Drawing the human form isn't easy.
That's why for almost a dozen years, groups of artists have met at Howard County Center for the Arts to draw or paint live models. Though attendance for the Tuesday and Wednesday night sessions has ebbed and flowed, the studio has become a mainstay of the Howard County arts scene.
"People trust [the studio] because it's been there and people know it will be there," said Jim Adkins, one of the monitors, and founders, of the drawing group. "It goes on and on."
The opportunity to draw live models can be rare for those who are not full-time art students. Adkins said many artists shy away from hiring a model to sit for them because of the expense, and are happy to attend the studio at the arts center, where they pay $7 a session or $35 for six sessions.
"If you can go somewhere, pitch in $7 and get this kind of experience, then it's a good deal," said Adkins, who is also art director at Howard Community College. "There aren't that many places that feature it, and we even have one guy who drives from Delaware for the sessions."
Thomasine Spore, who monitors sessions, said Tuesday nights feature a model in poses for extended periods and usually attracts many painters. Wednesday night sessions are shorter. Spore, who helped found the studio with Adkins, said art instructors often suggest that their students go to the studio to sharpen their skills.
"This offers them a boost," Spore said. "This is a discipline, and it's important to know how to draw. Figure drawing is one of the most demanding things to learn how to do."
Spore said participants also enjoy the freedom of being able to attend when they want to.
Sometimes the sessions attract only a few people. Other nights, there is barely room for an easel, she said.
"They are not obligated to be here," Spore said. "We have lots of people who come through here, and we have seen some incredible talent."
One recent Wednesday, model Keith Smith stood nude on a platform, leaning against a bamboo pole with his eyes fixed forward as the group drew him.
Classical music played softly as the artists' eyes darted from Smith to their sketchpads.
Smith, 71, is one of two models who pose nude during the sessions (the other model asked that she not be identified). He said he began modeling a decade ago and has been in demand since. "I feel like I am providing a service," he said. "I like the challenge of getting into the different poses."
Artist Joan Tarbell said she is glad that such an opportunity is offered in her community.
"We can come 10 minutes from our homes and get life drawing, which is the basic foundation for being an artist," said Tarbell, who lives in Ellicott City. "You use it your whole journey as an artist."
Kathleen Carroll of Columbia said she has been attending the sessions for several years and enjoys the practice. "You get a lot of variation," she said. "It teaches your eye to see."
Coleen West, executive director of Howard County Arts Council, said the center has continued to offer space for the sessions because of their popularity.
"They have a real steady following," West said. "Where else can you go once you get out of school to be able to draw prolonged poses from a live nude model?"