Getting the Most from a Quick Life Drawing Session
Anyone who attends life drawing sessions knows the quick poses of five and ten minutes can often result in a mass of incomprehensible pen marks. In this journal post we explain how to get the most out of the sessions with structure and focus.
At the LARA, the students are advised to complete quick drawing exercises from the model as often as possible in order to get over these all too common
issues. By approaching the sessions from a slightly different angle and developing a ‘language’ or system to quickly break down the information, it
is possible to build confidence and purpose within your quick sketching.
Approached in the correct way, there is no better way to generate a large library of reference images that can then be used at a later date to inform larger works and improve your artistic skill base.
Stage 1: Work Out Your Aim and Methods
Before you have even arrived at the quick drawing or ‘drop-in’ class, it is best to work out what you are going to use the session for. Is it to generate references for a larger project, are you building a library of images within your sketchbooks, or do you simply wish to increase your confidence when dealing with quick work? Whatever your aim, write it down and keep it at the forefront of your mind during the class in order to prevent becoming overwhelmed.
Stage 2: Focus on you
Focus on what you are doing, what you are aiming for and the stage you are at within your artistic process. It’s important not to get overwhelmed by other students, their aims and their goals. They may be working big, small, in sketchbooks, with an easel, in pencils, or charcoal, or pastels. This level of choice can be incredibly daunting if you allow it to influence how you work. Know the materials you are going to work with, what you are aiming for, and concentrate on practicing that and that alone. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, they have different goals and aims.
Stage Three: Top and bottom lines
The first stage we recommend when starting your actual drawing is to begin by defining the top and the bottom of the pose. This gives you the area you will be working within and will allow you to make sure that it fits on the page. Defining these points creates a boundary for which your drawing will be contained, remember not to deviate outside of these areas.
Stage Four: Define The Gesture and ‘Tilts’
Next, within this boundary, define the gesture using a single line that captures the movement and central essence of the pose. This isn't the anatomy, or form, or tones but the movement and connection between those elements and the overall impression of everything combined. The tilts of the shoulders, and hips are put in place giving an overall feel of the whole pose and the main weight distribution.
Stage Five: Put in the Large contour shapes
The large shapes and contour are now defined by establishing your largest parameters including overall height and width of the pose. This is again a rough boundary to contain your drawing to make sure that it will fit on the page- you don't have to stick to these parameters but they form a guide to work within.
Stage Six: Torso, Legs, Arms, Head
Using a hierarchy of importance of the body parts can give you a structure to make sure that you don’t lose the essence of the pose. Often people will tell you that the head is the most important element of a pose but the position of the head is actually the most changeable element within the pose. The part of most importance, that captures the gesture and weight distribution, is the torso and the direction of the ribcage, followed by the legs, arms and finally head. The position of the pelvis and rib-cage will determine where the weight is and the figure’s centre of gravity, and this will inform the direction of the leg which can be thought of as support columns for the torso. Depict the weight bearing masses first will then allow the other parts to be placed in their correct position with ease.
Stage Seven: Abstract Shadow Shapes and Details
It is often easier to abstract the shapes created by shadows and light areas and draw those. Instead of trying to depict specific anatomy (ie facial features) look for the shadows cast by these and abstract them in order to define them. This can provide some interesting design elements and make sense of complicated anatomy, and is more useful when using the sketches for paintings at a later date. The real trick to this is squinting so that you can only see lights and darks so prevent getting caught up with halftones and details. How clearly they can be read however is largely down to the lighting within the room the session is being held in. At LARA we aim to define these shadow shapes strongly with overhead professional photographic lights in order to make this part of the process easier. The more generic the lighting the harder this is to see.
Stage Eight: Putting It All Together
When worked up in this way the five and ten minute poses can allow you to build a strong understanding of how to quickly capture the crucial components of a scene, as well as being useful for further work. With strongly defined gesture, shadow shapes and light forms the drawings can form the basis of a large number of future projects.
As with all elements of artistic development, practice is the most important part. Creating strong habits you can employ each time you are faced things you haven’t drawn before (with a new pose, a new foreshortening, or a new lighting set-up) will increase your ability to handle them with ease and confidence. By embedding these methods, being clear about your aims for the session and engaging continuously while you are drawing will enable to you to leave with work to be proud of. It is important not to build up habits of procrastination or ‘aimless doodling’ but to use each session to learn while developing your artistic competences. The ability to quickly gather the important information from a pose or situation can prove invaluable when collating information to aid the creation of larger, more finished projects.
Article by Drucilla Burrell. Diagram by Alex Heath.