring rolls with peanut sauce to buckwheat and coconut pancakes, every meal was a success and we gobbled it down readily. That much drawing really works up an appetite.
10/10 Would Do This Again
I can’t stress enough the importance of drawing in a group setting. There is immense value in seeing how different people see form, solve issues like foreshortening, and letting go the idea that if you don’t draw it exact, its not worth your time. Drawing isn’t about making things perfect, its about exploring how we describe what we see.
Add to that a space where you are in very close proximity with fellow artists for a whole weekend, and you have the perfect breeding ground for reflection. What thrilled me the most was meeting new people with a passion for drawing who were willing to share their stories of their creative journey. Sometimes you just can’t get that in a two hour public drawing session. To hear others’ experiences, trials and victories was so inspiring. It put a lot of things into perspective for me and made me think deeper about my needs, struggles and goals as an artist.
I would recommend this retreat to anyone who is looking to hunker down with figure drawing in a focused group setting, at any skill level. But the weekend was so much more than just putting medium to paper. It was also about sharing experiences of being creative in a more intimate setting than we usually allow ourselves.
Three days came and went so fast, it was hard to say goodbye. Red Clay and its community are dedicated to offering group experiences around art that come from the heart, and generally not formal education. As a founder of E3C, that’s something I can get behind. Nude, even.
Many many thanks to Tom Young and Heather Darwish for organizing this retreat. Also to Rob Cameron whose accounts of the prior retreat woo’d me to sign up for this, and for his continual Plan B figure drawing sessions. And I’d like to wave hello to fellow attendees Kyle Landry, Emma Fitzgerald, Andrew Jamieson, Omri Haiven, Rosalynn Luliucci and Sheena Thorne as well as the current artist residents Cassie Picollo and Phillipa Gunn who joined in our sessions. Thank you for sharing your artwork with us.
For more information on the larger White Rabbit Open Air Arts Project, artist residencies and other initiates by RCSS, click here. Table image by Phillipa Gunn.