February 25, 2016

5 Tips for Thriving in a Life Drawing Group.


One of the continuing stories in my life is “Life Drawing.”

Life drawing is sketching a real live human person without their clothes on. Using a living subject means capturing something that is real and unadorned by inanimate objects such as clothes.

Life drawing is not just the domain of experienced and talented artists, or professional life models. More people are uncovering the simple joy of naked art drawing in a group as a way of connecting with each other in our aloneness, and as a way to challenge our mind’s perception and judgements.

I discovered my enthusiasm for life drawing by chance when several years ago I met a group of women who were passionate about their art, and wanted to regularly get together to draw each other. The subject was the human body—our naked bodies.

Through this group I came to the realization that drawing reflects what I am experiencing within. If I empty my mind, quieten my internal voice and stay free of judgement, I can mentally flow around the body that I am drawing and the image of the body begins to form on the paper.

At first, the idea of being naked with friends was frightening.

Why would I willingly choose to see and remember my friends naked, or worse expose my own nakedness in a bunch of awkward poses? It was a hurdle I talked myself over, and the experience was much more enjoyable than I feared.

I was grateful when Jessica took the first step and offered to be our first naked model. Our first meeting was on a sleepy Sunday afternoon in Jessica’s lounge room. We brought our sketch pads, charcoals and pencils and set ourselves up in a comfortable position on the floor. Jessica put some sultry tunes on, boldly removed her clothes, set the timer and stretched her body across the floor in a relaxed pose.

The first sketch was rough, a warming-up exercise for 30 seconds to capture the shape of her body and the gesture of her pose by using broad hand and whole arm strokes. From there, each posture was extended from one to five minutes. With each posture I discovered a little more about her body, its proportions and character.

Jessica was innovative, each of her postures built on the last allowing her body to twist and flow. To keep up with the fast pace of changing postures, I gave away starting a new page for each sketch, and instead drew one sketch after the other on the same page, so that her body eventually curved across the page.

After the first five sketches we stopped, stepped back and looked at each other’s creations. Every piece was different and captured a different viewpoint.

The final sketches were more serious studies for 10 and 15 minutes. The room was silent. We shared a suspended moment, all focusing on the model where her figure and its gestures melded with details, the shadows with light and one shape juxtaposed against another.

It only took that one gathering for me to appreciate the connection of body, mind and creation. The exercise was the process of making. The objective was to surrender thought and judgement to the moment, and in the moment, I became the subject.

It’s understandable that nakedness can be a deterrent and confronting for some, and many people may lack the confidence to draw, or believe they are not able to draw. Here are five tips to relax, thrive, and feel more comfortable in a life drawing group:

1. Be comfortable.

Giving dignity to the naked model is essential, and part of that is setting a relaxed mood for the group. A little music and beverage are a great combination to set up the mood of the room and encourage the group to meld in to comfortableness. Most of all—lose all expectation of yourself to reach perfection or compete with others drawing around you.

2. Practice empathy

Sit quietly and notice how you feel. Observe the model without judgement and reflect that back on yourself as well. Feel the model with your observation. As Bruce Lee wrote, be like water:

“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

3. Focus on the process, not the artwork.

There are a few general rules to guide your sketching:

Start big and end with detail.

To help with proportion, the body is about five and half heads long. So place a mark for the top of the head and the end of the body on the page, and mark five equal sections in between.

Look for shapes, maybe a circle, or a pear, and mark those out on the page.

Look for the negative shapes around the figure and sketch those, for example look for the shape between the head and shoulder, or underneath the arms and between the legs.

As your confidence grows, you can extend your technique and tackle more intricate pieces. Returning to these basic sketching exercises will continue to inspire and invigorate your art compositions.

 4. Experiment and play.

Find the sensuality in the body line, discover a gesture that intrigues you and play it up, make it a hero in your composition. Is it a turning thigh, a folding breast, or the way the neck connects to a shoulder that appeals to you?

Try automatic drawing such as drawing the shape and details of the body without looking at the paper, or use a continuous line drawing technique such as never lifting your drawing tool from the paper.

Try covering the whole paper with a dark colors, then rub away the color to reflect light on shining on the form, and reveal the body within the shadows.

5. Celebrate.

The ‘art of making’ is a celebration of creation. Remember that the act of drawing can be fun when we draw without judgement or comparison, and understand there are no mistakes. There will always be more to learn, so keep trying to find those sensual curves, folds, shadows and light that excite you. If we can believe in ourselves and draw from our hearts, our unique style will sing with glee from the page.

Five quotes to inspire your naked art and creativity:

 “Can you look without the voice in your head commenting, drawing conclusions, comparing, or trying to figure something out?” ~ Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

“A painter should begin every canvas with a wash of black, because all things in nature are dark except where exposed by the light.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

 “We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.” ~ Bob Ross

“Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.” ~ Bertolt Brecht

“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.” ~ Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray


Relephant Link:

Sketch artist draws women how they describe themselves vs. how they are described by others. 

Author: Roslyn Walker

Apprentice Editor: Rachel Leber;  Editor: Sara Kärpänen

Image: GoaShape / Unsplash

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