Life Drawing Manchester

Guide on drawing proportions

As is common knowledge, portraiture is the representation of a human being’s features, such as the face, head and shoulders or the whole body. However it is necessary when representing the features of the human figure to understand how perception plays an important theme in interpretation of figurative drawing.

Although drawing from life remains the main way of exploring techniques such as proportion and perspective, arguably, in order to master them, it may be necessary to put aside our worry about producing aesthetically pleasing images of immediate and impetuous drawing, rather focus on the academic reproduction of reality before you can achieve a freer and more personal style.

When drawing the human figure, as is the case for all drawings from life, understanding how we interpret perspectives and utilizing this in our drawing is important to create an image that represents spatial depth. Looking at the basic principles of drawing the head for example, in order to draw a picture in perceptive, the object must be reduced in size in accordance with the distance they are from the observer. The correct size of each object in perspective is obtained by means of observing receding/vanishing lines.

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While we could go in to great deal regarding the principles of vanishing lines, the underlining principle of vanishing points tells us they only exist when parallel lines appear to recede into the distance. In subjects such as the human figure, we are not always able to find straight edges to act as guidelines to vanishing points. These can be called zero-point perspective scenes. To create depth and distance in these scenes, there are a number of techniques we can use:

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  • Scale: objects become progressively smaller as they recede.

  • Detail: things become more indistinct in the distance and shapes become fuzzy and merge into one another.

  • Mark making: use line thickness and drawing pressure to create depth – lines become finer and more delicate as they recede into the distance.

  • Tone/value: the amount of darkness or contrast becomes less as things get further away.

Yet it can be argued the use of this principle when drawing the human figure, our understanding of perspective is based entirely on sight and experience. Observing the life model allows the artist to develop their basic knowledge of perspective to represent spatial distance, from this the artist can understand and draw perspective using his intuition.

 However, there are still elements that can trip us up, especially where objects are foreshortened, appearing to recede into the picture plane. Our prior knowledge when working with this type of subject seems to override what we see, and we start drawing what we think we know. In this case a basic understanding of proportion and measurement can be helpful to the artist. This is because to make an accurate drawing that creates an illusion of depth, a system of measuring what you see, enables the artist to understand the proportion of objects and the distances between things.

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For many artists, simply using a pencil is a tried and tested method for gaging the accuracy of the drawing at any time. Using the aforementioned method, the nude figure can be broken down into a series of simple but accurately proportioned geometric shapes, until you have established the correct relationship between the body parts included in your drawing. Ultimately a basic understanding of perspective and measuring proportion are the most important things to consider when tackling any sort of drawing, and although initially quite a bit of effort is needed to follow the principles of measurement, proportion and scale, with frequent use and practice, most things can be done by eye. 

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.