A few weeks ago did an intensive week-long life drawing course. The concept of 'life drawing' produces mixed responses. Arty types think it is wonderful, while the more conservative members of society feel a little uncomfortable about the subject (and I did get a few raised eyebrows when I mentioned the idea). I like the think of myself as part of the former category, which is why I enrolled in the course.
Okay, to be honest I may have blushed a little when the first model (a twenty-something girl with a Classical figure) de-robed, but that didn't last long; I had charcoal to play with! The course was five full days, with studies of both male and female nudes, and portraiture. There was about a dozen of us in the group, and I was the youngest by about twenty years! Not that it mattered, everyone had such different styles and experience so it was great to be a part of it.
Our teacher, Melbourne artist Linda Robertson, focused on the shapes of the body. Linda was such a lovely, knowledgeable teacher, and an amazing artist. She really made each student feel comfortable, and didn't smother with advice. This was great for me, as I haven't done a drawing class in a while, and was quite nervous at the prospect.
After a few minutes of looking at the nude model and imagining the array of cylinders, triangles and oval that formed her arms, torso and face, the hesitation amongst the group disappeared. Another focus was on the light and shadows on the figure, and the shapes they made. I found myself staring right at every part of the models, but suddenly they didn't even seem like people; they were just a series of light-reflecting forms. This may seem like a lot of nonsense, but the atmosphere of the class really emphasized this approach to drawing.
I loved doing portraits, and produced my best work during these sessions. Interestingly, it was harder to draw people with their clothes on, after having focused the day before on the nudes. All the folds in the fabric where very hard to draw! The clothing also made the subject a real person again, intruding on my Romantic aesthetic sensibilities. Nonetheless, I persevered, and loved capturing (or atleast trying to) the expression of the subject.
The same thing happened during the nude sessions. Each time we paused for lunch and the model put their clothes back on. They seemed so out of place all of a sudden, and I found it very embarrassing when they came to look at my drawings of them. Let's hope I didn't exaggerate any of their insecurities! One of the best things I took from this course was not improved drawing skills (which I noticed when looking back from my work at the beginning of the week), but an altered view of body image.
There is so much focus on the nonexistent 'ideal' body, that it is easy to forget what an actual naked person looks like. A real person, who isn't super thin or athletically toned; just a normal body. The models we had were like this, and made me more aware of how unnatural the body images that society presents. I would recommend life drawing to anyone, and before you gripe about being unable to draw (which is something I struggle with too), give it a try. There is more to get from it than artistic skills.
The course was part of the Artists Society of Canberra's 'Summer Art Experience.' The society does regular life drawing class. CIT Solutions and the ANU Visual Art Access also run similar classes.
You can see some of Linda's work on the Metropolis Gallery website;