Drawing in Beijing

Zajia Lab 杂家

I like to draw. Lately, I use charcoal, pencil, and gouache, but I also love ink, pastel, and oil. I like to use color and more than anything, I love drawing people — especially those who are in the room with me. I can’t seem to get as excited by drawing from photos or even from my own sketches, but I try sometimes.

Artist: Elizabeth Jenkins

My drawings from a few Dr Sketchys sessions in NYC. (5-20 minutes per drawing)

In New York City, I easily found a couple of venues that offered life drawing.

Minerva at Spring Studios in SOHO provides consistent, traditional life drawing sessions for $15 each (about 2 hours) with a discount if you buy multiple sessions ahead. Sessions every day — morning/afternoon/evening. Totally amazing. An institution.

Artist: Minerva Durham

Spring Studio NYC –
Artist: Minerva Durham (charcoal & charcoal pencil)

The other venue is Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School brought you by Molly Crabapple. It’s totally annoying in many respects — sporadically scheduled, terrible lighting, accompanied by loud music with (mostly) teetering models that can’t keep still, and seating that makes it impossible for most of us to actually see the model, but it’s really great and I almost always attended. Usually it’s at a bar. Sometimes you can get a $3 PBR, but more likely you’ll spend $12 on a gin and tonic. So you’ll be drunk and drawing at 1:00pm on a Saturday. And there are contests. One time I won a giant, spherical, stuffed cow. Anyway, it’s lovely.

Photo: Kate Black

Dr Sketchy’s NYC – Contest in progress. Model is Raquel Reed.
Photo by the amazing Kate Black.

In Beijing, I’m still trying to find some good places. I have been to the idiotically-named cultural center the Hutong a couple of times for their Monday night Life Drawing Club. Both times the model was the same 30-something lady who seemed vaguely uncomfortable and favored kind of boring poses. No one was clearly leading the group — the night began with someone awkwardly asking who was willing to keep time. No one was clear if we should be speaking English or Chinese, but at least one person announced that she couldn’t keep time because she couldn’t speak Chinese. The model wasn’t saying a word, but didn’t seem to follow any of the English. When we took a break to give the model a rest, almost no one conversed. That’s the same with the NYC sessions as well — attracts mostly social misfits (like me!).

Artist: Elizabeth Jenkins

My drawings from the Hutong. (2-5 minutes per drawing)

At ¥60 for 2 hours (¥50 with membership discount), it’s still something I’ll go back and try again. No pre-registration required, but check their calendar before you go because they have cancelled at least one session in the last month or so. Also, I took a cooking class there and it was FABULOUS.

The Hutong

The Hutong – cooking class was fun, drawing is meh

I contacted another place called Lumalu and Lucie cheerfully responded that they would be starting this month with some life drawing sessions every Tuesday at Zajia Lab 杂家 7:00-8:30. Like the other place, it costs ¥60 RMB/class. Or you can register ¥240/4 classes. Sounds promising. She texted me about an hour ago to say that they are cancelling tonight, but will start next week (December 11). Fingers crossed!

Zajia Lab 杂家

Zajia Lab 杂家

Another place was recently advertised on Timeout Beijing and is run by some Frenchies: Atelier (French/English/Chinese/Italian). Notice that they have an official Chinese domain. Interesting. They mainly feature art classes for kids, but they have a life drawing class for adults on Monday nights with Marianne Daquet.


Atelier – Great images on facebook of the kids programs. Hopeful that the adult stuff will be just as fun!

Sadly, the session at Atelier conflicts with the cheaper session at the Hutong. I need to give it a try though, because this isn’t just a drawing session — it really claims to be a class, like with a real instructor. I’m actually pretty excited by that! Zelda Devon, an artist I just started following, mentions using this Atelier method on her blog at Teetering Bulb. She says it is life-altering. Looking at her work, you’ll have to agree. Amazing work.

Zelda Devon

Artist: Zelda Devon – Jaw-droppingly beautiful work! She captions this: “After 3 years of Atelier training, the fundamentals are slowly beginning to make sense. This is a 6 hour study. I’m interested in the effortless look of a big brush painting. -Z”

Good Eats, No Meats

I returned to Nordica for dinner last night with some friends. We intended to catch their weekly BBQ, but we got there too late so we ordered off the menu. I had a very tastey mushroom quiche with a side salad for 18 RMB, and we shared a bottle of white wine (the brand was Great Wall, I think?) for 80 RMB. For dessert, everyone got a brownie except Karina who ordered the carrot cake which came with a great citrus frosting. Yum! Recommended, but next time I think we should arrive closer to 6:00 p.m. so we can do the BBQ (35 RMB) — of course, I might prefer the quiche to the meaty BBQ.

