The Drawing Workshop

Photo by Gary Gianni; ConanThe Drawing Workshop has been around for 40 years, offering live models for professional and amateur artists to draw or paint. Classes like these are still offered at art colleges, but the Drawing Workshop has a drop-in approach for its clients, who range from courtroom artists to bankers to hobbyists. It’s a time-honored art tradition known as the “atelier” (French for "workshop") that is fading in the digital age.

The Drawing Workshop in Ravenswood is now in jeopardy of closing due to the retirement of its founder, George Sotos. We have the story on Chicago Tonight at 7:00 pm.

View a slideshow of artwork by illustrators Thomas Gianni and Gary Gianni, and read an interview with Thomas about his experience at the workshop.

How long have you been going to the workshop?
I’ve been going since the late 70s.

How often do you go?
I go at least once a week, unless my job calls me away. I often go on Thursdays and sometimes Wednesday evenings.

What do you do there?
It’s like an athlete going to practice between games. It’s a ‘use it or lose it’ thing. At the most basic level, I go because I have to hone my skills. It’s directly related to what I do to make a living, which is courtroom art. I have to quick sketch in the courtroom, so I quick sketch at The Drawing Workshop. It’s a great place to try new things and experiment with new techniques.

So you think it has helped you throughout your career?
It has helped my professional work immensely. There are things I do now in my professional work that I might now have done prior to going to Thursday morning figure drawing sessions there.

Is the experience of painting at the workshop different than painting for work?
I call it painting church. There’s something very meditative about the process of sitting there and painting. You really get involved in it. It’s comforting and soothing, and doesn’t have a deadline. You’re doing it for yourself.

Photo by Thomas Gianni; Rod Blagojevich and his defense teamWhat’s unique about this workshop?
I have been teaching college level art since the early 1980s and I’ve seen drawing classes diminish. Schools have cut back on drawing classes. People who run schools don’t think it’s a necessary skill to know anymore. So with diminishing opportunities for drawing in art education, George’s workshop really fills a void. And George Sotos has different techniques for getting people to see what they are drawing and to translate that into paper and canvas. It’s an oasis of art education in a desert of mediocrity.

Why do you continue to visit the workshop?
I go to keep my skills up, and also to be with the people there. We are all kind of like-minded, we are all passionate about this and devoted to it. And George is the force that keeps it what it is. He runs a tight ship and has been doing that for more than 40 years. I hope it continues for the next 40 years.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Marc Vitali contributed to this report.