• Mon. May 27th, 2024

Reconfiguring the Nude: A review of Summerhall’s Life Class

ByRachel Hartley

Feb 14, 2023
a black and white illustration of a life drawing class

My flatmate and I have been intermittently attending the Reconfigure life drawing class at Summerhall since the start of this academic year. It was her suggestion, to try out something artsy in freshers’ week, after finding the page on Facebook. Of course, I said yes. Why not try it?

As someone who studies art history, I get asked if I practise any form of art in my spare time. For a while now, I’ve been desperate to replace the resounding ‘no…’ with a ‘yes!’. I had a curiosity about the process that goes into depicting the nude figures that I see so often in my course. My flatmate, however, is one of those annoyingly multitalented people that studies STEM but is creative in her own time. 

The first class was not as nerve-wracking as I thought it would be. Upon arriving I indulged in buying one of Reconfigure’s own recycled paper sketchbooks. With pencils and charcoal provided, Summerhall’s space provides the perfect set-up with semi-circular seating around the model so everyone has their own unique view. The models enter, phones are put away, and a certain serenity descends across the class. Music plays, photography is not allowed, and there is not one awkward smile or laugh as the two models dropped their dressing gowns. With everyone observing the model from different angles there is no need for comparison at the end.

The varying length of different poses keep, what could be a rather daunting two hours, interesting. First poses are held for 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 20 or 25 minutes. At some point in the middle there is a break to stretch the legs, check your phone or get a drink from the Summerhall Café. The shorter time increments are a warm-up for the longer ones. The variety of poses allow for personal exploration, and practice drawing different parts of the body. There isn’t any instruction, you’re just let loose. No week is the same, with weekly themed classes ranging from the Garden of Eden, to Showgirls, and to Bauhaus. 

Fast forward to the present day and I cannot say that my drawing skills have improved all that drastically. As someone who hadn’t picked up a pencil since a year 8 art class, the bar was low. I can’t even say my technique or lack thereof, is a deliberate resistance to traditional depictions of the nude. But, with regular practice it is my confidence which has grown.

Most importantly, it is revitalising to have a hobby that is external to the university. The calm atmosphere, the absolute quiet and the concentration on the capturing form facilitates a needed mental break from assessments and applications. That is why life drawing is so great.

Illustration by Kate Granholm.