Artists learn skills they can model

NW Freemodel Guild’s use of live subjects a boon for those who paint, draw

By Mary Ann Albright, Columbian Staff Reporter

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Camas artist Maurice Arthurs has drawn and painted more than 1,300 portraits since joining the NW Freemodel Guild about six years ago.

When he compares his earliest efforts to more recent work, Arthurs sees a marked improvement.

“The ones I do now look like the subjects,” the retired electronics technician laughed.

Arthurs has had plenty of opportunity to improve his technique. The NW Freemodel Guild meets twice a week to draw and paint live models, and he tries to make both sessions.

Arthurs was among the earliest members of the guild. It was founded by Vancouver artist Marianne Stokes, who at the time was teaching Mature Learning art classes at Clark College. Arthurs was one of her students.

Still an art instructor, though no longer with Clark College, Stokes started the group to give her portraiture and figure-drawing students the chance to work from a clothed model at little or no cost.

At first the guild met in members’ houses, but quickly word of mouth spread and the group outgrew private residences. They met at various local art galleries before settling into their current locations.

The guild now meets Wednesdays at Jantzen Beach SuperCenter and Saturdays at the Vancouver Marketplace.

The group is open to anyone, and features a range of creative styles, artistic media and experience levels. Typically, between 10 and 18 artists attend sessions. Most of them live in Clark County, but some come from the greater Portland metro area and beyond.

The guild’s welcoming, warm atmosphere is part of what sets it apart, Stokes said. Many members socialize outside the twice-weekly sessions, attending art shows and celebrating New Year’s together.

“We’re very supportive and loving of each other,” she said. “It’s kind of like a big family.”

Though it’s a friendly, social group, participants are intently focused when working. At a recent NW Freemodel Guild session, about 14 artists convened in the Park Room at Jantzen Beach to draw or paint fellow member Johanna Larson.

They set up their easels and worked as classical music played in the background.

Some stood and same sat. They worked in a range of media including watercolor, pastel, charcoal and graphite pencil. Intrigued mall shoppers popped in periodically to watch the artists.

Larson sat for five 30-minute intervals. Many people took pictures of her pose so they could finish at home if they ran out of time.

Modeling is harder than it looks, said Larson, a Vancouver resident.

Usually, different members take turns modeling for about half an hour. On the first and second Wednesday of the month, however, the guild pays someone $30 to sit for the entire three-hour session.

If people want to attend either or both of those sessions, the cost is $5 per month. Otherwise, there is no fee to participate in the guild.

Most studios charge between $10 and $15 to work from a model for several hours, so the NW Freemodel Guild is ideal for people on a fixed income, said member Carol Wood.

Wood, who is retired and most recently worked for the U.S. Forest Service, moved to Vancouver from Mason County about four years ago and joined the guild about three years ago.

Capturing someone’s likeness, like any skill, takes practice, Wood said.

“It’s like playing a piano. The more you practice, the better you get,” she said.

Involvement in the guild has helped Wood grow as an artist, and it’s also helped her establish a social network.

“I’m happy for the opportunity to draw with friends,” she said. “It helps you progress, and also it’s a great social structure for enjoying the company of like-minded friends. I feel almost like I’m with family.”

Mary Ann Albright: maryann.albright@columbian.com, 360-735-4507.