Capturing life in a sketchbook

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By Nancy Coombs

The Artist’s Gallery at the Art Center at Fuller Lodge looks ready to set sail, with large newsprint sheets suspended on weighted lines throughout the space. The current show, “Life Drawing Sketchbook” is unlike any other show ever mounted in Los Alamos, with a multitude of human forms in a variety of shapes, clothed and unclothed and in a variety of formats. An elongated wood sculpture sits surrounded by a flurry of images, framed and unframed: predominantly charcoal sketches with a handful of paintings and even a couple of photographs. A large sign advertises the show as “PG-13” due to nudity, but although many of the figures in the show are nude, none are featured in a sexual way. The public is invited to attend an opening reception for “Life Drawing Sketchbook” from 5-7 p.m. Friday.


To capture a figure realistically while maintaining a confident line is extremely challenging. Many artists feel that live models are a key to creating robust realistic images. They believe that drawing from a photograph leads to flat images, without a sense of life. At the Art Center, the model poses on a stand, sometimes using furniture or other props. “Life Drawing Sketchbook” incorporates a few of these elements (such as the artist benches) into the display, recreating the atmosphere of an actual life drawing session.

Life drawing groups meet in many communities, but few can boast of meeting continuously for more than 50 years, as can the Los Alamos Life Drawing Group. In 1958 Joan McConnell and Pat Patterson started the group, which met in a small building at the corner of 15th and Central Avenue (where Metzger’s Do It Best now stands). McConnell moved to Santa Fe in 1984, but has continued to practice life drawing. Several of her pieces are in the show. Three successful local artists, David Delano, Kathi Geoffrion Parker and Betty Nance Smith, started attending the life drawing sessions led by McConnell when they were high school students. Delano and Parker still attend the sessions and have numerous pieces featured in this show.

Currently the group meets twice weekly at the Art Center, and is open to all interested artists. Ken Nebel leads the group, lining up models, putting on the music and setting the timer for the model’s poses. Posing without clothing is not a requirement, but the model must be able to hold a pose for a long time and feel comfortable as the center of attention. The artists sit at benches or stand behind easels at different places around the room and the resulting images all have different perspectives. On Wednesday evenings, the group warmsup with sketches from 15-second poses, and the model gradually works up to a 50–minute pose. During the Sunday session, the model holds the same pose for more than four hours, which is ideal for painters.

Finding models in Los Alamos can prove to be challenging, but also interesting. Viewers attending the “Life Drawing Sketchbook” exhibit are apt to recognize a face or two among the images, but not many. Nebel has an ad posted on CraigsList. One time a professional acrobat stopped in to pose in Los Alamos, while traveling through the area. Another model had just returned from a three-month stint in Antarctica, where he ran a gas station.

In the Portal Gallery, Susannah Smith takes us around the world in a show titled “Travels.” Her beautiful color photographs, accompanied by interesting anecdotes, will awaken the travel bug in everyone.

“Life drawing Sketchbook” and “Travels” will exhibit at the Art Center at Fuller Lodge from Friday through  Nov. 21. The Art Center, 2132 Central Avenue,  offers free admission Monday –Saturday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Call 662-9331 for more information.