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Photo of Joanne Gajeczki

You may have seen Joanne Gajeczki, Model Coordinator at Sheridan, quietly milling around the Faculty of Animation, Arts and Design at the Trafalgar Road Campus—popping into a classroom to grab a costume from one of her nine costume closets, or chatting with one of the professors. But you may not know that she has helped bring students’ figure drawing, portraiture, and costume drawing classes to life for the last 21 years, by coordinating all the models for Sheridan’s Animation, Illustration, Art Fundamentals, Visual and Creative Arts, Art and Art History and Continuing Education programs.

Matching a model with a class is no easy feat. It depends on several factors, such as the professor’s needs, the subject matter, and the model’s strengths and availability. “What’s really important in my role is finding a model who’s got the right skills and suitability for each particular class,” she explains. “For example, there are some introductory level classes such as Art Fundamentals, which need people who can do a lot of gestures, the action poses, and who have enough imagination to stimulate the class for three hours at a time—keep students interested and keep them drawing. For character and costume, I need the models who have good acting ability, and imagination.”

Model Coordinator Joanne Gajeczki.

Model Coordinator Joanne Gajeczki.

Figure drawing is also critical to Sheridan’s arts programs, and has a variety of model requirements, depending on the particular program or class. Anatomy classes require Gajeczki to find models with lean, well-defined body types, and an ability to stand for long periods of time. Other classes need models of all shapes, sizes and ages, who have the ability to either do a variety of poses, or who can hold a pose for extended periods of time, and return to that pose after a break. Animation students must know human anatomy so well that they are able to draw it from memory, says Mark Thurman, Professor in Sheridan’s Animation program. “The anatomy is serious, it’s what Sheridan is known for in the Animation industry,” Thurman says. “We’ve always emphasized the figure drawing part, as well as good animation, but people always say they know a Sheridan student because the figure drawing is so good.”

“Joanne understands the dynamics between the model, the teacher and the students,” continues Thurman. “It’s a triad, it’s a dynamic; but without Joanne, that doesn’t exist. Without someone who’s good at coordinating, and who can really match the components, you end up with a model who’s not right for the particular class. She brings together all those coordinates so well.”

For Gajeczki, it’s all about student success. “I really care about the students getting the best possible model experience they can have, so that propels me to find the right people to meet the specific needs of each class,” she says. “I care about the learning outcomes and it’s my responsibility to see that models are in place who can contribute to those outcomes.”

“I really care about the students getting the best possible model experience they can have, so that propels me to find the right people to meet the specific needs of each class. I care about the learning outcomes and it’s my responsibility to see that models are in place who can contribute to those outcomes.” – Joanne Gajeczki

“It’s like puzzle pieces—sometimes one puzzle piece is adequate, but she wants to find the right puzzle piece,” agrees Deb Blok, who has worked as a model at Sheridan for the last 16 years. “Joanne goes above and beyond to make sure that the teachers have what they need, and that the model fits what the teachers are teaching that day.”

Gajeczki coordinates models for a large volume of classes, scheduling between 110-120 three-hour sessions per week, often trying to book models for two or three sessions together to balance the shifts with a sometimes long commute to Sheridan. The role has its challenges, including last-minute cancellations and finding replacement models at the eleventh hour. Joanne even keeps a leotard handy in her office for the odd occasion she needs to fill in herself if a model is late. “In this situation the model is what’s holding the class together, and if the model isn’t there, that class can’t run as a figure drawing class or painting class—so it does have that edge to it, that urgency,” she says. “I always ask that the instructors have a backup plan. There may come a day where I can’t find them a model at the last minute, so they need to find a way so students don’t lose class time.” However, Thurman says that he has never been without a model in the 17 years he has worked at Sheridan—a testament to Gajeczki’s talent.

Gajeczki brought a strong arts background to her role at Sheridan. As a graduate of OCAD, she worked in TV, interior design and as a model herself for arts classes. During her time as a model an opening for a Model Coordinator came up at Sheridan. She worked part-time in the role for six years, and then her role expanded to full-time as Sheridan added more arts programs over time.

“Joanne understands the dynamics between the model, the teacher and the students. It’s a triad, it’s a dynamic; but without Joanne, that doesn’t exist.” – Mark Thurman

Having been a model herself, Joanne knows first-hand how rigorous modelling can be. As a result, she works hard to consider a model’s strengths, capabilities and schedule. “It’s been a real pleasure working with Joanne. We have a very abstract job, and Joanne knows how to make it flow for everyone,” says Blok. “Sheridan is my favourite place to work, and it is also the farthest place I commute. I live in Toronto, and I commute an hour and a half. And I don’t think I would do that if the school and the environment wasn’t so dedicated to the best learning possible. It’s really nice to be a part of that.”

Gajeczki is proud of her costume collection, which she built from the ground up. She is involved with all aspects of costuming—sourcing and sewing costumes, alterations, and coordinating props and accessories. “I scoured the thrift shops and my closets, my family’s closets, and just started to put out word of mouth that we were looking for donations of interesting clothing. The faculty and models were very helpful in contributing to our costume collection,” she says.  “I’m certainly proud of the costuming because we started with nothing. We had a couple of crumpled costumes in a closet, in sore need of cleaning, and now I’ve got nine cabinets full of costumes and accessories.”

Photo of Joanne Gajeczki

Joanne Gajeczki with just a few of her many costumes.

The costumes transform the models into characters, such as pirates, Aladdin, a witch, a can-can dancer or a knight. “Joanne has the best costume cabinets of any art school probably in Canada,” says Thurman. “Pretty well anything that we want she has a costume for, and that comes from her collecting them, making them and altering them to suit a purpose. It’s unbelievable,” he adds.

When her mother passed away, Gajeczki donated some of her mother’s costume jewellery, clothing, and accessories like dishes and vases to the collection at Sheridan. “It’s a thrill for me sometimes to look down at a still life setup, and there’s a vase that used to sit in my parents’ living room. And also the jewellery, when I put it on the models I remember my mom wearing it.”

As for Sheridan, Gajeczki says “It’s a wonderful environment.  Coordinating is challenging, but it’s very rewarding. I like the challenges of the job and I love the people I work with. Every day is different, it’s not a boring job in any way, shape or form.”

“She has a great personality, she just is a nice person, and she bends over backwards for all us teachers,” says Thurman. “She’s the unsung hero, she really is, just doing her thing and helping students shine. And without her it wouldn’t happen.”


Pictured at top of page: Joanne Gajeczki, Model Coordinator at Sheridan.

Written by: Tina Dealwis, Digital Communications Officer at Sheridan. 

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