Studio Art 12: Life Drawing, Class Notes

Syllabus Class Notes Life Drawing Videos


photo of charcoal and graphite

Life Drawing Materials

There are a lot of media you can draw with: pencil, charcoal, but also ballpoint pens & fingers on iPads. “Art” drawing materials and paper are really nice to work with. You might like to get some. But you also don’t have to be worried about that. Any way you can make a mark is great! You can try other materials in the future if you’d like to.


illustration with the caption, "The art of seeing has to be learned"

Look. See.

Drawing is A LOT about LOOKING! The biggest mistake we make is to take a brief look, think we understand, and then go heads down trying to draw. You should try to spend as much time looking as you do drawing! This way you can see what’s in the world, and not what’s in your head!

Drawing is, in a way, very easy. But what makes it hard is our expectations. Or assumptions. For example, an arm in profile is easy to draw. But looking straight on to a “foreshortened” arm is hard to draw. It’s not hard because the lines and circles are harder to make, but because it’s not the arm in our mind. So if you can turn your brain OFF a bit, drawing can become easier!

Gesture Drawings

Gesture Drawing.

Gesture Drawing.

It’s nice to warm up with “Gesture Drawings”. A bunch of quick poses. Where there’s no time to do detail. But you just try to get a sense of how the body is articulated in space. The butt… the thigh… the torso… the head… and arm…

Gesture drawings can be very fast! Very dynamic! Very loose! Very exciting!

You can just make ovals to block muscles in. And then keep drawing. IRL we might start with 5- second poses. But I think with all of our tech, that might be a little crazy here! Why don’t we start with some 10 second poses?

We’ll put Fanny, today’s life model, in the center, and let you cam in.

You could fill a sheet with a big gesture drawing if you wanted to. But often you might just use part of the space, and do a dozen gestures on a page. Let’s do 12, 10-second poses. Fanny will pose for 10 seconds, and then move to another pose. And again, everyone will do very quick sketches. Try to get a sense of how the body is articulated in space.

Let’s give it a try!

a page filled with quick gesture drawings

Gesture Drawings.

As we go through the class, the poses will be for longer and longer times. In these early, very short poses, again, don’t worry about detail at all! You really want to draw some fast ovals and try to block in the body in space.

If you want to do the upcoming longer poses on a tablet or other computer, that’s great. For the very short gesture sketches, that’ll probably be kind of hard. Perhaps try these with any old fashioned paper and anything that writes.

Fanny’s 10-second poses did work for me. But Moto commented with her lag that they all “flipbooked” through at once.

Let’s try 12, 25-second gesture poses.

Don’t Erase!

By the way, I would suggest that you never erase! If you don’t “like” a line, just make more “better” lines! In quick sketching like this, you’re really just trying to depict volume and articulation. Your lines will accumulate to a mass. It’s nice not even to lift your pencil. Just to keep the graphite moving across the space of your page.

Drawing is, at it’s core, “easy”, but just like dribbling a basketball, it takes lots of practice to get really good at it.

Why don’t we try 5, 1-minute poses. Now you’ll have a bit more time to try to look at details. You could even pick a windlight that gives you more shading across the body. If you look, you’ll notice that the body: arms, legs, torso, is a lot of cylinders. Still try to block in simple shapes very quickly. If an arm or leg is too long or short, just make more ovals to block in where / how / in what relation it is. And then you can use the rest of your minute to do some cross hatching or shading to block in light and shadow to define the volume of some of those cylinders.

Let’s try 5, 1-minutes poses.

Contour Drawings

contour drawing of a face.

Contour Drawing.

Let’s try a “Contour Drawing”. The idea here is to put your EYE on the subject, say the top of Fanny’s head, and put your pencil on the paper, like the top of the page. And then try to move in sync. So you move down the contours of Fanny’s body with your eye, and your hand moves down the paper. You’re trying to teach yourself hand-eye coordination. Try to do a “Blind Contour” drawing. So you just keep your eye on Fanny’s contours the whole time, and NEVER look at your paper at all. We can try a 5-minute Blind Contour Drawing.

By not looking at your paper some of your drawing might be slightly out of place. But don’t worry about that. The idea is to really think about LOOKING. Our instinct is to look briefly and sort of say to ourselves, “ok, Fanny has an arm. I will now draw an arm.” And what we get it the generic arm in your mind. And not the real arm on Fanny’s body in front of you. So by LOOKING as much as possible, you’ll start to be able to draw what you see.

If you’re drawing on a tablet, you might have to peek to get it to work. But try to look at your paper/tablet as little as possible.

contour drawing of a female figure seated on the ground.

Contour Drawing.

It’s also about the freedom to make marks. We have a tendency to draw what’s in our mind instead of what’s in front of our eyes. We also have a tendency to “censor” or “redo” or “second guess” our drawing. If you think about it, the lines and curves in the human body aren’t especially different, or “harder” to make than the lines and curves in a landscape. I think it’s the mental baggage. That it “should” look a certain way.

Posting on Flickr

Let me ask you all about sharing / posting your work. I think we’re all at what we might call “beginner level”. We’re really doing pretty rough sketches to learn. This isn’t the big show off portfolio. Would you rather:
1. not show them at all, just draw “at home”?
2. post to our “private” class only, flickr group?
3. Post to the regular MU Flickr group?
4. Pass me 1 or 2 sketches that I can put in a blog post?

Class unanimously votes, yes for feedback via Option #2 – private flickr group posting. Open only to Learners in the Life Drawing class, and Models for the class.

The Flickr group is here, although you won’t see it till I invite you:

Also note that photos in the group are private, but if you don’t want others to see your photos in your Flickr “Photostream,” then you should make them “private” there too.

Another Countour Drawing

Shall we do another Contour Drawing? 10 minutes?

Mass Drawing

charcoal drawing on paper.

Mass Drawing.

Why don’t we try one more type of drawing today. It’s called a “Mass Drawing”. The idea is to try to put the heaviest marks where the mass or weight of the body is. As you can see, it’s again very loose. You’re trying to go over, with more lines and more line weight, where the mass / weight of the body is. The load bearing of the spine. The contact of foot to ground. We’re trying to understand the body in space. The mass or how the armature of the skeletal system exists, can help us articulate the core of the body, on which we’ll be adding muscles, flesh, light & shadow. Mass Drawings are really nice with charcoal. So let’s give a 5-minute Mass Drawing a try then.

charcoal on paper

Mass Drawings.

photo of an avatar student working on a life drawing

Syllabus Class Notes Life Drawing Videos



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