Life drawing is an area of mystery for many of my learners so I thought I would write a post about it. The trend I’ve noticed is that after attending a beginners drawing or painting course for a while some learners like the idea of drawing the figure and doing life drawing. Life drawing doesn’t often attract so many complete beginners because it is daunting to so many. Many of my learners don’t really know what a life drawing class looks like, so I will offer a few tips from my experiences of them.
One thing that is extremely common in life drawing is that learners use easels and usually draw standing up. Some will sit at an easel, this is possible by adjusting the easel’s height. An easel is a mechanism used to hold a drawing board in place, paper is fixed to the board using masking tape or clips.
Screws and blocks of wood hold your drawing board in place so it is quite secure. Don’t be afraid to ask others if you are struggling with the screws as everyone finds easels a bit confusing at first.
You will probably find like most learners that you really enjoy working at an easel. Working standing up and with your paper at an upright angle allows for much more movement in your hand, wrist and arm. As a result artwork is often more free and loose in style and more vibrant than if you were drawing at a table. You can also see the model much more clearly and don’t have to look up and down all the time to draw.
Measuring with a Pencil
When I first went to life classes nobody had taught me how to measure with a pencil. I didn’t understand what these people were doing when they were holding up the pencil with a straight arm.
Don’t worry if you don’t know how to measure and you see this in life drawing. It is not a difficult thing to learn but the worst thing to do would be to pretend just to ‘blend in’.
I shall be writing a blog post about how to measure with a pencil in future so look out for that.
In some life drawing classes you can expect a warm up exercise, this is so your hand, arm and wrist gets loosened up and ready to draw. Sometimes this can take the form of a few very quick sketches known as ‘gesture drawings’. These can be as quick as two minutes, something very challenging for beginners! Remember these sketches are not meant to be finished works, they are a warm up just to get you moving the pencil around.
Another type of warm up can be the ‘figure of eight’ warm up. This is a more abstract activity where you simple draw the figure of eight on a large sheet of paper and keep going. Sometimes the tutor will time it and make you speed up until your arm aches, it is a type of ‘work out’ for drawing.
It is very rare that you go straight into drawing something for a long period of time in a life drawing class so do expect to so some quick work first. I see lots of beginners get all their paints out at the start only to have to put some away because of the quick warm up sketches at the start.
Another thing that I didn’t understand was how the model would stand or sit. I thought before going to a life class that the model would do one pose for the whole session. In my experience this is very rare, there is usually several poses and as a general rule shorter ones of about 10 minutes at the start going into longer ones of 25 – 30 minutes and sometimes one hour.
The poses will vary but usually there is a mix of standing, sitting and lying poses. The longer poses tend to be the sitting and lying poses and the shorter ones standing. The poses will vary if there is a theme then sometimes the poses will follow this, say for example making the body small then doing crouching, hunched poses. This is more advanced life drawing, generally you should expect fairly uncomplicated standing, sitting and lying poses in most classes.
A Range of Media
Life drawing classes are usually not all about pencil, you will be expected to use charcoal, pastel, inks, conte crayon and more. Life drawing is a great place to try out new media you haven’t used before.
Another area of confusion is how it would be with the model being nude and what to expect. Generally models arrive clothed and have a changing area. Depending on the agreed work, some models can be semi clothed or clothed but usually life drawing means a nude model. Most life models I have drawn and painted have been very experienced and are very professional about their work and have no embarrassment at all about their body being observed.
At first I didn’t like to stare too long at the nude model because it felt impolite, quickly this idea went because I needed to stare to observe closely. Just like I would really look at a jug or vase, I needed to look at the nude as an arrangement of shapes and proportions. This was not a concern for me after half an hour in my first session I had got used to looking closely. One tip for those that might feel uncomfortable with the nude is to get a place towards the back of the class at first. Then when you feel more comfortable you can come forward to observe more closely.
I hope this helps anyone considering taking up life drawing, it is a wonderful experience and well worth it. I can assure you that you won’t regret it!