Livessence – Drawing Society

When I arrived in Kelowna in December 2001, I was fresh from the University of Lethbridge, having completed my last course only a few months before. It was a month long study tour in Paris. While there, outside of course lecture requirements, I spent my hours in the Orsay and the Louvre, drawing the paintings and the sculptures. I was in heaven.

Upon my subsequent investigation in to the city’s art scene, I realized there was no drawing club or society in the area.  During the search, I found out the Rotary Centre for the Arts was being built, visited them in their office in the Laurel Building, and submitted an application for a studio space. I am sure I went to their office every week or so to find out the status of my application. I was a little excited. At the end of May, I was notified that I was selected for a space, and moved in August 1 2002. After getting settled throughout the fall, taking my bearings on how I wanted my career to proceed, I started teaching in January 2003, offering drawing instruction and private lessons at night in the RCA. I was also working part time for Telus Mobility, and after that contract expired, for the 9-1-1 Call Centre.

Throughout 2003, there was a dance teacher, Tanya Bakala, who would have her dance classes in the RCA’s Dance Studio. Eventually she started her own dance company Mission Dancers, who continue to work and perform shows every year. During her classes, I would sit outside the glass walled dance studio and draw her students. It was wonderful. Meanwhile, I joined the Kelowna Chapter of the Federation of Canadian Artists (FCA). One night during a meeting, I overheard another lady speak to her friend, wishing that there were sessions for life drawing in the city. There were some available she said, but they were at the North Campus of then Okanagan University-College (OUC) (now University of British Columbia – Okanagan), which was near the airport. This got me thinking.

Finding models for my instructional classes was a challenge to begin with, but with the kind help of Jim Kalnin at OUC, he gave me the names of Ginny (Iris), Kathryn, Jamie and David. They were all quite wonderful. Along with my friend Carlyn, these were the people who worked in the classes.

By the spring/summer 2003, I realized fully I missed life drawing myself and looked for opportunities to fill the gap. Barb, another artist who was visiting the RCA and talking with me in my studio, mentioned she would like to try modelling. I did a bit of research on how to train a life model, and after a few sessions, Barb was in front of the class. She was a natural! Barb continues to bring her wonderfully calm and peaceful energy to the sessions to this day!

Discussions with my artist friend Rick Wallin, another artist in Kelowna, who has since moved to Kamloops, resulted in the offering of non instructional life drawing sessions in January 2004 on Tuesday evenings. These sessions followed the format from my sessions in University, gestures to short poses to longer poses.

In March, I increased the sessions to include Saturday mornings upon requests from people who could not make it on Tuesdays. For the first year, the models were mostly Ginny, Jamie, David, Kathryn and Barb. They were all fabulous and I appreciated the patience they had with me in learning how to make the drawing sessions work. We needed artist benches, otherwise known as drawing donkeys or studio donkeys, so I did some research on how they were made, and came up with a design. I submitted a request for wood donation to Gorman Lumber, a local lumber company who are so amazingly supportive of the arts community in Kelowna, and they provided about 25 or 30 8′x1′x2″ smooth boards. Together with Rick Wallin, and Dennis Weber, we made 21 donkeys with the wood from Gorman. My children and a few of their friends got in on the act by painting the donkeys.

May 2004 saw the first life and Arts Festival. I put out to the session attendees that we had the opportunity to have a public drawing session during the Festival. Everyone was pretty excited and we did it! Our model was Tracy Ross, from Sunshine Theatre Company, and she did a costume change about every two or three poses. This was the start of the many cooperative ventures I have been involved in – from then on, any exhibition opportunity I had, I looked to pair up with a performing arts company, whether on my own, or with a group. Summer saw a welcome break in July and August. With two sessions of drawing a week, plus formal instruction as well as private lessons, my work week had increased dramatically to 6 days a week, 3 of them 12 hours or more. I remember liking the summer!

In January 2005, a group of young people were touring the building from Canada-World Youth. They were on an exchange program which saw them in Canada for three months, and then they took their partnered Canadian friends to their country for three months. One in particular from South Africa, Tandi Ceasar (I cant spell his last name!) stood out, and I asked him if he would like to model. He said yes, and he came to a few sessions for portraiture. Another of his friends, from Botswana, Gobona (pronounced Ho-bo-na) also came to model in her traditional costume for a few sessions. He and Gobona were like a breath of fresh air! Also in January, I was contacted by Donnalee and Megan, also models for the college. Both women were just amazing, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have these amazing people come in to my life and work. Donnalee liked us enough to drive all the way from Penticton to come and model for the group.

In April, Cherie, another artist, joined the team of models for our group. She brought a dramatic flair to the modelling stage.

May 2005 was the second Life and Arts Festival. I saw, during the Children’s Art Week, a group of belly dancers, called “Mystic Dance”, perform. One woman in particular had a sparkle about her, so after their performance, I went over and asked her if she would be interested in modelling. She said she’d try it, and the rest is history! Blake came on board. Kathryn, however, retired in June after ten years of modelling. She is greatly missed!

At about June 2005, I was getting pretty tired; tired enough to realize I was tired. I put it out to the group that were there drawing that Saturday morning, the concept of incorporating, to become a drawing society similar to Basic Inquiry (but without the studio space). I was getting burnt out. Norman Goddard, and Martha Primeau-Blackburn, who had been with me since 2003, both as students and as friends, said yes, immediately. They were joined by Laura Widmer and Isabella Gambouras, Denis Audet and eventually Victor Marko to discuss the feasability of getting a formal group started. Over the summer, and many many meetings, all together, and separately, the name Livessence Society of Figurative Artists and Models was chosen, our constitution and bylaws written, and we were on our way. Because of the efficiency and knowledge of Larry and Laura Widmer, our society was incorporated in August 2005. Norman was our first President, Isabella was our Vice, and Laura was the Treasurer. I took care of exhibitions and workshops for the first year.

Our first formal exhibition as a group was in the Lake Country Artwalk 2005 and Martha Primeau-Blackburn sold our first piece. It was a very exciting time! In 2006, Livessence partnered with Viva Musica and their Cats production. The Life and Arts public drawing session in the Atrium was with Donnalee, who donned a cat costume provided by theatre company. The artwork created during that session went up on exhibition in the Kelowna Community Theatre as part of the Artscape, which offers opportunity for Arts Council members opportunities for exhibition in the community. The opening night was a wonderful success with four pieces sold from the exhibition.

Lauren, who was a member and also worked at the Opus Art Supply Store here in Kelowna expanded her portfolio by modelling too. We are incredibly lucky, and I thank the heavens everyday for us having such amazing men and women from which to draw.

Since 2006, our exhibition numbers minimum three a year – Life and Arts, Lake Country Artwalk, and the Holiday Art Show. Also in 2006, we had two new fabulous and dynamic models join us, Donna from Vernon, and James from Kelowna, Ballet Kelowna have opened their doors to our members to come and draw anytime, and we have partnered with many groups to create a fulfilling public experience.

It is now 2017, and Livessence is still going strong.  If you are interested in becoming a member of Livessence or supporting Livessence, please contact the Livessence webmaster livessence.society@gmail.com.