The room was buzzing with energy from nerves, excitement, and socializing. It was clear who were first-timers—we were the ones constantly looking around the room, fidgeting our phones and playing with our art materials. The rest were a bit more relaxed, sitting and ready with their sketch pads and pencils. The organizers, Rocky Belzasar and Mikee Atendido of Whoaremaro, introduced the Lifedrawing Setup (LDS) and explained to the class how many poses each model would be doing and for how long the pose would be held. They thanked the sponsors and the first model made his way to the middle of the room.
Jonathan Cloutier, a hulking Canadian exchange student with a full beard, entered with just a sheet wrapped around his waist. He was introduced to the crowd, which earned him a round of applause, a form of encouragement as it was his first time to pose live. A moment of hesitation passed and then the sheet was removed. He stood naked in the middle of the room, exposed for all the artists to take in.
He settled into a yoga pose that made no attempt to conceal his manhood. And just like that, everyone started drawing. Everyone’s heads moved rapidly, scanning the model then patiently putting their pencils to paper. I found myself a little uneasy. It wasn’t like a locker room where you simply had to keep your eyes up to avoid awkward glances. Here, you scanned every inch of the model’s body, trying to get the shapes and shading right. We could see his struggle to hold the pose, and every deep breath became so apparent to his audience. It helped that everyone else went at it like it was nothing, cool electronic beats filling the room as the minutes went on. An hour and a half had gone by before Jonathan wrapped himself up again.
There was a 30-minute break between models. Everyone was treated to a gin and tonic, and those who grabbed a bite had hotdogs named Dirty Dogs. A lot of the attendees knew each other from art school or past art events, so there was a lot of chitchat. Jonathan, now dressed, made the rounds, looking at the sketches of himself, talking to the artists, and taking pictures with them. As all of this was going on, the second model was getting ready.
After the break, it was Joni Galeste's turn to take the stage. She was a slender, fair-skinned ballerina who wore her hair in a bun. She removed the sheet covering her body and posed gracefully, freezing as if she were caught in the middle of a dance. With a woman posing, the experience was different. The shapes were different. The body language was different. She continued to pose, creating these long, sinewy forms with her torso and limbs. After her time was up, Joni wrapped herself in the sheet and left the platform. As she headed back to the dressing room, eager artists waited to ask for a picture of her with their paintings and illustrations.
Close to midnight, the crowd dispersed and the organizers announced that the afterparty would be at Black Market, a short walking distance away.
Nudity is sensitive
“Nudity is sensitive,” Galeste says. Having read interviews of models who have been famously photographed in the nude and, years later, revealed their regrets and misgivings, I wondered if Cloutier and Galeste would perhaps feel the same way. But once I was there, I witnessed their ease. Atendido explains that consent is a big deal for them. They brief the models about the mechanics and demands of the event before finalizing the schedules.
There's a level of comfort that these settings demand. “When I was clothed," Galeste explains, "they were looking at me like a normal person. But when I removed that sheet, bigla silang nag-game face on. And that made me so comfortable, because suddenly, I wasn’t a person. I could have been an apple, a chair, or a basket. I was merely the subject they had to draw.”
On the flip side, first-time class attendee Karen Claire Rodriguez Ferrao confesses, “I cringed a bit when they undressed. I empathized with the vulnerability of the models, considering it was their first time to model nude.”
“Most girls, when we look at ourselves, we point out our flaws," Galeste shares. "But when I saw the translation on paper, parang ang ganda-ganda! You don’t get to see that anywhere else. It’s so pure.”
“The typical knee-jerk reaction [to say no] kicked in—absolutely!" Raffy Raralio, the boyfriend of Galeste, says. "But this is one of the very few times wherein she could bare all and not be subject to any other agenda but her own.”
Pam Celeridad, a hyperrealistic painter, explains that there is a huge difference between painting/sketching from photos as opposed to a live session. "[In a live session], the details are very tangible and clear. You can even go as far as looking at the pose from different angles to better understand how the light hits your subject. It's virtually impossible for me to learn how to paint portraits without knowledge of the human anatomy. Even sketching a clothed figure requires a certain mastery and understanding of what is underneath. Drawing nude figures is the best—if not, the only— way to achieve the accuracy I need for my paintings.”
Keep these in mind
If you find yourself in front of a nude figure with a pencil in hand, here are tips from various artists who were in attendance.
Belzasar says that you should always start with few quick sketches to fill a page. "There's nothing scarier than a blank page!”
Ferrao suggests studying and concentrating on certain features to get the drawing gears going.
Celeridad gets technical, elaborating that for shorter poses, prioritize gesture [the form and line of action]. And for longer poses, prioritize detail. "Before anything else, simplify the movement and the pose into basic shapes. Start with the head if the model is facing you; but if he has their back towards you, start with the contour of the spine. Then group limbs by using the joints as axes.”
When it comes down to it, art does not exist in a bubble. Beyond its confines, there is still a stigma attached to the naked form. Sexuality is something very inherent in humans.
“Sexuality encompasses a variety of things like physical attraction, sexual preferences, desire, and gender roles," Galeste reminds. "I think [as humans] we've limited the term to physical desire. But nudity shouldn't always be equated to sex.”