By Susan Constanse

Want to build your mental muscles up a bit? Drawing from life, or figure drawing, no matter what your skill level, can help you hone your observation skills.

There are several ongoing sessions in the Pittsburgh area to choose from, each unique. Most groups are a mix of ages and skill levels, spanning students to seasoned professionals. Some of the artists have really caught the bug and go to several sessions each month and sometimes each week. Others attend only sessions at one venue or are occasional visitors. More than anything, these sessions offer you a chance to talk with others that share your interests.

(Credit: Susan Constanse)

De-mystifying the model session

So, you’ve never been to a drop-in session? Most are a variation on a theme, with artists ranged around a central staging area. Drop-in sessions are usually undraped, which is why there is an 18+ restriction. Some models bring props or the host provides them. This can be as simple as fabric and cushions or can include items. The sessions usually run between 2 to 3 hours.

Sessions usually start with several gesture poses, moving up to longer poses. Very few of these sessions will have poses exceeding a half hour, but even when they do, the maximum pose length would not last longer than an hour.

Gestures are the fastest paced poses, with the model holding a pose for 15-60 seconds. If you work out, then this is probably the equivalent of your warm up exercises. Gestures are generally followed by a series of short poses, ranging from 3-7 minutes. A couple of 15 minute poses, and then the long poses.

I’ve seen a lot of different kinds of materials used during these sessions. Simple paper and pencil all the way through to watercolor and collage, and every combination thereof. Paper size is, again, a matter of what you are comfortable with, but bring plenty of it. With so many poses, there’s bound to be something that you like. Remember, if you don’t like the pose, it will change. Or you can always change your seat to get a better view.

Sessions held in formal classrooms will generally supply easels or drawing horses. You can always, at the very least, count on a chair or stool. But if you prefer to work on an easel, you might want to bring your own or get there early.

You won’t be drawing non-stop for the 2-3 hours on the schedule since the sessions are broken up by at least two short breaks. I know, the model is just sitting there; how hard could it be? Don’t let that languorous pose fool you, it takes a lot of effort to stay still for extended periods. A model that is in good shape can hold more unusual poses, but these can be stressful and are generally limited in length. Older models, models that are over-sized, or models with other interesting physical features all present their own challenges in observation. Try to record your emotional reaction as well as a physical analysis. One memorable drawing session that I attended featured a drag queen, prepared with several costume changes. What I found most challenging about the session was trying to imply his gender with a female characterization.

Where to Go
Here are some of my favorite drop-in sessions:

(Credit: Mark Panza)

Panza Gallery

115 Sedgwick Street
Millvale PA 15029
Every Thursday evening, 7-9pm, $7
Refreshments available

Drop-in sessions at Panza are a staple for Pittsburgh sketchers. Mark Panza, the gallery director, documents and posts session work and also hosts an annual exhibit of work created at the gallery.

(Source: Pittsburgh Center for the Arts -

Pittsburgh Center for the Arts

Pittsburgh Center for the Arts School, Scaife Building
1047 Shady Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15232
Sundays through August 28 1pm-4pm /$15
Refreshments available

The Pittsburgh Center for the Arts usually schedules two sessions a week, which take place in classroom settings. The center abuts Mellon Park, a beautiful sweep of gardens and walking paths.

(Source: Carnegie Museum of Art -

Carnegie Museum of Art

4400 Forbes Ave
Pittsburgh PA 15213
Open Studio: The Undraped Model
Check the roster for current schedule and fees

If you are looking for some guidance, the museum sessions would be a good fit. The open studio is monitored by Pittsburgh artist, Elizabeth Castonguay. Museum sessions are on a subscription basis and registration information for the upcoming sessions is available on their website.

(Source: CMU School of Art -

Carnegie Mellon University, School of Art

5000 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Check the calendar for details

During the fall and spring semesters, you can join a diverse group of sketch artists on the Carnegie Mellon campus on Sunday evenings. These sessions are casual drop-in sessions, held in an unused classroom.

This is just a short list of drop in sessions that are available in Pittsburgh. As you participate in the groups, you’ll hear about other sessions. Remember this: Enjoy yourself!

Susan Constanse is a painter, living and working in Pittsburgh. Examples of her work can be viewed on her website at