"For three hours in a day, I'm lines and shapes and colors. I'm not skinny, I'm not fat, I'm not objectified. There is no judgment. It's all about lines and shapes, colors and art and energy," explains model Jessi Just as she leans in. "I love that. It helps with my self-esteem to realize as I walk around that I'm a ball of energy. The way the light hits my face, the relationship between my head and hand, that's what the artist looks for and if I can go through my daily life like that, I feel better and more comfortable in my skin," she adds.
Just and Zeus Quesada are the minds behind MUSE—Models Utilizing Social Environments—an organization that strives to bring awareness to life drawing as an art form.
Traditionally, the artists are the party that initiates the drawing sessions, but Quesada and Just are changing that. "Models never get to see each other," Quesada explains. "This is an opportunity for models to have a loose organization." So far MUSE has hosted two live drawing events featuring a range of models with varied experience. On Wednesday, they'll hold their third.
"The thing about drawing is that it is more integral to the human experience than talking. We've been drawing since we were cavemen," Quesada says. "Before we had a written language, we had a drawing language. If I do this (Quesada traces a stick figure with his finger) you know what that is; it's a human figure. The reason you know it's a human figure is because the figure is the form that we understand the best, it's the form that we live with. If a person is going to practice art, what better form to start with than the one you know best? That's what life drawing is."
For Just and Quesada, modeling is a Zen exercise.
Just laughs as she relates a recent modeling experience where she was so focused she didn't move when the electric heater behind her exploded in a rain of fiery sparks. "I felt something but didn't leave the pose. In that moment I thought, 'Wow, I'm super dedicated. This heater could electrocute me and I'd still be perfectly and utterly still.'"
Her counterpart agrees. "It's a lot more work than people think. You don't realize how often you shift your weight sitting in a chair. For 20 minutes you can't even scratch your nose," he says. "You have to let all that stuff go, you have to have mental discipline, and I hate to say it, be a bit of a masochist."
The pair hopes staging happenings of this sort results in the community getting excited about the time-honored art. Drawing inspiration from Victorian times, when artists and models would meet in drawing rooms (that's where the name comes from) and stage scenes for painting, MUSE hopes to host more elaborate and deliberate sittings highlighting the performance aspect of art modeling.
"So many artists use life drawing to help them in drawing other things. If you can measure the head to the hand, if you can understand the relationships, lines and shapes, then you can draw anything. But you have to understand the very basics first," explains Just.
Actively thinking about the future, Just and Quesada have big plans for Santa Fe. When the weather warms, they hope to host a similar event on the Plaza that morphs into an en masse live drawing performance.
"This is going to be a really exciting summer for MUSE," Quesada says, smiling.
SIP N' SKETCH
9 am-noon, Wednesday, Feb. 5. Free.
SweetWater Harvest Kitchen
1512 Pacheco St.,