Why did I start a life drawing class?

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This is one of the many questions I am asked when people come to my the life drawing class for the first time, or other variants such as, ‘so have you been to art college?’, ‘what made you start a life drawing class?’ ‘can you draw though?’. Although I am never upset by these questions, that would feel ridiculous, I am conscious that these questions carry with them the connotations that only those with formal art training should have the opportunity to provide an untutored life drawing class to those interested in art. And it is this implication that I would like to discuss, because I believe this attitude, or even the perception that this attitude exists, that can prevent someone from following their interest in drawing/art just because they don’t have a background of attending art college.

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I believe that art should be available for everyone to enjoy and experience, regardless of your educational background. Art should transcend boundaries, to act as a fantastic equalisation, where anyone can enjoy great works of art and the process of making it. Art should bring people together; to discuss their views, thoughts and even their desires, hopes, dreams and impressions, in open discussion. Moreover, it should allow those who gaze upon it to be transported by the artists ambitions.

When looking to the works of Picasso for instance, his famous painting Guernica was a powerful political statement in response to the Nazi bombing of the Basque town of Guernica during Spanish Civil War. Even in today’s society, art can be used by anyone to express themselves in whatever way they feel, owing to this, art posted on social media sites was used by the masses in response to the fire of Notre Dame.

Art then like classical music should not be viewed as highbrow; to be reserved for those few who have attended art school, or who have cultivated their skills in Florence. Certainly any institution that develops your knowledge and skills in art is without question significant, yet I feel it is also important to ensure that the opportunity for the enjoyment of art is available to everyone, especially those who have not attained formal art credentials. This is because I understand how  an inner interest in art can take secondary position in consequence to educational or career ambitions.

Therefore I believe life drawing is one way to break down any perceived barriers, by demonstrating that snobbery around art does not exist, as it is an opportunity that is available to everyone. In other words, if you are worried about coming to a nude figure drawing class because you feel you lack formal training or credentials, please do not allow this apprehension to hold you back from enjoying the universal experience that is art.

Nichola.

Leonardo Da Vinci's : A life in Drawing Exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery

Last week I went to the Manchester Art Gallery to explore the ‘Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing’ exhibit. This exhibit, part of a nationwide exhibition, has been held to celebrate the life and art work of Leonardo da Vinci; marking the 500th anniversary since his death. The gallery displayed twelve drawings of the body by Leonardo da Vinci, including anatomical studies; male and female studies; drapery; and models in action, on loan from the Royal Collection.

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The exquisite drawings on display showed just why Leonardo da Vinci is known as the Renaissance master, his works showed his profound understanding of human anatomy. By intensely studying how the human body is supported by the skeleton and musculature, Leonardo da Vinci was able to depict the human figure as it is in nature. Looking at the drawings on display Leonardo da Vinci appears to have had a fascination with the shoulder joint and the foetus.

According to many historians Leonardo da Vinci took his fascination of the human anatomy to the next step, and at some point started dissecting bodies, allegedly dissecting 30 in total. It is clear from his drawings that Leonardo da Vinci had an exceptional understanding of the inner workings of the human body. Just like Leonardo, life drawing requires the artist to be familiar with the internal structure of the model so we can portray in an appropriate and convincing way the external forms of the body. Although I am not asking you to dissect a body, picking up a book on the anatomy, studying the muscle groups and the skeleton is a very useful step in understanding form, posture and position in relation to the movement of the bones, joints and muscles.

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However as useful as anatomy books are at creating an awareness of muscles, joints and the skeleton, it is through careful and prolonged observation of the human body that our understanding of what constitutes elements of movement truly deepens. This is were life drawing is so important, observing a nude figure in action; changing position in the quick gestural poses; or observing sustained positions enables the artist to become aware of the muscles contracting and connecting; and the movement of the skeleton such as the spine and pelvis, as the model preforms a movement. Indeed it is through life drawing, that artists are able to practise their skill at defining the nude figures external appearance, enabling them to transfer this skill to realistic portraits, caricatures or even sequential art.

Drawing Mediums and Becoming a Life Model.

When we started Bee Creative Studio in December, we hoped our vision of high quality life drawing classes would we successful. As a team we invest much of our time and energy in to providing what we hope is the best service possible. Although we are now half-way through March, if we look back to February we can confidently say our hard work is paying off. Every week have new and returning artists coming to our classes, with many choosing to branch out from pencils in to other media and materials, such as watercolours and charcoal.

However, if you are new to figure drawing, and thinking of trying out our life drawing classes for the first time, you may be feeling overwhelmed by the wealth of drawing materials to choose from. In this case it helps to know the difference between the various medias. There are three main materials predominately used in life drawing; pencil, graphite and charcoal.

