For many artists, figure drawing can be the most challenging endeavor to undertake. Keeping this skill sharp requires regular practice, and there’s a local studio that provides an inclusive space for artists to do just that. 

Connecting Point’s Brian Sullivan visited the women-led Go Figure Drawing Studio on Dwight Street in Holyoke and brings us the story.

Read the full transcript:

Brian Sullivan, Connecting Point: It’s Tuesday evening, and several artists who’ve traveled here from all points across the Pioneer Valley and beyond, are finding just the right spot to set up their easels — or establish the ideal vantage point to hone their figure drawing skills for the next two hours. 

It’s a class that’s decades old, in a studio that’s just one of several art venues that can be found in this one block stretch, between Appleton and Dwight Street, in downtown Holyoke. It’s neat to see just how many of these old brick buildings have been repurposed for the arts. 

In the fall of ’22, we stopped by an art studio just across the way on Race Street. So, it only seems fair that we pay a visit to one of the studios on this side of the canal this time. And if Deb Dunphy’s art class from the fall of ’22 was daytime TV, the goings on here in this session might be classified as art after dark.

Oftentimes, figure drawing involves models with nothing on, as was the case in this class, although, no one else seemed to notice besides the guy behind the camera. Everyone else was just focused on the task at hand, because even the best artists can still get rusty when it comes to figure drawing.

Liz Popolo, Holyoke Arts League: Figure drawing is like any other muscle that you have to exercise, whether you’re training for a marathon, whether you’re trying to work on learning a new language, you’re practicing every single day, hopefully, if not every single week and month, to advance your skills little by little, Setting goals for yourself, using disciplined time that you set aside to prioritize your artwork.That’s something that I feel very strongly about…getting people in the habit of practicing.

Brian Sullivan: And it was an interesting style of practicing,as the evening began with what appeared to be speed rounds, to get the artists loose. It looked pretty challenging, but apparently, it’s an effective method.

Liz Popolo: Our usual structure is we start off with one minute poses, build up to two minute poses, and then get longer, and longer — 5, 10, 15, 20 minute poses. 

What that does is it allows the artist to warm up, like you’re doing stretches, you’re kind of loosening up your arm, and loosening up your — your eye, and trying to grasp the most basic, fundamental structure of the pose, before you’re getting into fine detail that you can get lost into.

Brian Sullivan: This class is just one iteration of the Holyoke Arts League, and the year 2023 marks the organization’s 100th year in existence. 

Liz Popolo may be the league’s current president, but the two women, Debbie Dunphy and Esthela Bergeron, who not only held that title before her, but also led this class, continue to attend these figure drawing sessions. And believe it or not, it’s still challenging even for them.

Esthela Bergeron, Holyoke Arts League: It was difficult drawing two models at once, in the short time. 

So, but — but it was, it was great because the poses that they had in the two models were excellent. They’re really good models.

Brian Sullivan: While we may not have gotten a look at the models, what we did get to see was the progress that each artist was making throughout the two hour session. 

It almost felt like a giant card game, where no one could see each other’s hand for the entire time. And then it all comes to fruition at the end, when they put their cards down, only to find out they were all holding pocket aces.

Liz Popolo: I feel like that’s the moment of learning, where you get to see exactly how other people are taking in the same information as you and processing it differently. 

I think there’s a moment where people are comparing what materials they’ve used or what angle they were looking at, and it’s a chance to let people see the talent that they’re sitting among, and socially network with each other, and follow each other’s Instagram pages, and support each other’s artwork.