Artists have been gathering like this since the Renaissance: Observing a nude model, drawing implement in hand, striving to capture the essence of the human form with three-dimensional likeness on a two-dimensional surface — week after week, year after year.

“If you can draw a figure you can draw anything,” said 68-year-old Michael Heskanen, a watercolorist and draughtsman from Auburn who has been drawing from models for three decades. He attends drop-in life drawing sessions at Olin Arts Center at Bates College on Wednesday nights, along with several other Mainers at various levels of artistic ability.

Drop-in sessions at Bates College are an opportunity for artistically inclined adults to try their hand at drawing the human form from observation. Photo by Amy Paradysz

“The learning comes slow,” Heskanen said. “It takes years to develop your technique and your skill. If you draw a tree and get a branch a little bit wrong, it’s no big deal. But if you get an eye a little bit wrong, everybody notices it right away. We’re cued to see that.”

Educator Curator Anthony Shostak says Bates makes a point to hire not only student models but also older models from the community, both male and female.

“You’re drawing humans — real people with scars or saggy skin,” Shostak said. “It’s important for an artist to see what the human form looks like over time, and life drawing is an opportunity to draw regularly while seeing other people’s techniques and strategies.”

The model starts with five poses of five minutes each, then two poses of 15 minutes each, as artists arrive, set up and try their hands at quick sketches. Everyone takes a short break, then the model holds a sustained pose of an hour and a half in two 45-minute chunks.


“A lot of people will draw one angle during the first half of the sustained pose and another for the second half,” said student Nolenn Robison, who manages the sessions and has participated as both an artist and a model. “There’s something much more alive and gestural about live models. With a photo you can measure, but with a live model you have to concentrate on using your eyes. I would recommend it to any drawing experience level.”

Painter and video installation artist Anita Clearfield of Litchfield has been drawing at these sessions for a decade.

“There’s a corps of community members who travel pretty far,” she said. “It’s a community of people who respect art and the process of making art. My usual work is a lot of figurative abstraction, but this is an observational and keeps the hand-eye coordination.”

Mike Hickey, who teaches middle school art in Yarmouth, sets up his easel with black, white, and gray acrylics, painting the broad outlines of the human figure in front of him. When model changes pose, Hickey uses a large brush to coat his canvas over with gray and begin anew.

“It’s good for me to be reminded how challenging it is to observe and capture what I’m seeing,” he said. “It’s good to be humbled.”

Sessions resume Jan. 15 and continue every Wednesday during the academic year, 6-9 p.m. at Olin Arts Center, Room 259, 75 Russell St., Lewiston. Easels and drawing stools are provided, but bring your own supplies. Admission is $10 ($9 for Friends of the Museum), free for Bates students. Advance-paid tickets are $90 for 10 sessions, $80 for Friends of the Museum. For more information: 207-786-8302 or

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough.

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