Covid created a virtual renaissance to draw life

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Alida Pepper was look down on depression. Stuck in her apartment in San Francisco, she worried that all her plans are about to unfold. For months, Pepper, a model drawing life on a full-time basis, worked extra hours to save on upcoming surgery, and set aside extra money to take time to recover. Now the forced break in work threatened to cancel everything. Of course, she was not alone. It was March 2020, the dawn of the Covid-19 pandemic, and everyone was fighting. But Pepper was in a special position: how to continue to pursue a profession that depends on being seen and painted.

During the second week of the blockade she found what felt like a solution. The artist herself, Pepper made sketches to fellow model Aaron Bogan when he experimented with modeling on Instagram Live. Inspired, she checked with the community on various programs – Zoom, Blue Jeans, Instagram – to see if she could work like Bogan. Drawing virtual life seemed to be the solution Pepper needed.

The standard pattern for drawing has not changed much over the centuries: a musty studio, a layout on a platform that holds a pose, and a circle of artists working on easels. But given the Covid-19 shutdown, the studios remained empty, and the models remained at home, and their employment options evaporated. Then everything changed. Suddenly the image of life was reborn-filled the network of video chats as it once inhabited the studio. Artists began making sketches from home, inspired by models posing live on their computer screens. The methods used were not entirely new – after all, video conferencing existed before the pandemic – but the changes they brought to the picture went far beyond what was expected. “Drawing life online has changed the game,” says Diana Olivier, who from 1991 to 2020 taught life drawing at San Francisco City College. This allowed students to continue learning and drawing while the models remained working.

The image of virtual life has its problems. Connection and screen size for viewing can cause problems. No camera can replicate the full range of tones and details that can be seen with the naked eye. And there is an indisputable fact that artists look at a two-dimensional image, not at a man in the flesh. But even when artists and models turned bugs into functions, they found how a virtual environment could incorporate something it previously could not do. Life drawing groups sprang up everywhere. People who had never done art before began to pick up pencils. People who have never modeled or failed have found a place on the new pedestal.

The biggest barrier that the image of virtual life is beaten down? Access. Suddenly people who don’t live near studios or have a disability that makes it difficult to leave home can draw from anywhere with an internet connection. “Models can now choose their own settings,” says Isabel Cameron, who along with her sister Emily runs the British band Fat Life Drawing. “We had a model who loved being in the water and posing in the bathtub with a camera mounted above her head. And another who posed in the woods.»

Christian Quinteros Soto posed for a London life drawing group while amidst a tranquil forest in Sweden.

Illustration: Suhita Shiradkar

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