Tips for Life Drawing Class

Tonight I was thinking of a few tips for life drawing class that I hope will be helpful to other artists out there. I have been drawing the figure from life off and on since I attended college in 1993. I can’t say that I have been doing it for 20 years considering the long breaks I have had in my art career but I believe I have a lot to share.

Life Drawing Supplies

Artists are obsessed with supplies, and I’m no different. I actually went into an art store today, returned and item and left. This is quite an amazing feat of self control on my part, it’s hard for me to walk out of any art store without buying something. Not only that, when I see an amazing artist the first thing I think about is their materials. What charcoal are they using? What brushes does he have? Where can I get those paints? If I switch to these tools I’m sure I can create as well as he.

Tip 1: Supplies will never make you a better artist

Sure, quality materials can help you make art, but even that statement is subjective. What is considered high quality? Especially when I see Steve Huston doing amazing gesture drawings with a dried up sharpie marker. Many times I have seen artists shuffle into a life drawing class with the most worn out cheap materials you can buy only to turn out some amazing work.

What really matters is getting comfortable with your supplies so you can put in the time. It’s good to try new and different materials, but don’t spend to much or you will end up like me and have a closet full of materials you don’t use. Eventually you will find the materials that your most comfortable with.

Tip 2: Drawing on a Stiff Cloud

Years ago I read Anthony Ryders book, The Artist’s Complete Guide To Figure Drawing and he suggested a 3/4 inch foam core board as a drawing board. I tried it and I can say with confidence that this is by far the best thing to draw on. It’s the lightest, cheapest and most durable drawing board by far. Not only that, you can cut it to any size, I have several but I mostly use one cut down to 18×24 inches.

the best drawing board for life drawing classes
Foam core drawing board
3/4 inch foam core drawing board close up
3/4 inch foam core drawing board close up

If you walk into a new drawing class and all they have are cheap easels then this board will not weigh them down and cause issues. I can’t tell you how many times during class everyone jumped out of their skin because a heavy drawing board fell from an easel with a crash. With just a few cheap clips you can customize it the way you want also. And it’s very rigid, more durable than you would think. I have really pounded and pressed hard on these boards and as long as I have about 10 sheets of newsprint under my drawing the foam core never gets dented.

Tip 3: Get organized

The cliche you see in movies about disheveled artists throwing materials around attacking a painting or drawing from within a sea of waste and debris is pure story telling and fails miserably in a life drawing environment. By all means please keep up the energy in your drawing, attack it if you need to, but don’t waste that energy on looking for the right material. The best way to kill a spontaneous moment is having to search for materials. So don’t let disorganization rob you of the most introspective or innovative moments.

Tip 4: Arrive Early, Use the Entire Time

Today more than ever time is precious. Unless you do art for living, than your like me and you have to fit art within a busy schedule. Sometimes finding the time to do art is the hardest thing about doing art. So, get to class early, organize your space and get your materials ready well in advance of the first pose.

Drawing is as much mental as it is physical. An artist arriving to class late then rushing to setup has already created a stressful situation and I can almost guarantee their drawings will suffer because of it. But if you arrive early you can use the extra time you have after you setup to mentally prepare yourself for the class with a warmup page, like I have below.

Tips for life drawing class: warmup page
Warmup page

I do these drawing warmup exercises each class. I allow myself at least 10 minutes before the first pose to warm up my arm by drawing circles, ovals, Loomis heads and straight lines. I learned this from Jeff Watts and his online atelier. Not only does it increase my dexterity but it also calms me down and mentally prepares myself for the next 3 hours of drawing.

Also, don’t leave class early unless it’s absolutely necessary. Not liking the model is no excuse for leaving early and wasting money, you can learn from any model no matter what your preferences are. In most cases an artist will be confronted with their lack of ability and instead of recognizing it they will create an excuse such as disliking the model or their poses. Jamie Bollenbach taught me many times that if you don’t like it, then you should probably do it. I don’t like gestures that much, and I know the main reason is because I suck at them. As you can see below, I need to work on my gestures a lot more, at some point when I’m better I know that I will love to do them.

Tips for life drawing class: 1.5 minute gestures
1.5 minute gesture poses

Tip 5: Avoid Moving Around the Room

There are some caveats to this one but the general idea is to pick a spot where you can clearly see the figure and stay there for the entire session. Many times I see artists moving around the room before each pose to get a “better” view. I did this many times myself, but what I have found out from experience is that “better” can easily transform into “easier”. We as artists have a tendency to stick with subjects that are easier without even realizing it, I’m probably doing that right now.

The exception to this is if you can’t see the model well or if your working on a particular feature of the model. If he or she is facing away from you and your working on portraits than its best to move. Or if you are trying to study hands then its best to get in a position where you see them.

Tips for life drawing class: 5 minute poses
5 minute poses

Well, that is about all of the tips for life drawing class that I have now. I’m sure if I sat here for a while longer I could come up with more but the above 5 tips seems to be concerns that I run into all the time. Let me know if you have any life drawing class tips.

Until then here are the rest of my figure drawings from tonights class.

Tips for life drawing class: 15 minute pose
15 minute pose


Tips for life drawing class: 15 minute pose
15 minute pose


Tips for life drawing class: 30 minute pose
30 minute pose


Tips for life drawing class: 30 minute pose
30 minute pose


Tips for life drawing class: 30 minute pose
30 minute pose

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