Like a military drill sergeant, Lilly Wong lets her charges know there is just 10 seconds left on the clock. Her charges, all 20 of them, an even split of male and female, have paid VND250,000 to participate in Lilly’s life drawing class called Capturing Form.
They are sitting in a circle around Joy, their model for the evening, sketching her naked form. Once time is up, Lilly gives the orders and the participants pass their work onto the next person to their right who then has another 90 seconds to add to the creation before them. This goes on for about 30 minutes until Lilly stops the clock for a final time, Joy breaks her pose and casually reaches for something to cover herself, and the participants display their work for everyone to see and compare.
Although Lilly’s approach appears strict for this first pose of the evening — of which there will be four with each lasting somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes — her clock watching is the extent of anything remotely like boot camp during the session. In fact, the experience is the complete opposite. Participants are encouraged to sip on a beer or glass of wine while they sketch. They are also actively encouraged to share their ideas and thoughts as they do so. After all, the idea is for things to feel relaxed and friendly with a strong sense of community.
“My approach is different from my predecessors,” says Lilly who studied at the London University of the Arts, formerly known as Central Saint Martins. “My classes are undirected, but I offer on-the-spot support for individuals who feel like they need it. I believe sharing ideas and experiences is the best way to learn.”
The striking thing about the works produced during the evening is that they are surprisingly good. Participants range in levels from beginner to advanced, and while there are some obvious standouts, in some cases it’s difficult to determine whether a novice or an expert has completed the work.
“There’s no strict structure to the session,” Lilly says. “People just need to bring themselves and an open mind.”
For the second pose of the evening, Lilly encourages her participants to “find their own style, explore and develop it.” Someone’s style might simply be the colours they choose or how they shade the form. Whatever it is, Lilly is on hand, roving around the circle adding her point of view as she goes.
“I encourage people to develop their own individual style over technical ability because this approach removes the misconception that to draw, you have to be a master of drawing and painting,” explains Lilly during a break before the third pose. “Anyone can learn how to draw by taking classes, but I feel they’re usually rigid and can put a lot of unnecessary pressure on individuals which can crush their confidence in the process.”
By the time Joy sets her pose for the third time with some direction from Lilly, the group has grown to 25 people. It’s a humid evening and while I had been thinking earlier that suddenly finding yourself naked in front of a group of strangers is the stuff of nightmares, the heat now had me contemplating stripping down myself. In fact, Lilly is always looking for models and on this night, I politely decline Lilly’s suggestion that I join Joy in the next pose. It’s Lilly’s sense of humour and vibrant personality that is contributing to the success of Capturing Form, including its increase in attendees.
“I’m passionate about life drawing and the results of Capturing Form demonstrate diversity in the works of attendees, which makes it interesting and exciting for everyone to see.”
As a result, Lilly plans to hold the first ever life drawing exhibition in Saigon (and possibly Vietnam) in the near future that will showcase the works of artists from Capturing Form, something she hopes will become an annual exhibition.
“Diversity and individualism is in much need of celebration here in Vietnam,” she says before marshalling the troops for the final pose of the night, a classical pose that results in some amazing pieces of work.
Capturing Form is held every Tuesday night from 7pm to 9pm at Saigon Outcast, 188 Nguyen Van Huong, Thao Dien, Q2, HCMC. For more info, go to facebook.com/capturingformsaigon.
PHOTOS BY OLGA ROZENBAJGIER