Aaron Coberley – the life artist
Jane McGuire

Aaron Coberley – the life artist

Aaron Coberley the life artist

First published date June 16 2015 Amended date March 16 2016

Coming across Aaron’s work on Pinterest, I knew I had found my life drawing expert. Blown away by the composition of his art, the emotional gazes he captured in his portraits and the use of shadow and texture, I was thrilled when Aaron agreed to chat. Answering my questions from his Seattle home, Aaron is an advocate of the idea that in art especially, you never stop learning. Sharing his secrets, his advice and his inspirations, whether you are getting ready for your first life drawing class or have been practising for years, Aaron is an artist worth studying.


So Aaron, where did your interest in life drawing come from?

I was constantly drawing growing up, but because I lived in a tent in the woods on a farm with horses I drew horse’s heads mostly. When I was a teenager I got into comic books and created my own superheroes. It wasn’t till I was 18 that I met an art teacher who invited me to one of his life drawing classes. It changed my life and I have been participating in life drawing sessions ever since.


Did you get any formal art qualifications?               

No, I had a mentor for a while and his most valuable advice was that you learn best by doing – so go and draw and keep drawing.


How has your work progressed over the years then?

I think the main thing that has changed about my drawings over the last ten or more years has been the move from linear, to more shape and value based drawing. I think in the beginning I was focused on the line and drawing for the sake of drawing, now I think more about painting when I draw. Drawing for me is a process of training my eyes to see simple value shapes. I relate it to practising your scales on a guitar; drawing is my tool for me to hone my ability to see.


Looking at your art, you work with a variety of materials – which do you prefer?

My default is graphite, but I enjoy charcoal and pen. I actually enjoy using ballpoint pen quite a bit too.


What is the most difficult part then when it comes to capturing the human form on paper?

I don’t know if there is any one thing that is most difficult. It all depends on what you are trying to say – are you taking a graphic approach or trying to capture the dimensionality of the form? There are really so many aspects to think about as you draw; maybe the most difficult is that initial decision of what you want to say about what you see.


Your drawings seem to be full of emotion, how do you achieve this?

I try to stick with my first impression and that taps into how I feel about what I am looking at. I think that my feelings translate into the emotion in the drawing.


How do you know when a piece is finished and you can walk away?

When you are drawing from life, all the poses are timed, so when that timer goes off I am done drawing.


What top tips would you give to someone hoping to get into life drawing?

Learn how to simplify shapes and values; it is an area that we fight against all the time because there is so much going on around us. We see millions of values and small details that can overwhelm our observations. Also, for people who are just starting, my main piece of advice would be not to worry about the outcome, just focus on the journey. Do hundreds of drawings before you start over thinking whether you are good at drawing or not. I always find it kind of funny when people tell me that they can’t draw. I always ask how many drawing they’ve done, nine times out of ten they will say they drew as a kid, but have probably only done around ten or twenty. I don’t believe you can really judge whether you are good at something if you have only practised it a couple of times.


That’s a great answer – I like that! Do you have a piece of work you are particularly proud of?

Yes but I am also using past work to improve my future work. I think it is very important for me to use my own work as a guide to help me crystallise my voice, by having constructive criticism of past work. I have had work that I felt very good about, but when I look back on it I don’t have the same feelings. I use past work to help me identify areas that make me excited and make me feel like I am actually making progress.


Finally, what artists most inspire you and why?

My influences are so varied, from Rembrandt to Velasquez or Lucien Freud, to John William Waterhouse. I also really love and am influenced by Nicolai Ivanovich Fechin and Carolyn Anderson. I could list hundreds of artists that I am influenced by. I try to find what it is in each artist’s work that draws me to it and try and see if I can take that and apply it to my own work. Sometimes things fit and sometimes they don’t – like adding spice to a meal. For me, I have to use the ingredients that work for my particular meal and leave some out because they don’t fit, even though I love them in other artist’s work.


Thanks Aaron!


To take a look at Aarons work, head over to his website or keep in touch on his Facebook page. If you have been inspired to follow in his footsteps, get signed up to a course and never stop drawing!