If I was only allowed to make one art-related recommendation, it would be for everyone to attend at least one drawing session with a live model. I honestly believe that life drawing is the most efficient way to boost your skills, and it is incredibly fun as well.
I’ll be very sad once I graduate from university next semester because I’ll lose access to the convenient Wednesday night live model sessions that are open to all students. After some time reflecting on these classes, I’ve come up with several ways in which life drawing has made me a better artist.
1) I got faster. I’m pretty “slow” when I’m making art. This normally isn’t a problem, but sometimes you just want to be able to fluidly put pencil down on paper and bust out a nice sketch in a few minutes, especially if you’re sketching out in a cafe or you have a few minutes free in the morning before work.
Life drawing, especially the quick one to five minute warm-up poses, train you to make your marks effectively and to be very choosy with your marks. The goal here is to get a nice gesture or contour without worrying too much about details, likeness, or proportions. Simply capture the essence of the form.
2) I got more accurate. If I paint a landscape, nobody will notice that a tree doesn’t look the same in the painting as it does in real life. But a model will surely notice if a drawing looks like her or not. Life drawing can teach you to capture likeness in a way that drawing a still life can’t, and this is something I’ll definitely miss.
3) I got more experimental. The ability to design my own poses has given me a sense of ownership that is difficult to replicate in other settings. The human body has such a unique shape and there are endless ways to pose the figure. This has really encouraged me to think outside the box and explore new materials, papers, and techniques that I wouldn’t have considered otherwise.
4) I got tons of critiques. Being around a group of like-minded individuals means that I had access to lots of ideas! I was surrounded by a group of people that constantly inspired me and gave me helpful tips regarding composition and techniques. Arguably, this is the most valuable aspect of life drawing, as tapping into the knowledge of others lets you hone in on your mistakes and quickly correct them. I learn by seeing, and then by doing, so seeing the artwork of my peers and applying their techniques immediately afterwards can lead to a surprising amount of improvement in a relatively short time.
5) I got more observant. When you spend a few hours a week doing nothing but looking at a stationary nude model, you start noticing subtle features that you didn’t pick up on before. A gentle curve, an interestingly-shaped mole, or even a slight shift in weight. Not only do these observations inform my drawings, but since I plan on entering a career where a big part of the job involves picking up subtle details about people, life drawing is good practice!
Once I graduate, I know I’ll need to look for another life drawing group I can attend. Luckily, there are plenty of resources available to help find a session nearby.
- This directory. It organizes figure drawing sessions available in the United States and Canada by state/province. Some other directories can be found on the internet using search engines.
- Facebook groups. There are many Facebook groups that have formed with the purpose of organizing dates where they hire a model for a few hours and the group meets up to draw and paint. These can can be very informal gatherings with food and drink. If you have a group of friends interested, consider forming a Facebook group that includes them and start scouring the internet to look for a model available in your area. The more people you find, the cheaper hiring the model will be per person.
- Local colleges. If you have a community college nearby, chances are that they’ll offer some fine arts classes. Check your community college’s website to see if they offer a life drawing class.
I strongly encourage everyone to try and attend at least one life drawing class, even if you have an aversion to the human form. At the very least, it will make you more aware of yet another way people choose to create art.