Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Artists learn from life

• Several life-drawing workshops offered around O'ahu

By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer

Paul Hosch of Kahala sketches during an art class at Windward Community College.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Life drawing — drawing the nude figure — is a classical art technique. Throughout history, from prehistoric cave painters to Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Picasso, artists have tried to capture the essence of the human form.

"It's always been an enduring subject for art making. We have a compulsion to make images of ourselves," said artist and life-drawing teacher Chuck Davis, who works out of a studio in Palolo.

"Life drawing is part of the classical tradition. The Renaissance masters considered it so important that they dissected bodies to learn anatomy. They all knew you had to understand the figure or it's hard to paint or draw people in a convincing way," said artist and art professor Snowden Hodges of Windward Community College, who also teaches life drawing.

But in Hawai'i's self-conscious society, where do you find a nude model to be your muse?

Three Honolulu artists have stepped forward to help, setting up informal drop-in workshops where artists of all levels of experience can come to draw or paint nude models. It is a serious commitment to find models, set fees and make all of the arrangements, but they do it for love of art.

Why draw from life?

Artist Yoko Radke arranges two of the workshops (see info box, Page E3). Radke originally painted landscapes, still lifes and flowers, but more than a decade ago she switched to portraits and nudes because, she said, "I find everything in life drawing — landscapes, still life — it's all in the contours of the face or body."

Why is a live model necessary?

"It brings a certain quality into the painting you can't get any other way," said Paul Hosch, who attends three of the workshops each week.

"It's a wonderful community resource. We all appreciate it," said Davis, who attends two or three of the sessions, in addition to teaching his own life-drawing class at the Academy Art Center.

Although several of the workshops take place on college campuses, they are independent and are not affiliated with the schools.

Unlike a formal class, which requires tuition and regular attendance, these workshops are held on a drop-in, pay-as-you-go basis. They are ideal for the beginner or working person who cannot commit to an art class.

The beginners

Julie and Billy Folk of Diamond Head arrived at the Tuesday Chaminade life-drawing workshop clutching their drawing pads and looking sideways at their fellow participants with nervous, downward glances. They sat on stools and leaned over their drawings as far as possible so no one could see their work.

"I was terrified," said Julie of her first life-drawing class. "I had done some drawing 30 years ago, but put it aside, thinking it was something to get back to 'some day.' But my husband likes it, so we decided 'Why wait?' "

They were back the next week, with broad smiles and big drawing pads. Why?

"I like that I can do it — and I'm surprised by it. Drawing is easier to me than painting," Julie said, adding: "The people there are not judgmental."

That's an observation shared by many. There doesn't seem to be any attitude. Competition is not part of the process. Criticism is unheard of unless requested. Even then, the positive always precedes the constructive criticism. That's the nature of these life-drawing workshops.

"Julie and Billy are getting bit by the bug," said Chami-nudes coordinator Brown.

The model

Life-drawing models are not chosen for their beauty or perfection, although many are beautiful. The important thing is that they know how to strike poses that resonate with the artists.

The best portrait models have distinctive features and interesting facial expressions.

Nude models must be able to strike energetic poses that enable the artists to draw sinuous lines that communicate emotion and passion.

Davis said he has become a "model snob."

"I like models that are inspiring. Certain people are naturally graceful and that's what I look for."

In his book "The Art Spirit," Robert Henri said "Drawing is not following a line on the model, it is drawing your sense of the thing ... Yours should be the drawing of the human spirit through the human form. You will never draw the sense of the thing unless you are feeling it at the time you work."

There are not many such models in Honolulu, and the good ones are much in demand. Most models are also artists or art students who model for love of art, not money. Hawai'i life-drawing models make $12 to $35 an hour.

Ask a local artist about models and one name usually comes up first: Erica McMillan.

"She's my muse," Davis said with a chuckle.

McMillan, who was unavailable for interview because she was rather busy having a baby, has been modeling for many years. She modeled through the birth of her first child and plans to model again in just a few weeks.

Rachel Blaser, a doctoral candidate in psychology, has been modeling for life-drawing classes for a year.

A shy person, she said the first time "I didn't think about it too much until I was already on stage, and by then it was too late to get nervous. You just take a deep breath and plunge in."

"It surprised me the first time when I was able to take off my clothes in front of a lot of people. But once you can do that, you can do just about anything. It helps me overcome my shyness. The artists are friendly and encouraging. It would be more intimidating if they weren't so warm and encouraging," she added.

Blaser, who enjoys drawing and painting as a hobby, said she studied art books to see what poses seem to work best. She also takes cues from the artists.

All kinds of students

At Paki Hale, a long-haired, deeply tanned, fit-looking senior citizen flitted into the room and, with quick, birdlike gestures, sat cross-legged a few feet in front of the model, threw down a huge pad of paper and began drawing with pastel, using his entire torso to create broad strokes of bold color.

Retired teacher Clem Crow, whose name is surprisingly appropriate to his personage, often completes a ready-for-framing pastel during each 20-minute session of the Monday workshop. The only materials he brings are a grungy old box of pastels and a huge drawing pad.

Others turn up with carts on wheels crammed with easels, palettes, paints, brushes and boxes of charcoal, pastels, crayons and pencils. Some bring pads of newsprint, while others are equipped with 140-pound watercolor paper.

