The Gage Academy of Art is easy to miss on Capitol Hill. I certainly had trouble finding it, which is why I accidentally walked into a building holding a women’s health meeting. I would have stayed, but the 13th annual Art Jam sounded too intriguing.
The scene was unlike any other event in Seattle. Artists of all ages walked in and out of countless rooms where every type of model was available for sketching. In the long hallways people compared their work and exchanged shoptalk, and I stood watching, all too aware that I couldn’t begin to do what came so easily to them.
“This is our chance to reach out to the community,” said program manager Carol Hendricks, while a model who had been posing for six consecutive hours walked by. “Sometimes people want to see what a school is all about before committing to taking a class.”
Visitors began in the supplies area, where they could grab some parchment paper and choose from charcoal sticks, willow charcoal, compressed charcoal (who knew there was so many types of charcoal?), colored pencils, and crayons (I took crayons). They then had the option of drawing any number of local dressed-up celebrities, including Greg Robin as Benjamin Franklin, the Seafair Pirates, and Nikita Breznikov as a Russian General (if they were real there would have been a fight).
The first room I walked into contained a man whose costume I couldn’t place. Artists sketched various interpretations, all beautifully done. I decided to take a picture but the model covered his face. I tried a second time and he covered his face again, at which point I realized (according to a sign) that you were not supposed to photograph the models. Embarrassed, I slipped out of the room.
In another studio, artists sketched a person dressed in 19th century garb (it could have been a time traveler). I was tempted to walk around the room and tap the shoulders of people whose work wasn’t up to par, saying to each, “You may go.” The quality was actually rather impressive, and much better than the stick figure I was working on. I kept standing in different graceful positions in the hope that someone would sketch me, but no one cared.
There were more than models available for sketching. One studio featured a long table set with flowers, vases, pumpkins, and small farm tools. It was either a place for painting still-lifes or the worst snack table I’ve ever seen. An adjacent room contained nothing but skeletons, which is what happens when models don’t tell the students they have to leave. I also came across a studio of artists I couldn’t begin to relate to, because they were sketching their own faces in mirrors. I sat down to try it out and my mirror jumped out the window. That always happens!
As I walked from studio to studio, a small sign at the end of the hall kept catching my eye: “Nude models.” Eventually I made my way to towards the sign and stared at it like an 8-year-old, reaching into my pocket for some quarters I assumed I’d need. Someone finally opened the door and I sidled in. On the stage were four nude models in various positions (I don’t know what my editor was doing up there, but I guess he needed the cash). “Chason,” I said to myself, “maintain your professionalism. You’re here representing the Capitol Hill whatever the hell it’s called. Don’t fuck up.”
In the studio about 50 artists sketched while Ask Sophie played folk music. I thought of taking pictures of the nude models but the conditions of my probation strictly prohibit it. Some sketched the entire panorama, while others focused on a certain angle or body part. One annoyingly talented and mature kid of about 12 sketched a beautiful portrait of a woman crouching. Still, I could have totally beaten him up if I wanted to.
Flush with sweat and red all over, I made my way downstairs to a corner studio, only to find myself in the presence of another nude model. Here artists sculpted the subject with clay as she was turned every few minutes when a timer went off. One sculptor added wings, another captured her torso, and I stood there trying to make eyes the entire time (I think she liked me!). The scene reached a crescendo of weirdness when the musician in the room began doing an acoustic version of Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time,” which elicited soft chuckles from the crowd and even brought a smile to the stoic model’s face. I took it as my cue to leave.
The Gage Academy certainly knows how to throw an art jam, though this is the first time I’ve heard of an art jam. It was at once wonderful and terrifying to see how many talented people live in Seattle. Maybe I’ll see you there next year, from the stage.
To learn more about the Gage Academy of Art and their upcoming classes, go to www.gageacademy.org.