Arlington Five is a Centretown gem, tucked behind Wilf & Ada, at the corner of Arlington and Bank St.
The dual coffee shop and event space is filled with remnants of Ottawa’s creative community. Personal and scenic portraits, pop art prints and cards, and a wood painting crowd the walls. A blend of coffee shop goers and event attendees snatch seats wherever they can, from the concrete front steps to the wooden stools against the basement railing. On the last Monday of every month, between 7-9pm, some stand by the doorways to join Arlington’s Life & Death Art Circle.
Kim Valentine, an Ottawa-based multidisciplinary artist, is the creator behind the workshop. The workshop features a live nude model, dead plants, and lo-fi hip hop or instrumental beats. She says she started it because while life drawing is the “quintessential art teaching practice,” it can be intimidating. So she set out to paint a new approach and use for the practice.
“It’s always in a bright and quiet room, usually the only sound is pens, pencils, charcoals scratching away at paper, people making art in silence,” says Valentine. “If, and when there’s talking, it’s in whispers. As if we’re going to offend our own creative forces by talking normally.”
This approach to making art made her feel pressured to define herself as a “capital A” artist, someone who either went to art school or trained under a well-known artist.
“At the beginning of my own art journey, I didn’t want to call myself an artist. In my mind, that title came with expectations to always be making ‘good art’. I just wanted to be creative and let myself play.”
Through her workshop, she hopes to create a space where everyone feels welcome to play with art and where someone’s experience isn’t discussed. So far, it’s attracted all kinds of creatives, including illustrators, tattoo artists, dancers, poets, singers, and writers.
Robin Hodge, an actress and singer for Jumpin’ Joel Flash & The Magic Machine, says Life & Death Art Circle differs from other life drawing workshops in a few ways.
“There is a relaxed, casual vibe, with funky music playing in the background and a peaceful sense of camaraderie in the air,” says Hodge. “It is called an ‘Art Circle’ now, because it is meant to be inclusive for all types of artists. The venue is set up for drawing but people are welcome to write music or poetry or any other type of art of their choosing, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the other attendees.”
She highlighted that creativity can be very meditative and that the workshop provides a refuge from the outside world.
“You put your phone down and just try to draw what’s in front of you. Focus on shapes and lines and textures — nothing else matters for a while. The skill levels and art styles vary greatly too and there is nobody looking over your shoulder to tell you whether you’re doing it right or wrong, because there is no right or wrong.”
Jessie Duffy, the owner of Arlington Five, says Life & Death Art Circle is their first regular standing event and that it’s taken off because Valentine’s creative and healing energy helps people emerge from their caves.
“It’s been very interesting to see who is coming to these nights: lots of local artists and people who just want to draw, including my high school art teacher which just thrills me to bits,” says Duffy. “But the folks who are signing up for modelling seem especially drawn to the class, many of them nude modelling for the first time, overcoming their own angst about their bodies in such a beautiful way.”
Duffy says that historically, coffee shops have acted as cultural hubs — creating benefits for local artists and businesses — and have lasted eons because of it.
“It’s a mutual benefit: artists are granted access to spaces that inspire and support them and help them build their communities in an industry that can be very isolating,” says Duffy. “But the business also gets to become part of that community, and we offer support to each other.”
In the coming months, Valentine says attendees can expect to tackle their creative roadblocks next through a new workshop at Arlington Five. The idea is still a work in progress, but they can receive updates from her online newsletter.
“Sharing the stories of pieces that never get finished, or sometimes never get started. Tackling the fear of making ‘bad art.’ Creative Block Recovery stories. Learning to make art for fun, and for no reason at all.”
Arlington Five is located at 5 Arlington Avenue, behind Wilf and Ada’s on Bank Street. The next Life & Death Art Circle is schedule to take place September 30, 2019. The cost is $10.