Some artists use their time to draw quick pencil sketches of various poses. Others end the session with a completed oil or watercolor painting.

Styles vary widely as well. Some draw delicate, barely-there pencil lines, others go at it with the side of black charcoal sticks, cutting a dark swath across the paper.

Artists attending these workshops represent all manner of ages, ethnicities and socio-economic strata. There is no artistic snobbery in evidence at any of the groups.

"The only requirement for attendance is that you draw," said Hodges. It doesn't matter if you are a professional artist or a rank beginner — all levels are welcome, and no one judges another's work.

Prominent Honolulu artist Pegge Hopper said "Learning to draw from life is one of the most important things I ever disciplined myself to do as an artist ... We go back to these classes throughout life. You have to get over that discomfort of 'Gee I can't do this,' and the classes help you get over it."

When Hopper attended the Art Center of Pasadena, life drawing was required daily. She studied old masters and the classical style. Now she brushes up on her skills by dropping in on Mark Brown's Chaminade workshop.

"I think it's an invaluable service because most artists realize they have to learn to draw the figure.

It's ideal to be able to go to these classes and work without criticism. When you're in a school you're expected to do it a certain way — when I went to school we were expected to draw in the classical style. But with these classes, you can find your own way of expressing yourself with your drawing."

• • •

Several life-drawing workshops offered around O'ahu

Sunday Figure Drawing Sessions

  • Where & when: University of Hawai'i-Manoa Art Building, Room 323; Sundays, 9:30 a.m.i4:30 p.m. $5 per session
  • The facilitator: Yoko Radke, professional portrait artist who works in pastels and oils. (Duane Preble said the roots of this workshop are in 'A'ala Park, where artist Ken Bushnell had a studio in the 1960s. Les Miller took it over and moved it to UHiManoa in the 1970s. Preble took on the task in 1978, and Radke accepted the responsibility in 1980.)
  • The format: Artists sit in a circle on drawing horses (benches that enable the artist to lean a drawing pad against the front). Several spotlights create one-directional light. Model changes poses every two minutes during the first 10 minutes, then every five minutes, once for 10 minutes and all afternoon is a series of five 20-minute sessions. Large windows let in light from mauka corner. Worktables are near the windows for those who prefer standing.
  • The vibe: Absolute silence and concentration during the poses, followed by warm camaraderie and sharing of work (optional, of course) during the breaks
  • The DJ: Scott Goto, artist and children's book illustrator, who plays a varied menu of jazz, rock, classical and even a little New Age
  • The artists: 12 to 24 people, skewing a little younger than the other groups, with more students, including three high school art students

"Kindred Spirits"

  • Where & when: Paki Hale, 3840 Paki Ave., next to Kapi'olani Park; 9:30 a.m.inoon Mondays. $3 per session
  • The facilitator: Yoko Radke, who started it in 1991
  • The format: Portrait class, face only. Classroom style, seated on folded chairs. Model sits at the front with one spotlight coming from the left. Model poses for 20 minutes, punctuated with five-minute breaks.
  • The vibe: Casual and informal, in a sunny, light-filled garden/home setting. The artists clearly have become friends and enjoy sharing art and life.
  • The DJ: Anthony Mendibil, who plays mostly classical (Beethoven is a favorite) but some jazz, Italian contemporary and a little rock to help the model stay awake
  • The artists: Mainly retirees — an eclectic mix of physicians, lawyers and teachers who enjoy capturing the essence of a model's personality. Twelve to 20 attend.


  • Where & when: Chaminade University, Eiben Hall, Room 203; Tuesdays, 7-9:30 p.m. $4i$6, depending on number of models and number of attendees
  • The facilitator: Mark N. Brown, who started the workshop in 1989. Brown is a professional artist and an owner of Atelier 4 gallery in downtown Honolulu. He also teaches plein-air oil painting with the UH-Manoa Outreach program.
  • The format: Flat tables in a "U" shape, with drawing horses in front. The models pose on a stage with a canvas backdrop hung from the ceiling. They begin with 10 two-minute poses, followed by two five-minute poses, one 10-minute pose and three 20-minute poses.
  • The vibe: Casual and informal, with people arriving at different times and finding their spots
  • The DJ: Jared Wickware was asked by Brown "to inject energy into the models" with upbeat music. Wickware played Blondie, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and Paul Simon
  • The artists: From 12-24 people. Professional artists Chuck Davis, Pegge Hopper and Dick Adair often attend. About a third were students and several were first-timers.

Windward Drawing Workshop

  • Where & when: Windward Community College, Palanakila Building, Room 202; Fridays, 1:30i4:30 p.m. $30 for 10 weeks or $5 for each session
  • The facilitator: Snowden Hodges, who began the Windward Drawing Workshop in 1981. He is a professor of art at Windward Community College.
  • The format: Artists sit in a circle on drawing horses in a modern, well-lit room. Model changes poses every two minutes at first, followed by longer poses of 25 minutes.
  • The vibe: Studious, quiet and contemplative. The model, Erica, has a dynamism that sends little electric shocks through the room when she changes poses, but then it mellows out right away.
  • The DJ: Snowden Hodges, who said he doesn't like anything less than 200 years old, but occasionally slips in a little Simon & Garfunkle
  • The artists: Oddly, there don't seem to be any students. Most are older than 40, and several are prominent local artists. There are some retirees: an advertising executive, a physician and a teacher.