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Drawing from Life

kawaiidaigakusei at 12:00AM, Jan. 5, 2015
tags: life drawing

Around Spring of last year, in an attempt to keep my pen moving, I signed up for a life drawing class. It was the first time since high school art class that I was going to draw human models in real life. Over the last decade, most of the human figure references I use for drawing webcomics are still photographs without any time limit, so it was going to be a challenge.

I arrived at the venue super early that the front door to the business was locked. It was freezing, so I was ready to do an about face when I noticed a hipster-looking man with a box car moustache wearing a bowler hat and clothes from the 19th century. I asked if he was there for the life drawing. His eyes involuntarily moved back and forth a bit until he responded with a quiet, “Yes.” Then a pause. “Actually…I am one of the models.” I stood awkwardly in the cold next to this gentleman that I was about to draw on the third floor walk up of the building next to us. I felt as if I had broken the first rule of a life drawing session, no small talk between the audience and the models. Eventually the awkward moment ended when the other members of the three man Vaudeville Troupe jumped out of their car and lugged enormous trunk cases up the stairs.

The building had a musty smell from what I believe was the prohibition-era 1920s. I found a seat in an uncomfortable plastic fold out chair because I assumed it was the cleanest one available. Before long the lights went out and the next three hours were spent drawing outrageous costumes, bushy beards with handlebar moustaches, and being entertained by the hilarious poses of the performers.

I did come to two realizations that evening. The first was that I am horrible at drawing the male figure. Most of my experience in webcomics use extensive practice drawing female body types because I understand the curves and the waist-to-hip ratio. Heavily costumed male figures proved to be even more difficult, so it was like starting at the beginning of a learning curve. The second lesson I learned is that sitting in a dark room having to draw constantly for three hours is mentally and physically draining, not to mention how quickly art supplies get used up in the process. My drawing hand seriously began to tense up and I had to pace myself for the endurance to make it through to the end of the night.

I walked away with a newfound respect for Art majors and anyone who has taken a life drawing class for an entire semester. Drawing from real life is a helpful discipline to learn and can only enhance the ability to draw.

I give props to anyone who has participated in a life drawing class, whether as a sketcher or as the model!

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brogan68 at 1:18PM, Jan. 6, 2015

I haven't done a life drawing class in a while. Your article actually makes me wanna do one again. Even if it means a plastic chair and mustiness lol.

Abt_Nihil at 3:33PM, Jan. 5, 2015

@kawaii: Haha! I'm not sure... in any case, it seems like that man had found his dream job.

kawaiidaigakusei at 11:57AM, Jan. 5, 2015

@fallopiancrusader- the other people in the audience were carrying 36"x24" drawing boards and large canvas pads. One man even had a full set of copic markers and micropens with him. Knowing what I know now, I should have just tried drawing on my tablet with my stylus, but I read on the website that no photography was permitted and I was unsure if that applied to all forms of technology with cameras. Quality paper does get expensive. I love using card stock or cover stock when I ink, but these days, I just gravitate to whatever paper is within reach when I want to draw something. Photoshop can be very forgiving when adjusting levels and b&w contrast for linework.

fallopiancrusader at 11:08AM, Jan. 5, 2015

One does go through an amazing amount of art supplies in a life drawing session. When I used to work in a corporate office, I would always raid the recycle bin by the printer, and use the backs of those discarded papers to paint on. These days, I usually bring my laptop and Wacom tablet to the life drawing studio, and draw on that.

Ozoneocean at 9:17AM, Jan. 5, 2015

Drawing figures is great training, but one of the most important lessons it teaches you is that there are NO "normal", "ordinary", "standard" bodies out there. Clothes homogenise people, and we also have the false notion from the media and even things like comic books that there's a standard "type" of human body for men and women, but when you draw a lot of naked people you see their shapes and proportions never really match up to any imagined ideal. (not even Greek and Roman statues do).

