Life drawing is intrinsically linked in the worlds of fine art, illustration and concept art. All through my artistic education, from my Btec up through my MA, i have participated in life drawing sessions,although in my BA they were sparse and expensive so i wasn’t able to attend as much as i would have liked. I also continue to draw from life using tools on the internet, and i still go to live sessions whenever I am able.
There are plenty of books on how to make better life drawings, why it’s important to partake and continue to partake in life drawing throughout your artistic career.
The benefits of drawing in a live environment are numerous. Being able to get a grasp on 3-D space, examine human anatomy up close and in different position, the ability to request from the model so that you can examine your weakest points in depths are invaluable. But on this occasion, I want to go into a little more depth the ways in which life drawing can improve various aspects of your artistic practise, and how you can adjust your methods in the classroom to help yourself improve even more.
Confidence is a huge factor in drawing, and having confidence in the marks you make, even if they are incorrect, will really boost both your drawing skills, and your learning skills. One popular online drawing course is Draw a Box – and the very first lesson of draw a box focuses on drawing a confident, one stroke line. It is for the same reason I would recommend to beginners in life drawing to start using pen, ink, paint or some other non erasable medium in some of your drawings. It is important that we learn from our mistakes, and in life drawing we are often limited in time, so it is important not to dwell on our mistakes too. By drawing in pen, we take away our ability to erase and obsess over small details, which in the long run will hinder our improvement. Instead, driving the focus to finishing the drawing, we can look back and see where we might have made a mistake or a wrong line. We will also let go of the impulse to perfection and become more confident in our lines, which will help us to make more accurate lines in the future. Learning techniques like ghosting and planning are also useful in life drawing to improve confidence and accuracy. Having confidence in your lines will also start to phase out the dreaded “hairy line”
Remember this – Life drawing is not about producing perfect artworks. It is about learning – and making mistakes is a valuable part of the learning process.
More Than Anatomy
I would also like to mention that there can be more learned from life drawing than simple anatomy. Life drawing is also a fantastic opportunity to learn about lighting, gesture drawing, and how to represent the 3D space – and the drawing itself can be approached in different ways depending on what you are trying to capture. Here is an example of the same pose, but with a focus on different learning focuses.
In the first drawing, I have focused on trying to represent volume in the figure. I have done this by using curved lines to show the different planes of volume, and how they interact with one another. This is a great way of learned to represent 3-D images in a 2-D drawing. It’s also a great way of learning how muscle groups interact with each other, and how fat lies on the body. Another skill that can be gained in this method is knowledge of perspective.
The second drawing is the fastest and least detailed, and for a good reason. This drawing focuses on gesture, and it is often recommended that very quick life drawings focus on this. Gesture is very important for anyone trying to create a sense of drama, purpose, or realness in a figure, as opposed to the look of clinical medical drawing. Gesture can be represented by a simple skeletal structure, but it is often best captured quickly, before our brains have a chance to over analyse the figure and try to flesh it out. It is not important for a gesture drawing to be highly accurate in terms of anatomy, as it should instead focus on the structure of how the figure implies movement. This can often be difficult to capture as by nature a model must be static, but you will often find that the necessity of drawing quickly will give your stokes a sense of movement as well.
The third drawing is the most detailed and laboured drawing, but i would say is less accurate than the volume drawing. But that is okay, as what i was focusing on with this drawing is lighting. Accurately represent complex lighting on a human figure can be very difficult, so studying how light reacts in a life drawing situation can be very beneficial. Dramatic lighting is normally used in life drawing, that is to say lighting that is directional, as opposed to a natural or mixed lighting that is coming from multiple directions. This is useful because dramatic lighting is typically used when constructing scenes for artwork, because as the name implies, it is more dramatic. This study can be used to identify bounce and rim lights, which is where light bounces back from the floor or other surfaces to create a light in opposition to the direction the light is actually coming from. In this image, the light is coming from the right, however the left face of the arms are quite well lit in contrast to the chest. This effect can also be seen on the inner thighs. This is also a great opportunity to see how shading of light can be used instead of line work to identify volume and contrast of parts of the body. Notice how the areas of fat around the ribs and stomach are not identified by line work, but the contrast of white and grey in shading.
Using Life Drawing as a Base
I mentioned earlier in this text how life drawing is not about making perfect art. That is not to say, however, that it can’t be used as a base to create further art and studies, and there is still plenty of learning to be done from this process. This can be a fantastic way to explore rendering and painting techniques, mark making, and much more. Using some life drawings or one specific life drawing you have made in a session, and using that as a base to create a finished artwork can be very rewarding in learning new techniques for making art, or solidifying your knowledge base. Here are some studies I’ve made using online life drawing tools to really get deep into the detail of muscle structure, gesture and balance, and digital painting techniques. Studying classical statues and busts can also be a useful way of expanding on this skill sets.
Having a library of life drawings, from very quick to very long poses is also beneficial as reference. You may have captured a perfect gesture, or an incredible lighting shot for an upcoming piece without knowing it at the time!
There are a lot of reasons to participate in life drawing, and plenty of things that you can learn from it, far more than can be covered in this article. I’ve talked about a lot of the ways I have learned through life drawing, and why it’s important to me. But, I implore you to get out and do some yourself! Absolutely look into local life drawing sessions, as doing it in person is very beneficial, but if you don’t have that option, or if you would like to do some stuff on the side, here are a few links that might be of benefit to you.
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