The art of moderating a life drawing session

If you’ve attended a life drawing session, there’s likely a person there moderating the session. I’ve started doing it in the last year, and it’s harder than it looks.  In fact, it’s an art form in and of itself.

Plying the artists with sweetness.

First of all, remember that the moderator is likely a volunteer.  As in … they get nothing for doing this; it’s something they only do out of goodwill for the club. So giving the moderator grief is a jerk move.  #Avoid10648998_10152835882833281_1381088158106910824_o

When I have time, I buy snacks, which I pay for out of my own pocket. Snacks are a crucial part of the drawing experience at our group, lol, though other sessions I attend do not have them. In the summer, we have a member whose wife makes us sweets, so I bring savory snacks during those months. During the winter, it’s donuts all the way.

The session before the session.

I generally arrive a half an hour early, save myself a decent easel, and start prepping the room. I clean the snack area, get a pot of coffee going, and take out all the snacks.  I pull leftover tape off the model stand, plug in all the spotlights and get the fans going, being careful to position them so that they don’t blow on one of our older artists, who’s always cold.  I run upstairs and ask the gallery assistant to call the model to confirm. I arrange the room to optimize the cramped space, pulling the drawing desks to the back because they take up so much room. Then I arrange the model stand.

Artists start arriving. I try to give a shoutout to everyone as they arrive. Some always forget what the format is for each session, so I remind them and answer other questions … when do we start, who is the model, is the restroom fixed, etc.

You’re dependent on the kindness of models.

I really appreciate a model who shows up at least ten minutes early, but most of them don’t. This means I’m already running behind before we start. I have a short chat with the model when she arrives to discuss what poses we need, then the model disrobes and takes the stand. I generally let the model figure out a pose before giving any instructions. Half the time, no instruction is necessary. Seems like the more specific direction I give, the worse the pose gets. So I’m intentionally oblique if I don’t like the pose, using words like, “Can you do something else with your left arm?,” or “You’re looking a little uncomfortable.  Maybe relax more.” Artists who ask for specific things of the model are not being helpful; it is unfair to expect the model to navigate the room and please everyone. Direction should only come from the moderator.

Once the pose is settled, I adjust the lights, and trust me, they aren’t all that adjustable. Plus if you deliberate for even a second, the artists start chiming in with ideas, usually in direct conflict with each other. I’ve learned to smile, nod and ignore.

And, we’re off.

Finally, we’re going. I announce that the pose has begun, how long it is until the break, and set my timer. I then walk back to my own easel. Somehow all the prep always means I haven’t had time to set up. I start pulling out all my materials and trying to get my head into the drawing. But my concentration is soon interrupted.

Inevitably, I forget to turn the music on, so I pop up and get that going, knowing full well that there’s no way to please everyone,andIMG_3189 there will be complaints. People keep arriving late. I greet them, try to point out available spaces, and give them an update on how much time is left in the pose. I periodically check the model to make sure he or she is not shifting too much. I turn my attention back to my drawing. Maybe I can get started. I put a few marks down, then give a five-minute warning before the break. Time to start hunting for the marking tape. I spot it and mark the model’s position, being careful not to tape any hair, then give her a break. An older member has been away from his easel for a long time; that’s very unlike him, so I go hunting for him on the break to make sure he hasn’t had a heart attack or something. I find him upstairs in the lounge, sleeping. I make sure he’s breathing, then head back downstairs.

Staying alert during the session.

As the session continues, my work is ongoing. Wrangling the model back onto the stand in a timely fashion after the break. Making sure the pose is reassumed correctly. Determining new poses and which chairs or props work best for those. Adjusting the lights. Reminding the artists repeatedly how long the pose is and giving timing updates. Making any announcements that the club needs. Paying attention to see if the model becomes uncomfortable/asking if he needs an early break. We have a tip jar for the models to encourage attendance and to help them out.  Most nights the model pockets an extra $10-$20. They don’t get paid that much and they’re a crucial part of the process, so I give little reminders about the tip jar. And the coffee fund. If the model is good, I throw extra money in the jar to make up for those who stiff the model.

During the session, there’s always some of what I call “daycare for artists.” Helping out late arrivals who can’t find or move an easel.  Shutting down any convos about the model that aren’t appropriate or respectful (“C’mon now, don’t be creepy!”). Trying to head off any disputes between temperamental members at the pass. Refilling the coffee pot. Monitoring the amount of conversation to make sure it isn’t too loud or doesn’t go on for a  long time. One artist complains all the time because he likes to work in stony silence. Another hates working to music. The majority of members, though, come for both camaraderie and drawing, so I go for a balance that keeps most people happy. Somebody always whines; meh.

Your own work … it will likely suffer.

Between all this, I attempt to draw. Most of the time, it doesn’t go well. It’s hard to concentrate with all the distractions. Due to my Catholic upbringing, I then wallow in shame if people look at what’s on my easel, lol. Epic fail. I figure they wonder how I ever became moderator, ha.  (The previous moderator left and I happened to have a timer app on my phone.) I hear them thinking, “Hack!” in my head.

When it’s all over, since it’s a nonprofit, I clean up. Some people hang back with comments and questions. While attending to those, I unplug the lights and appliances so the place doesn’t burn down. I wash out the coffee pot and pawn off any leftover food to keep the bugs at bay. I make sure the model gets those tips. I sweep up pencil shavings from the member who sharpens his pencils onto the floor. I then pack up my own compromised drawings and head out. Sigh; I could have drawn better!

Stuff your moderator appreciates.

If you’re attending a life drawing session, help the moderator out. Offer to lift furniture on and off the stand. Make coffee if the pot is low. Be mindful that others are around, and don’t block their views. Don’t second guess the moderator’s decisions unless she asks. Offer to help clean up afterward so the moderator can get out of there. But most of all:  be in a good mood and be low maintenance. We’re all trying to draw here, :)!

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