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From life

Weekly life drawing classes at youth centre for artists of all level of ability

What: Life drawing classes
When: Monday evenings, 7 to 9 p.m.
Where: MY Millennium Place
Cost: $20/class or $120 for 7 sessions, $10 LUNA members, free for Grade 12 students

All too often in Whistler, those with an artistic eye become enraptured with the beauty of the outdoor world; the mountains, trees and lakes that surround the community. But there is one essential subject matter that many may be missing out on - the human form.

Maeve O'Connell (better known in the local art world by her maiden name, Maeve Bellmore) is now offering a unique opportunity to learn the finer points of capturing the many dimensions of the human form with paper and pencil.

"Drawing the human form is one of the hardest things you can draw," she explained, "Because what you're doing is you're taking something 3D and ... trying to put it on 2D."

Even those who choose to focus on landscapes can benefit from the exercise of figure drawing.

"I find a lot of artists here do very rural things, and this drawing - life drawing - still gives you that structural how-to," O'Connell added.

Originally from Ireland, O'Connell completed an arts degree at Camberwell College of Art, a reputable branch of the London University, and traveled throughout the UK and Australia before setting down roots here in Whistler. Now, she's called the area home for almost three years.

Primarily a painter, Bellmore creates vivid expressionistic, pop art-inspired landscapes that transform the natural beauty of Whistler in an entirely unique way; she captures images from our natural surroundings and integrates the human form in the midst of the landscapes. The walls of Gone Bakery are currently adorned with some of her most recent paintings: scenes of Lost Lake, Whistler mountain and Joffre Lake in different seasons.

"So, for example, this one," she said, gesturing to a vivid canvas on the wall, "I painted the human figure very loosely, whereas the background colours are very bold in contrast and they're very rigid block colours."

Her chosen medium, oil paints, allows her to step away from the canvas for days and still make changes when she returns.

"For me, what I love about oil painting is that it has a real good energy with it," she said, adding that she likes to take time on her paintings.

O'Connell points to a canvas she completed for the Peak 2 Peak poster competition, which took weeks to complete between layers of drying.

Drawing the human form is an invaluable skill for just about any artist to master, and after O'Connell realized there were no opportunities for Whistler's artists to hone this talent, she decided to start her own class. She's been involved in figure drawing in the past, both as an instructor and student, and knew that with Whistler's varied artist population, there would be a strong interest in the new offering.

She began hosting the classes early last year, but the cost of the rental space at MY Millennium Place was simply too much for her to bear. During the summer, she was invited to lead the class at the Whistler Arts Council's Art Workshops at the Lake, and then just last month she began hosting the classes every Monday night at the youth centre in MY Place. And while she is hesitant to call herself a teacher, O'Connell acts as a facilitator during the classes, sitting down with the artists and offering her suggestions and tips.

"Some students are fine - they don't really need me - and then some students say they're fine and don't want me to, and I'll just maybe remind them of something, and they go, 'oh right, yes!"

It isn't always easy to find people willing to pose for her paintings. In a pinch, she'll use mirrors and a camera to capture her own nude form to work from and integrate into her landscapes. When she began holding the life drawing classes here in Whistler, one of the challenges was finding models that were willing to pause nude. But the $50 payment soon enticed people to come out and give it a shot.

And in O'Connell's artwork, the nudity is always tasteful, and never gratuitous.

"I never make them explicit poses, because I don't think that's necessary. I think you can actually have a lot more emotion with a pose that is more suggestive," she said.

Since moving to Whistler, O'Connell has also begun trying to capture the animal form, which is far different than drawing the human form.

"Animals have a slightly different energy, whereas humans, as soon as you start drawing them, they actually start posing for you because they're aware and they're conscious of their body and how they look, which you can generally capture," O'Connell explained.