Life Drawing 101

by Alden Cole on March 13, 2014 · 0 comments

charcoal drawings on newsprint, 24″ x 18″ • collection of the artist

HimNHerWP1962. So how did I wind up at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design), one of the most prestigious art schools in the country, a school I had never even heard of before my senior year in high school? Must have been the fickle finger of fate. Joe McCarthy, my guidance counselor at Thornton, asked me at the beginning of senior year if I had considered going to an art school, since my scores on the Iowa tests taken junior year indicated a strong interest in that direction. ‘No’ I answered, because I had always assumed I would go to the University of Maine in Orono and major in Mathematics, since that was what I excelled at. There was also a possibility I might get into Bowdoin College in New Brunswick, Maine; considering my grade-point average there was a good chance I might score a scholarship as well. Mr. McCarthy asked if would be interested in taking a look at some art school catalogs anyway, despite my mind being theoretically made up about where I was going and what I was planning to study. I accepted his offer; in my mind’s eye I can still see him going to the bookshelves in his office, talking all the while, pulling five school catalogs off the shelves, which he then handed to me with an ingratiating smile and a jovial farewell. My life was about to change course. Off I went with catalogs for the Boston Museum School, Cooper Union in NYC, Cranbrook School of Art near Detroit, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (only a few blocks from where I now live), and RISD. AFter perusing the catalogs I put aside the one for Boston Museum School, which, despite being the closest to home, was a fine art school only – painting, sculpture, I don’t remember what else; I knew that school was in a league I was not. Same applied to PAFA. Cooper Union, the most desirable because it was tuition free, seemed totally inaccessible to my less-than-totally-confident self; besides which it was in NYC and I wasn’t ready for that kind of ‘prime time’… at least not yet. Cranbrook was too far away in my estimation for serious consideration, so RISD carried the day because it offered so many commercially-oriented majors, which I felt more confident about: Illustration, Graphics, Fashion Design, Textile Design, Architecture in three strengths (straight, interior, & landscape), Ceramics. I decided to apply, with the intention that if I failed to get accepted, I would revert to plan A: Bowdoin or U of Maine. Since art classes were not part of Thornton’s curriculum I had no portfolio to submit, so instead RISD arranged with Mr. McCarthy to give me a drawing test, which consisted of drawing a specific chair that was placed in front of me, then drawing the same chair from memory. Apparently I did well, because I was accepted in early January 1962; after an application for financial aid, I received a scholarship that covered most of my tuition, which at that time was a mere $1000 per annum; although that amount was a lot more expensive than UMO, and enough to prohibit my attendance without the scholarship. I was lucky. In mid-September 1962 I went off to Providence, full of trepidation and excitement at being on my own and elsewhere for the first time in my life. Although I had cousins in East Providence so I didn’t feel totally at a loss for familiarity, I saw them rarely, particularly once I had settled into my new life. Angell House, my dorm freshman year, where I shared a room with fellow freshman Peter Corebridge (where are you now Pete?), was the beginning of a great and mysterious adventure in education which continues to the present day. One of the great learnings on many levels was Life Drawing. Although I knew from the catalog that I would be drawing from the nude model, I didn’t really THINK about that fact until the morning of my first three-hour long life class. I arrived early with a fellow student from Angell House who sat beside me, nervously sharpening his charcoal pencils, kneading his kneaded eraser, fiddling with his pad of 18″ x 24″ newsprint, expressing his virtual disbelief: was a model really going to come into the room and takeoff her clothes, after which we were expected to draw her? Yes; and it happened just like it has happened in a thousand other ateliers and class rooms all over the world for many centuries. An ordinary looking woman walked into the room in a dressing gown, calmly disrobed behind a screen, came out from behind, stepped onto the podium, and struck a pose; the teacher said ‘start drawing folks’ and we were off. After 60 seconds, the teacher called ‘change pose’ and the model struck another. After twenty of these one-minute croquis, plus a brief break for the model, we progressed to four five-minute poses, another break, two ten-minute poses to fill out the first hour. This was followed by three twenty-minute poses with breaks in between, then a single one-hour pose with breaks every twenty minutes. Throughout freshman year this became the morning ritual, three days a week from 8:30 – 11:30. Surprisingly, considering my tendency to hold onto my creations, none of those life drawings covering hundreds of sheets of newsprint, both the quick croquis and the longer studies, have survived the downsizing of years. The two chosen for today’s post were done years later while living in NYC, studying at the Art Students League. Although these drawings have the benefit of a few more years of experience and honing my craft, they’re still representative of a skill level I achieved early on while still at RISD. Drawing has proved to be a natural for me, and I’m still working at it…

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