Ozoneocean at 9:14AM, Jan. 5, 2015

Fortunately I've never seen an erection during a session, but I've heard cases, just like FC. It's uncommon though. Again like FC says you can get to know some models over time, and you also get to know a lot of the same artists over time as well... there are some interesting people out there.

KimLuster at 8:31AM, Jan. 5, 2015

@FC: Holy Crapola!! How in the world could he just... keep posing? That's a professional for ya I guess...!

fallopiancrusader at 8:05AM, Jan. 5, 2015

In most larger cities, there are usually studios that offer drop-in drawing sessions with a live nude model. Some are in a university, some are independent. I was in one life-drawing session that lasted five hours, and another where the models were an 8-piece brass band. I think everyone draws better from a live model than from photos. The way the eye processes 3D information from real experience is very different from the way it does from 2D photograph. The photo has already mediated reality before the eye ever looks at it. After doing life-drawing over many years, one sees the same models over and over, and I have found it rather normal to strike up friendships with them. @Kimluster: That happened during a life-drawing session a friend of mine was in. The model got, then lost, an erection, but he never broke his pose.

KimLuster at 7:15AM, Jan. 5, 2015

Oooooo Drawing nude males...! I'm sure... somewhere... there's been a case of a male model or two 'rising up' while being drawn...! You know, involuntary reactions and all...

kawaiidaigakusei at 6:40AM, Jan. 5, 2015

Hahahha, oh Abt, that is too funny! I hope your school did a background check on that man just to make sure he was not an exhibitionist.

bravo1102 at 6:34AM, Jan. 5, 2015

I love life drawing myself. One time in class as I took a break and was reading, one of the other students drew me. I'm supposedly very good at quick gesture drawing and could even get the quick exercise poses. Then I can draw with the whole arm and don't kill my elbow/wrist. This doesn't work for a comic at all. :-( I've been told I should go out on the street and offer portraits but I am so out of practice.

Abt_Nihil at 6:27AM, Jan. 5, 2015

I've only been at a life drawing session once when I was in high-school... we drew a nude male, who didn't only seem perfectly comfortable, but more as if he'd be more uncomfortable when dressed.

KimLuster at 4:45AM, Jan. 5, 2015

I've never had the opportunity to draw a live nude model - it'd be an interesting experience!

Banes at 4:15AM, Jan. 5, 2015

Very interesting stuff, and well written! I love a shifty eyed look, followed by a quiet response. Having a better grasp of male/female proportion is an important thing to gals tend to be too big in the shoulders/arms. Well...that's ONE drawing weakness I have of many, but still...!

kawaiidaigakusei at 2:30AM, Jan. 5, 2015

Thankfully the dudes stayed fully clothed the entire time. I do not think I could have handled drawing them without the costume accessories. I probably would have had to walk out!

Ozoneocean at 2:01AM, Jan. 5, 2015

I love life drawing. :D

Ozoneocean at 2:01AM, Jan. 5, 2015

The last life drawing session I went to it was my friend Bianka sitting there. She kept chatting away to me while everyone else was stuck in the usual state of hyper-concentrated silence. The other funny thing is that even though the model is in an objectified position, naked (in some cases) amidst a crowd of fully dressed, silent people who're all staring at them intently from every direction, they still have all the power! Every movement of them is death for the artists, who can whine and complain but the model doesn't have to care. Afterwards they can get up and stroll around in the nude, looking over the artist's shoulders at their creations and they'll look to the model in deference, knowing they've likely seen the work of hundreds of other artists and wondering how they compare... Wondering how well the model thinks they've captured their likeness and whether they approve or are offended in some way.

Ozoneocean at 1:52AM, Jan. 5, 2015

That sounds pretty funny actually Kawaii! ^_^ About that unspoken rule about chatting with the model- that does appear to be a thing, mainly because it's a bit of an awkward situation; the models are unavoidably objectified and they feel a little uncomfortable and so does their audience... But not always!

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