Our guide to life drawing
Jane McGuire

Our guide to life drawing

First published date June 16 2015 Amended date June 16 2015

Did you know there’s far more to life drawing than staring at naked people? Far less awkward than it may seem, life drawing is all about capturing the human form. Like all art, life drawing is all about perception and interpretation, there is no right or wrong way to do it. However there are a number of techniques that can help make a drawing look as realistic and to scale as possible. Ready to get those creative juices flowing; why not learn from the experts with a life drawing course?


Where did life drawing come from?

The human form has been a subject of art for thousands of years, so to focus on the history of life drawing we need to go back to pre-historic times and look at the cave paintings of human figures. Next comes the Italian Renaissance, where the body was championed as the ideal subject, and the perfect proportions of Leonardo Di Vinci’s ‘Vitruvian man’ became famous. From Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel, to Raphel’s iconic paintings, art history is full of examples of breathtaking life drawings.

Looking at the work before the Nineteenth century, you will notice there are few female painters, women generally not admitted to figure classes. Fortunately, these rules are now long forgotten, and artists such as Jenny Saville and her depictions of obese female nudes are just as famous as her male contemporaries.


What will I learn?

Every course is different, but all will focus on giving you that extra confidence to capture nude and clothed models. Often taught by an artist with years of experience, you will learn how to get the scale of the drawing right and pick up some top tips to transform your work.


What are the hardest things to get the hang of when it comes to life drawing?

When trying to draw a person, the most difficult thing to gage is often the best viewpoint to convert what could be a very ordinary pose into a work of art. A commonly made mistake is getting too close to the figure, distorting your view. A course is a great way to learn how to move around the subject and find the most interesting angle to draw from. The blank page can be overwhelming, so take a step back and find the most inspiring place to begin.

Scale can also be tricky. Remember that the sides of the page are your limit; whatever the materials you are working with your drawing should be a flowing piece. Once your hand reaches the edge of the page in your sketchbook, it often falls away and you lose control. Getting the scale right takes a lot of practise, but it’s often best to work on a bigger piece of paper to begin with, so start on A3 paper upwards.

The line of action is the principle line that runs from the feet to the head, no matter what style your life drawing is in, this needs to be considered. Like all art, the negative spaces on the page are the blank bits. When it comes to life drawing, the gaps between the negative space and the positive body need to be realistic. If the body looks like it is hovering off the floor or has no depth and shadow, it will completely change the piece.


What types of courses are there out there?

Art courses all vary in content and length – some evening classes run over a number of weeks, allowing your creativity and skills to develop, others are far shorter and focus on teaching specialist skills to improve your work. A beginner’s course will usually cover the basics and introduce you to a number of materials, including pencil, pen, oil and acrylic, all of which will give you completely different effects. The course should also build up hand eye coordination and composition skills.

If you already have a degree of experience under your artist’s belt, there are courses that focus in more detail on the more complicated parts of a life drawing. These are usually the face, hands and feet, which are all vital when it comes to achieving realism. Alternatively, if you fancy following in Leonardo Di Vinci’s footsteps, an anatomical drawing course might be for you; in-depth study of the anatomy and structures of the body often helping individuals to grow as a life artists.

Remember whichever course you choose, it will be a hands-on way to learn something new and meet likeminded individuals. As artists it’s not often you get the chance to analyse and draw from a stationary figure, so a course is a great way to add something new to your portfolio. 

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