It’s Wednesday at 10 minutes to 6 and night has already descended. In the well-lit back room of the KSOA, large easels and pressboards populate the space like an angular forest of bare wood. Gaetanne Lavoie is waiting for her life drawing students and preparing handouts. I am looking forward to the opportunity of flexing my drawing muscles as I pick an easel unobtrusively off to the side. On this night Gaetanne plans to focus on feet and legs. The photocopies she hands out contain sketches of bones and musculature, roughly blocked-in feet, as well as beautifully rendered views of the foot from all angles—from above, from below, foreshortened, and attached to a leg.
A native of Cornwall, Gaetanne came to Kingston a mere month ago after sojourns in various cities, including Toronto, where she did an Honours BFA at York University; San Francisco, where she spent a further four years studying art; and New York City, where she graduated in 2013 from The Academy. “It was like a Ph.D. programme,” says Gaetanne, meaning its student artists had already developed a personal style and direction. In her own practice, Gaetanne was drawn to portraiture and narrative depictions in a magical, somewhat surrealistic environment. Her drawings are finely detailed; her paintings use vibrant colours, “a nice juxtaposition to the traditional limited palette of the New York school,” she says with a smile.
Before coming to Kingston Gaetanne taught in Montreal and New York for 10 years. Teaching offers a balance to her art practice, she tells me. The KSOA is attractive as a school, she says, because of the calibre of its teachers and the positive energy and warm welcome she has been given by both instructors and staff.
After our model, Paul, has struck a seated pose, Gaetanne gives a foot drawing demo, explaining as she draws, moving from outlining simple geometric forms to developing the “character of the foot”, then grounding it with cast shadows. Paul then finds interesting, quick, one-minute poses to give us a warm-up through gesture drawing before he moves on to five-minute and 10-minute poses that allow us to observe more carefully and add detail, keeping in mind foot composition. Gaetanne has prefaced this period of more focussed observation by saying, “Look for value patterns, abstract forms, tangents, shadow shapes.”
Students are working on large sheets of newsprint or in smaller spiral-bound sketchbooks. They fill pages or create overlapping drawings in different areas of a single page. They are here for different reasons—to upgrade their skills, to satisfy their interest, to learn more, to draw more. Lin, a Queen’s student, has a particular goal: she believes a portfolio of anatomical drawings will give her a leg up when she applies for the very competitive neurobiology master’s programme.
During the second half of the class, while I am taken up with documenting, Paul sustains a half-hour pose, allowing the class to concentrate on his lower extremities. Meanwhile, Gaetanne circulates, offering encouragement and suggestions, referring at times to her handouts as scaffolding. “This is a challenge,” she concedes.
As I put away my paper and drawing tools, fully formed feet are starting to appear on the easels and in the sketchbooks of the student artists. I am glad of the chance to participate, however briefly, in Gaetanne’s class. On leaving the KSOA, two of her comments about life drawing stay with me: “Find the parts that you really love,” and “Try using an unforgiving medium like pen. It allows you to see patterns of weakness.” The first encourages us to see beauty; the second, to take risks in the pursuit of mastery.
Gaetanne Lavoie will be offering a 10-week life drawing course starting January 16 and a six-week course dedicated to the study of the head, hands and feet starting February 11.