Drawing from Life

Rebecca Cunningham is a softly spoken artist whose practice is firmly intertwined with the Gold Coast music scene. You can regularly find her painting live at gigs and in recent months she’s designed the cover art for music releases by Leopold’s Treat and Felicity Lawless.

A graduate of Palm Beach Currumbin High (where she was lucky enough to be taught art by the fabulous Miss Paula Hall), she went on to study Visual Arts at RMIT before returning to the Gold Coast and falling in love with the Dust Temple. 

She considers herself a full-time artist, but acknowledges that she does need to work other jobs to pay the rent. And she’s been running life drawing sessions at said Dust Temple for 15 months now “because there wasn’t anything available at the southern end of the Gold Coast.”

“I had just come back from studying art in Melbourne and I loved it. I wanted to be able to offer it to other people.”

Rebecca estimates that around 70 artists have been through the door since the session started. Sometimes there are small groups, sometimes there are big groups. And for her last two sessions she’s once again combined her passion for music with her artistic practice and included live performance in the three-hour session.

“I always felt that music feeds art and art feeds music – it’s the perfect combination. It’s not something that people often experience – creating art to live music. I’ve done it a lot with the live painting. It just makes it a really special experience for people. They get to sit there and draw with music and rhythm feeding their creativity.”

“I’ve always been surrounded by musicians. When I was studying in Melbourne, that’s when I started doing the live art. It just became my “thing” that I did down there. I’d go to festivals and concerts and gigs and do live paintings.”

As well as combining music with art, Rebecca recently threw dance into the mix as well. Bellydancing to be specific.

“That was beautiful,” she said. “We did more short poses so she was holding a dancing pose and she had a costume on which was nice for a change.”

“The artists loved it too – there was that, rhythm from the live music, Felicity (Lawless) playing flamenco – and the movement of the dancer. That movement came out in the artwork.”

Rebecca also teaches life drawing to architects, though she laughs at the term ‘teaches’.

“More like gentle guidance,” she said. “They need to have an understanding of the human form – they’re creating buildings for humans after all. They need to understand function and form. And also perspective.”

“It really refines your drawing skills if you have the ability to draw from life.”

“You never know anything. Every pose, every model is different. You have to observe that and understand that.”

Rebecca says anyone can do it.

“It really is about letting go of being afraid of being judged and enjoying the process,” she said.

“People get so afraid they can’t do things perfectly the first go and that puts them off. Every person’s unique style is really interesting.”

And I can attest to that. I put my brave pants on – or took them off, actually – and stood in as the model for Rebecca’s last life drawing session for the year last week.

While I was fully dressed and people were arriving I was already floored at the diversity of artists. Someone had an easel, another scrap paper and charcoal. Some had water-colour style pencils, some had brown paper, sketch-pads, butcher’s paper, textas. Dion Parker was using thick black marker pens.

And that diversity in artistic styles is reflected in the diversity of models Rebecca uses.

“Our models come in all shapes and sizes,” she said. “I have a high rotation of models because I want to provide variety.”

“Honestly, it’s been the funniest thing,” she said, when I asked how she finds them. “I’ll just think in my head, I need a new male model or this type of model and I’ll get an email or text message, I’ve never experienced anything like it.”

I actually prepared for my big chance on the life modeling stage (and no, I didn’t do one thousand sit-ups, which is what my best friend suggested). I googled ‘how to be a life model’ and there was a heap of information and resources for aspiring nudes.

Rebecca’s format follows a similar one to many life drawing sessions so I knew what to prepare for. The session starts with 10 one minute poses before moving on to a series of two and five minute poses and then ten minute poses before finishing with three 20 minute poses.

The hardest part, for me, about being a nude model for life drawing was a) trying to position my body in ways that would be interesting for the artists to draw and b) being still. The latter was an awesome practice in mindfulness and I actually finished with a twenty minute meditation pose.

And artists aren’t actually looking at your bits. They’re looking at your shape and your form. They’re drawing lines and curves. And they’re doing an amazing job of adding their own flourish to the human shape.

I got paid a small fee to model that night, but I feel like I gained more from the experience than what I gave. And the artists are welcoming, warm and witty.

“It’s what I really like about that crew that comes to the Dust Temple,” Rebecca said. “It’s not pretentious – everyone’s really happy to talk about art and shared experiences.”

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Life Drawing at Dust Temple recommences Thursday 4 February and then continues every first and third Thursday of the month. It runs 6.30 – 9.00pm and costs $20.

To find out more, call Rebecca on 0412 835 689. Musicians interested in performing are also welcome to get in touch.

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