This weekend I went to a figure drawing group at the Uforge Gallery, lead by the amazingly awesome Kristilyn of Zombie Romance. I am ashamed to admit it, but I haven’t done a life drawing session in ages. Drawing from life is essential to the art making process- it teaches you how to interpret contour, shape, and shadow and hones your skill by forcing you to break a figure down to its essentials. Our stunning model for the night was burlesque dancer Porcelain Dalya and we were giving a variety of timed poses starting from 1 minute sketches, to 5, 10, 20, and then 30 minutes. You might not think that a mere 60 seconds is enough time to produce a drawing, but these kind of sessions aren’t about finished pieces, it’s about learning from the process.
When I tackle quick sketches, use vine charcoal on large newsprint paper, working in big, broad strokes to loosen up, and then depending on how long a pose is, I’ll tighten it up with denser grades of charcoal and conté crayon. It’s really interesting to see how different kinds of artists work- Kristilyn, having a background in animation, uses a variety of different colored markers to map everything out in layers. I’ve noticed that artists with illustration backgrounds tend to build more coherent sketches in a short amount of time— which makes sense given the nature of a contour line-based, action oriented art form. On the flip-side, I have a more gestural style, working through shadow and highlight. Because it takes me longer to refine a drawing, I tend to focus on a particular section and really work it up to detail.
Here are a few sketches ranging from 1 minute to 5 minute poses:
Here is a 10 minute sketch with charcoal:
A 20 minute sketch with charcoal and conté crayon:
And a 30 minute sketch in charcoal and pastel:
For these types of sketches, I do a lot of scribbling, rubbing, blending, and erasing. It’s a very spontaneous process when compared to my painting, but these kinds of exercises can offer a lot of insight that you’re just not going to get from drawing photographs.
Having a live model not only makes you work harder to interpret what you’re seeing in front of you, it forces you to make decisions and rely on the drawing knowledge you’ve hoarded. Models move within their poses, even as still as they are– they breath, they drift, their presence changes, and as an artist, you need to adapt your work. Live models make your sketches breathe. There will be no other drawing the exact same as yours– no one else sees from your exact perspective, no one else is as close or as far to the model or the light or your medium. Even in a room of artists, your drawing will be truly unique, reflecting your individual experience and your relationship with your surroundings.
To quote the painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres:
Drawing is the probity of art. To draw does not mean simply to reproduce contours; drawing does not consist merely of line: drawing is also expression, the inner form, the plane, modeling. See what remains after that.
I am so grateful to have the opportunity to dive back into figure drawing once again. I’m excited to see if getting back into practice makes a visible impact on my painting.