Stephen Engley has been drawing since childhood, and although he’s experimented with painting and other media, drawing is still his first love. “I’m kind of a jack-of-all-trades,” says Engley. “I especially like illustration, but I really just love the art of art. I love studying art.”
Engley hopes to share that love of art by offering others an opportunity to get together once a week and draw or paint as a community. He recently started up a life drawing group, open to all, from beginners to professional artists. Every Wednesday evening, Engley invites people to join him at his downtown Vineyard Haven apartment to draw a model from life. He notes that he can host up to eight people, and participants are welcome to bring drawing materials or watercolors ( acrylic or oil paints are not appropriate for a small, enclosed space).
“Visual artists are like cats,” says Engley. There’s so much diversity, but it’s such a solitary pursuit. I thought it would be really nice to bring them all together.”
Engley, who works as a barista at Mocha Mott’s during the day, regularly attends the Tuesday morning life drawing group at Featherstone, but he notes that a daytime get-together is not ideal for everyone. Speaking to other artists, he realized that an evening group would be beneficial to the Island arts community.
“It’s great, because everybody does something a little bit different,” he says. “Some people do caricatures. Some people do quick sketches. Some just draw faces. Everyone can use the time as they choose.”
So far, the group has followed a pretty standard schedule. The model will begin with one-minute poses, gradually leading up to 20-minute ones. Engley says that he might eventually finish up with a series of quick poses at the end of each session. The group is noninstructional. Participants pay $15 toward the model’s fee.
Engley was born on the Vineyard, and grew up in the Boston area. He studied art at Community College of Philadelphia and Temple University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history. While at Temple, he minored in geography, which led to an interest in maps. He has completed a series of abstract topographical maps done with a digital mapmaking program and an archival printer. “I basically downloaded the entirety of the U.S. on my computer, and scanned it, looking for interesting compositions,” he explains. The artist altered the scans to heighten certain elements and, in some cases, filled in areas with colored design elements, producing interesting and attractive abstract images. “I find maps fascinating,” he says. “I love lines.”
Engley’s portfolio reflects the diversity of his interests — from landscapes and traditional interior scenes to abstracts to imagined fantasy scenarios.
Speaking of the latter, Engley says, “I’m very story-driven when I do illustrations. I’m always interested in the why of things, not so much in the reality. I’m more into the fantasy.”
For example, in creating the pen drawing “Gull Rider,” Engley wondered what it would be like if people flew around the Island on giant birds. The drawing “Burial at Menemsha” is based on a classic painting of a funeral procession by French artist Gustave Courbet. Instead of people, Engley’s drawing depicts mice honoring a fallen comrade, who is seen ascending to the heavens. “The original painting has a somewhat grotesque quality to it,” says Engley. “I wanted it [his depiction of the scene] to be kind of loving in a way.”
In both cases, Engley was inspired by scenes around the Vineyard. “I always wonder what the Island was once like, and what it could become,” he says. The artist carries a sketchbook with him to paint or draw anything that inspires him in his free time.
The life drawing group will give Engley the opportunity to focus on the basics and further hone his skills. “There’s something sacred about the human figure,” he says. “Something that sharpens your skills and challenges you as an artist. Life drawing gives me everything I need in art — the discipline and focus, and the challenge of drawing the human figure. It also brings community together.”
Life drawing salon every Wednesday, 7 to 9 pm. 15 Main St. (above Mocha Mott’s), Vineyard Haven. $15 per session. All levels welcome. Bring your own materials. No paint, except watercolors, permitted. To sign up, call Stephen Engley at 215-917-3832.