Improv with Figure Drawing and Music

By 
Adam Renn Olenn
May 8, 2013
Boston area artist Ellen Young (left) sketches to music by Berklee students, faculty, and alumni.
Musicians exercising their visual creativity
Alumnus David Lee '09, while touring the 160 Massachusetts Ave. building
Photo by Adam Renn Olenn
Photo by Adam Renn Olenn

Almost every Sunday of the year, 2009 alumnus David Lee hosts a synesthetic jam session combining improvisation in figure drawing and in music at Outpost 186, a gallery and performance space in Cambridge’s Inman Square. In the sessions, musicians accompany a model’s poses while artists hone their skills at the time-honored tradition of figure drawing.

Lee likes the way creativity spills across boundaries in these sessions, as the sounds and tools of drawing make their way into the music – the breathy scratch of a pencil becomes a rhythmic motif, a Japanese ink brush serves as a soft-voiced plectrum before being dipped in ink, and a rubber eraser functions as a mute. Every element of the event, from the model’s pose to the emotional tenor of the music to the ambient sounds of the artists, inspires and reacts to the others.

Lee, a guitarist, started a new figure drawing group with other artists in the Boston area in 2010. The group includes Berklee faculty and alumni who share Lee’s interest in the visual arts. “There’s a certain safety to doing an art that isn’t your main thing,” says Lee. He adds that he has often found that focusing on problems of proportion and balance on the sketchpad can open up new compositional possibilities, forcing him to more closely consider “issues of form, space, and commitment.”

Lee’s free improv figure drawing sessions meet every Sunday from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at Outpost 186 and artists of all ages are welcome. To learn more, email David Lee.