No matter where you are in your artistic career, going back to basics and drawing the human form is a remarkable tool. It is both humbling and enriching, and can be used both for sharpening your observation skills and for getting new ideas and inspiration.
If you find drawing from life frustrating, you are not alone! Even the most experienced artists still struggle with life drawing. However, there are some hints and tips you can try using to get the most out of your class.
1. Short poses
Short poses, lasting from 1-5 minutes, are a good way to warm up at the beginning of a class and get to grips with the figure you’re going to be drawing. Don’t get caught up in the details: focus on the planes of the larger structure: the pelvis, the spine, the shoulders. Try to see the model as a whole figure. Where is his/her weight resting? Are they balanced? Are your proportions right?
2. Loosen up!
If your sketches are a bit stiff and lifeless, try including some so-called ‘gesture drawing’ into your practice. Instead of focusing on what the model looks like, try to convey the sense of movement within the figure. Use a soft drawing implement like charcoal, conté or watered-down ink and a brush and really allows you to imagine what it is like to ‘be’ the body.
It can help not to even look at the paper as you’re drawing, to go slowly and keep the pencil on the paper as you explore what the figure feels like.
3. Work with the shade
Another technique you can employ to help you get a better feel for the figure is to focus on the light and shade that falls on the figure. Use a soft pencil and a rubber, or try two different shades of charcoal or conté, and try squinting to really get a sense of where the light falls on the model. Shade the darkest areas, and highlight the lightest parts with a rubber or a white or light-coloured pencil.
Don’t worry too much about proportion, just try to get the shape that is rendered by the contrast of light and shade. This technique is known by its Italian name, ‘chiaroscuro’.
4. Contour, contour, contour
If you can imagine the contour lines you see on maps pasted onto the model’s body, what would they look like? Use a fine pencil and hold it loosely in your hand. The aim isn’t to draw a perfect figure, but instead to get a grasp of the body’s natural volumes and sense of solidity. Try to keep your head steady as you draw fine lines showing the natural swells and planes of the figure. By doing this exercise, you will learn really helpful things about the human body, and you can use in your more ‘finished’ drawings.
We’re really proud of our student’s progression in their Life Drawing classes and thought we’d include some examples. The above images from top to bottom show life drawings created in our classes by: Dara Nerweyi, Sharri Morris and Dominique Searle. Congratulations to all three of you, we were so impressed with your drawings!
Have you tried any of these tips? What do you do in your life drawing classes? We would love to hear your views, or send us some of your sketches! If you’d like to join one of our wonderful Life Drawing classes you can join us in London, Birmingham or Manchester.
Author: Clara Tait