We poked around the loft area a little after dinner. There were several galleries/bars/tea houses that had a crowd — primarily local, from the looks of things. The paintings were not overwhelming, but it was really exciting to see art happening in Kunming. There were some really cool spaces — converted old buildings — and lots of nooks and crannies with very colorful, comfortable-looking courtyards. I would really like to explore the area more during the light of day.

Anyway, it was great to play after a brutal week of classes. The expectations at this level are a lot higher. I’m writing tons — both practicing characters and I have two essays due next week. Whoah! I was so exhausted by the end of classes on Friday, I just wanted to curl up in a ball and cry. I need to learn how to pace myself. I totally neglected to study for my Friday classes so I was embarassingly ill-prepared — which of course made even more anxious during class. Bah. I think it’s surmountable, but I need to get my act together. Thank god I have the weekend to regroup.

Jeremy had a potluck dinner with his classmates last night. He prepared jambalaya with little shrimp (a New Orleans dish) as well as a treat for Roshashana, apples and honey. How very ethnic. That, of course, was the name of the game — everyone brought food from their home country. Sounds like it was an incredible feast! Jeremy especially enjoyed Caroline’s contribution of cheese and French bread. Sounds heavenly.

Contagious Love in Kunming

Opening Reception for Contagious LoveI attended the opening of an art exhibit this weekend. Wow, Nordica is a real art center with a gallery and performance space. I was really impressed. The reception was for Contagious Love, an exhibition about AIDS in China. HIV/AIDS education is really growing in China, but from some of the stories I heard the other night we have a long way to go. HIV/AIDS can be transmitted through sex, yes, but it can also happen by sharing needles. In fact, this is what scares me a lot. Hospitals here have been found to be using dirty needles: China’s dirty needles risk ‘daily’ infection, BBC News, November 2002 – sorry this link is blocked for those of you in China). Anyway, there is a lot of focus on Yunnan Province because the cases of infection are expected to double by 2010.

Here’s an interesting article from The Toronto Star about Bill Gates giving gobs of money to help prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS in China. (It also refers to President Hu Jintao’s recent visits to AIDS patients.)

This exhibit is a great introduction to some of Kunming’s really talented artists. I took photos of a couple of my favorite pieces. Of course I wanted to get more shots, but my little camera clunked out after a while. Anyway, I also got a couple shots of the space as well.

The Contagious Love Exhibition runs through October 12 at Nordica in Kunming, Yunnan. Here are directions to Nordica.

No More Mari

This morning I had a lovely brunch with Mari and Ta. We ate at Salvador’s, a local cafe that caters to Westerners. I had a huge bowl of yogurt, granola, and fruit, along with a bagel and cream cheese. Mari and Ta went with the eggs, potato, fruit, and wheat roll. Good food. Ta says that she doesn’t tend to run into cafes like this in Beijing, so she was especially enthusiastic about sitting down to some Western food this morning. We are good eaters. We have had a great time consuming all manner of things together over the last few days. Lots of hot peppers, lots of fish, and always a little eggplant (my favorite).

They were both off today for Laos. So sad to see them go, especially after spending the last 5 weeks with Mari. Of course, she’s relieved I think because her time here has been packed with intense language study (over 20 hours a week in class!). I think they’ll have a good time in Laos. Getting away from China will do them both good.

I spent the afternoon scrubbing clean my entire dorm room, removing everything from drawers and shelves. I have a vague hope of moving in temporarily with a super cool woman I met the other day, Shannon, but mostly I just need to clean. Psychological? You bet. Everyone around me is in transition, and I’m really longing to get out of this dorm and live with Jeremy. I really want some movement!

Oh, by the way, I think I cured my glumness. I bought some oil paints and spent a few hours the other day painting figures from photos I found online. They weren’t my most fabulous work, since I’m totally out of practice, but it really is so rewarding to lay paint down paper. I can’t tell you why.