Drawing from direct observation – written by Mike Lamble
Written by Mike LambleWhy some are afraid of life drawing?
We all inhabit bodies of different shapes and sizes, sit at any street cafe and observe how we watch or even perv at people walking by. In so many ways we are fascinated by are own species. Why then are some so afraid of life drawing?
I often ask my students “Do we really observe what we are seeing we have an idea of how the human body looks but only an idea?” We have more awareness of the human body than say a flower or a simple every day object like a cup so it’s more obvious, that’s the difference between what we draw and what we see, thus our mistakes can be obvious and we feel it’s too difficult, so our tendency is to avoid the challenge of drawing the human body.
However, from the ancient times till now the best artists and illustrators I know have endevoured to do as much life drawing as possible. What we are doing is discovering the essential appearance of a body by close study. The training of how to see the body comes first the result, you will draw it better.
I introduce a variety of ways or drawing in class, for example, the students will draw on but not looking at their paper the focus is to study carefully the body’s shape. At first students feel insecure especially the control freeks but this exercise frees them up to look and face there fear of “making a mistake” For the same reason, I let them draw with their non dominant hand as well as quick poses where students have to work quickly with not too much time to think this breaks down old established patterns of thinking .
The beauty of life drawing is it trains us to see by drawing from direct observation to represent what is seen in front of us the gap between what is observed and what we know is there in stark reality on the paper before us, this can be disconcerting at first especially for beginners but also for those of us who are more experienced.
I use a number of exercises to help (beginners in particular) draw what they see (objectively) with persistence and enthusiasm even my rocket scientists have learned to draw with understanding,clarity, and realistically.
To my students who have reveled in my life drawing classes for a number of years, it still helps them to resolve ideas and focus the mind on enquiry. In theory to draw the figure, knowledge of what lies beneath the surface is not an essential, if the planes and valleys of the body are closely represented the underlying structure will be evident, although some knowledge of anatomy will be useful.
A little history of life drawing
It wasn’t until the Renaissance do we see a flourishing of figure drawing,detailed studies from life particularly Michelangelo and Leonardo. Leonardo had to flee Italy to escape the wrath of Pope Leo X he was accused of witchcraft for cutting up bodies and studying them at night but what artists like Michelangelo, Leonardo and many others who were to follow was to extract from their models information required for their paintings, this has become standard practice in all art schools since then, in a similar way students who do life drawing notice the rapid improvement in their ability to express their ideas in paint.
Anatomical studies of the shoulder by Leonardo Da Vinci, 1510-1511
Study for a Nude by Michelangelo Buonarroti 1504
Review of “Saturday Morning Anatomy Life Drawing Class”
The anatomy /life drawing class was quite unusual in respect of the model I used thought it was a good idea to show some of the underlying structure of the skeleton and muscles so we arranged a special Life drawing class for a Saturday morning. It took me almost two hours of drawing on Amber before the class started and even then I ran out of time before I completed the job, as you can see the class was full half of my students were doctors. There is no limitation when it comes to life drawing.
Some observations of my students
Life Drawing Class for All Levels
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Why don’t you join our Monday evening life drawing class? If you are not sure, try it out as casual first. Please feel free to ask us if you have any questions about the life drawing class. Email: info[at]art-art.com.au / Phone: +61 (0)2 9968 1233 / Download Enrolment form