Access and Expression: Draw-A-Thon 2014

On the first warm evening of the spring, I walked up the stairs of Hege-Cox and entered an artistic sanctuary. With all of the doors and windows open on the third floor, a cool breeze and artistic energy flowed through the drawing, painting, and print studios. For the first time during my four years at Guilford, I attended Draw-A-Thon, an annual community event created to give students an opportunity to practice sketching live models.

The event is a six and a half hour sketch-fest, with live music, snacks, and most notably, live models. Though the studios on the third floor of the art building are open, each room is dedicated to a time interval for posing (fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, and an hour) and all had their own personality. The drawing studio, the fifteen-minute room was more sporadic, the print lab was thirty-minutes and was calm and collaborative, and the hour-long room, the painting studio, felt serious and individualistic. I spent the majority of my evening in the print studio, indulging in the music and soaking in the creativity of my peers.

Draw-A-Thon has existed for years as an accessible space for figure drawing to the whole community. What has always been an art department sponsored event is now attended by students from across the school’s population. In the main room alone, there was everyone from senior thesis students to first-years, professors and athletes, hobbyists and even non-Guilford students. How special is this one space that it brings together parts of our entire campus over a common goal, expression.

I asked one of this year’s student coordinators, Conway Boyce ’15, about why this event is so important. “Drawing models is a specific experience,” he explains. “Drawing what you see and what you think you see are two different things. This event gives our community a chance to practice focusing on aesthetic not just anatomy.” While access is hugely important with Draw-A-Thon, he brings up an interesting point. So much of our artistic experience is expression of the world around us. In the arts, we have found ways to critique and describe others art, but we are still interpreting an experience. The difference between what we see in the physical world and what we think we see are in fact totally different, but that is particularly highlighted when sketching live models. We can see the curves of a hip, the slight texture to different parts of the skin, the shallow indent of a clavicle, but is that expressed in a sketch? Is that even necessary? Draw-A-Thon provides not just access to art, but a chance to learn the difference between aesthetic and anatomy, as Conway put it.

As a first time attendee of Draw-A-Thon, I had a few expectations. Mostly, I thought being around so many nude models, that are also fellow students, would be awkward for me. But that gut-reaction, that hesitance and discomfort, passed within seconds of entering the space. Whether they were experienced models or first-timers, the collaborative and professional atmosphere of the space totally negated the vulnerability of nudity amongst peers. However, the live music and the access to space and materials was a bit of a let down. Music is crucial to encouraging expression and cutting the silence of a live drawing session, but the artists who were booked didn’t match the mood of the room. I wanted something soothing, maybe instrumental, but found the often loud singing and and guitar playing to be sensory overload. The thought behind the event came through and had a successful turn out, but the intention behind the planning was a bit lacking.

Though I am critical, I am so excited by the access and audience of Draw-A-Thon this year. I hope that as students and a department, we can find a way to harness the energy and participants to continue collaboration between art students and the rest of the school. When have you had unexpected access to creative expression? What does that do for you and your creative process? Comment below and start the conversation!

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