Pencil

Pencils offer a wide range of tones across the HB grading system, it is for this reason pencils are generally considered the simplest tools, and are typically good for those new to drawing. However pencils offer only light smudging, meaning you won’t be able to eliminate your original lines in this way, and they may even feel quite unforgiving unless you use an eraser. Similarly, you can also find woodless graphite pencils or graphite sticks in a range of tonal value. Chucky graphite sticks allow for larger strokes, that feel more free-flowing and expressive than the precise nature of a pencil. For some, graphite can bridge the gap between the control of a pencil and the ability to blend and build colour in a similar way to carbon. Although graphite won’t give an intense black, it will give some sheen to your drawings which you may find can add to the realism.

Charcoal

For some the idea of using charcoal can be un-nerving, its loose powdery composition and intense black colour can be off pointing to those new to life drawing. However charcoal is not one-dimensional, and is in fact a wonderful, playful medium to use for drawing the nude figure. Compressed charcoal is made from powdered charcoal, and gives a very deep black. Its powdery texture means it can be smudge very easily by gently rubbing it with your fingers, the side of your hand and a tortillion/blending stump. In this way it is perfect for creating soft marks of varying shades of grey and for creating bold black lines.

Being a life model:

Every week we aim to bring a different model into the studio, as everyone’s body is individual it create new challenge for our artists to draw. However we are always being asked what we look for in a life model. So if you are thinking of giving this a go here are some of the things we think are significant to becoming an excellent life model:

  • Be prepared for the different ways in which each life drawing class works, there is no ‘right way’ some classes are very structured with the principle artist not only asking you to pose in a certain way but they may also ‘rearrange’ you. So be prepared to be touched. However, some classes are unstructured, and they will expect you to come up with your own poses to fit in with the given time limits. In this case you will have to think on your feet and be inventive with your poses.

  • Have a good attitude, this goes without saying really. If you turn up in a bad mood or act in a way that leaves the principle artist or customers feeling uncomfortable you will not be asked to work again. Your attitude matters not only on the day but from the initial contact too.

  • Arrive early, punctuality is extremely important for life modelling. You will be asked to arrive early (10-15 minutes) before the class begins, this will allow us to check the poses with you for the upcoming session, check the lighting and props, as well as give you time to change. Being a life model is like any other job you are required to be there on the time stated and to make us aware if problems arise and you are running late.

  • Be confident, although you are not going to be participating in a naked catwalk, you will be nude in front on a group of strangers. However there is no perfect body, and life drawing is not about drawing perfectly defined nude figures. On the contrary life drawing is about people from all walks of life, all ages, and all abilities. When the artists are drawing they are looking for your unique features such as the lines on your face, the curvature of your spine, the scars or tattoos.

All in all being a figure model for a life drawing class is a wonderful thing, not only are you enabling artists to understand the anatomy of the human figure, you are contributing to someone else’s art.

The Aging Body

The aging body in life drawing offers us an important opportunity to make us aware of issues concerning identity and representation but also offers us the chance to see and draw the effects of gravity on the nude figure. Gravity forces objects downwards; acting through the centre of gravity. When the position of the centre of gravity and the figure are observed the body’s equilibrium can be considered. That is the equal balance between the force of gravity and the power of the body to withstand this force by holding its self in positions.

Although the force of gravity does not affect the internal structure of the body, its affects can be seen on the soft tissues of the outer body. In the older figure the changes are perhaps most obvious; the loose skin that compresses or expands with positions the nude figure is in. This offers the artist an important opportunity to draw the figure, showing the changes to the body when laying down, bent over, laying on one side, or standing upright, as the soft tissues are easily observed in how they support another part of the body they are in contact with.

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As we age time leaves its mark on our soft human bodies, the wrinkles, lines, scars and marks each a symbol of a life well lived. Yet when we speak of the aging body in art and the mass media it is still shockingly under-represented.

Arguably this absence of the aging body in mainstream culture is to create a distance between the defining characteristics of old age; grey hair; sagging, wrinkled skin; age spots; and a translucent complexion, with the undiminished youthful symbol of beauty.

Of course this transformation from youthful existence to old age is not optional, the passage of time happens to us all, so why is it largely invisible in art? Is it to disqualify the changes we see as problems we would rather not lay our gaze upon? Is it because we perceive age as being absent from sexuality? If we look to art history the youthful figure is depicted as a sexual existence full of opportunity and fully abled, whereas when an old person is finally depicted in art it is often to serve as a metaphorical symbol of time, mortality or wisdom. Life drawing is more than just a depiction of the nude figure, it challenges our perceptions of beauty, by enabling us the view another person in their most vulnerable state and therefore questions our own identity.