In part one of this mini-series I extolled the value of small, in-person, art classes. Though there are a variety of subjects one might benefit from in a small class setting, 'life drawing' is a quintessential example. In this post we'll explore the importance of life drawing & open studio courses, and the roll they play in your custom-built art education.
What is life drawing?
Though the term is sometimes defined more broadly, I use it to describe drawing the human form. The most useful life drawing is done in the presence of a professional, posing, model. Often the model is nude, which prevents clothing from confusing the underlying anatomical forms. In the abstract, life drawing is no different than still life drawing: you're looking at a subject and drawing it with traditional media. All of the same rules apply. The difference is an important one, though: people are really challenging to draw. Figure drawing is a life-long pursuit. If you don't know where to begin with the human form, make sure to watch the Ctrl+Paint video to the right.
The more, the merrier
As you might imagine, figure drawing offers practical challenges such as finding a model, arranging lighting, renting a location, etc. For these reasons, life drawing sessions are much more convenient when you're not the organizer. Luckily, figure drawing is commonly offered at local art institutions. Community art colleges, art centers, or the local university. Occasionally these sessions are even held at local art supply stores. The price of these sessions varies, but in my experience $15 is average. With a bit of research, an affordable life drawing session is probably in your neighborhood.
Photo reference vs. live models
A reasonable question at this point would be "what about photo reference?". There's nothing wrong with learning to draw the figure from photos, but learning from an actual model is much more intense. First off, drawing from a live human (not a photo) trains your brain to capture 3D form more effectively. In the same way that drawing an actual still life is more effective than drawing from a photo of a still life, live models simply offer a richer challenge. More importantly, the atmosphere of a life drawing session is often incredibly studious. If you were to look around the room in a figure drawing session, you'd see deep focus in action. Beginners often think that drawing a naked person would be awkward, and that the room would be filled with nervous energy. In actuality, after the first 5 minutes or so - everyone falls into a deep, concentrated, state. It's hard to quantify, but in my opinion this atmosphere leads to extremely productive practice.
Since all of this comes back to your budget and busy schedule, I'd encourage an 80/20 rule of thumb. If you spent even 20% of your figure drawing time in front of a live model, the remaining 80% of your figure drawing practice could be at home with photo reference. This format will allow you to learn lessons during the live sessions, and allow you to practice your discoveries at home. Life drawing sessions are cheaper than art school courses, and are a fantastic investment. Ultimately, figure drawing needs to be part of your custom-designed art education. No matter what your end goal, make sure part of your foundation studies involve drawing the human form. Do you have any life drawing advice? We'd love to hear about it in the comments!