Back when Jen Charboneau lived in Minneapolis, she used to attend a figure drawing class.
“Every Sunday, rain or shine, didn’t matter if it was Christmas or not,” she said. She was an already an art school graduate, but she still found that regular figure drawing practice helped sharpen her skills. So, when she moved to Reno in 2015, she wanted to stay in practice. She thought of just hiring a model for private sessions. Then, she decided to get a group together to split the model’s fee, which runs about $25 per hour. She started hosting Drink & Draw, a biweekly class at Reno Art Works, where she manages the gallery.
True to its name, the class takes place in a higher-stimulation environment that you’d likely find in a college or museum. Charboneau might show a movie or position a model interacting with a sculpture or video projection in one of RAW’s small gallery rooms, and, yes, students are welcome to bring snacks and drinks.
“It’s from beginners, first-timers, to people who are professionally practicing as artists,” she said. “It’s a broad range of artists. We supply some materials for beginners. We always have paper and charcoal and pencils. … If you came in and you had never done a figure drawing before, you wouldn’t really feel awkward.”
Charboneau described her teaching method as “hands-off,” meaning she doesn’t fuss over whether students’ lines or shading are perfect.
“I’m secretly teaching things I want to work on, things I want to push myself through,” she said.
She likes to capture motion, for example, so sometimes she’ll challenge students to draw a model doing a series of dance movements. Other times, the model stays still, and the students move around at timed intervals, musical-chairs-style.
“One time, just because it was something I wanted to practice for another show, I made them do eight-second drawings,” she said. “I was like, ’OK, I have to make sure this is possible.’ Everybody was frustrated, but everybody did it. Because you learn from everything.”
One thing that several students are beginning to specialize in is finding what Charboneau called the “points of weight” of a body. So, instead of aiming to perfect contour lines or shading, they’ll think more about how to make the figure’s relationship to gravity look convincing. But if people want to focus on a different technique, they’re welcome to do that, too. Some like to experiment with color. Others draw with the goal of improving their animation skills.
“We do a critique at the end, where we put everything we’ve done on the floor,” Charboneau said. “And the model usually sticks around because they love seeing everything that was created. Everybody’s focusing on different things. It’s like a practice, not getting the finishing touch.”
This month, RAW hosts an exhibit of sketches by Charboneau’s students, plus a few other artists who draw or paint figures.
“What we’re going to do is show a lot of these sketches,” said Charboneau. “We’re just going to put them all over the walls. So the viewer can see, and that way we can also step back and see, what has our progression been, how has each model been manipulated or drawn.”
“Students are progressing noticeably,” she said.