Tales from the Other Side: Life Drawing

I have written before about life drawing and how I have found it so beneficial to my I drawing progression – not just from a technical point of view, but also as a way of utilising a creative community space to engage with others work and get feedback on your own. Week after week we ask a model to sit for long periods of time in positions that we believe to be comfortable so we can draw their form.

But just as a good boss should go and experience the other side their business to get their employees perspective, so should an artist try modelling for others. Granted, in my case it was due to our regular model being unavailable this particular week, but however you find your path there it is worth reflecting on the experience. However, I must confess, that my own forays into the life modelling world this past week were in clothed session, so perhaps I didn’t get the full experience…

Being a Life Model

So what is to be learned? Well, firstly, whatever you think is a simple, ‘comfortable’ pose will soon turn into a bath of lactic acid and pins and needles. We had settled on a 40s Noir theme, as the potential for lighting would be fantastic – especially as we work in a photography studio and have access to a broad selection of lights. The set-up involved a small card table with a few props, including an old dress form also wearing 40s style attire.img_0868

My first position was simple enough, just seated, with ankles demurely crossed, one hand resting on my leg, the other on the table. Unusually we started off and did not agree a set time for the pose. Not that it would have mattered, as with the lighting the clock proved impossible to read. It is hard to know if this was a blessing or a curse, but the inability to read the passing of time was quite disorienting.

I had found when I had done a session earlier in the year that finding a good point in the room to fix your gaze is a good strategy to maintain your pose – just as a dancer finds a fixed point to ‘spot’ while spinning, it helps with overall stability. But you have to be careful, as there is a distinct vulnerability if you happen to be fixed on a point that at times crosses gaze with one of the artists in the room.

Our groups are fairly informal, and there is often some brief chatter to be heard about the room. But in the moments of silence, when all that is audible is the scraping and sweeping of charcoal, pastel, and pencil across the surface of paper there is a strange tranquillity, and piqued curiosity as you envision what is being committed to paper behind those drawing boards, sketchbooks, and easels.

When the first pose is done and we break for five minutes, there is a wave of apprehension about going around the room the see what everyone has produced. There is something even more nerve-racking in looking at someone’s drawing of you than in looking at a photographic image of yourself. Perhaps part of the reason for this is that if you don’t like an photo of yourself you can be quick to dismiss it, ‘oh, I look awful in that!’ The onus is on yourself alone, not the skills of the photographer (unless you are paying for a very expensive professional shoot…). Whereas when it is a drawing, something another artist has committed to paper, there is a more reciprocal relationship. In this instance you are not the owner of your own image, they have taken it and utilised it to create their own work. The same dismissive response would be disingenuous.

So you put your own insecurities aside and view the works as that: drawings produced by other artists. For someone who is not a great fan of images of myself it is quite a cathartic experience. It helps you to take a more objective view upon yourself, as well as seeing the beauty in the work produced by others. As I know from looking around the room on regular weeks in the class, there is great work produced; even if some are a little too self-deprecating to admit it. So when I finally plucked up the courage to take a look around I was so inspired by the work that I saw. I’ve included some examples below.

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For any artists out there who have taken part in a life drawing session, then I would definitely recommend trying to be a model for a class yourself in some capacity. If noting else, it will give you a newfound respect for your regular model (not that you didn’t have that in abundance already). But it also gives you a different perspective of your own work and a trans-formative perception of your own self-image.

I attend Life Drawing classes at Gainsborough Artworks, and they are always welcoming to newcomers. Check out their website for details of upcoming sessions.

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