This is an important question for prospective students and maybe even those that haven’t been motivated to go to class for a while. I thought about it and discussed it with other artists, and everything seemed to boil down to two main reasons.
Reason 1: because it makes you a better artist
The obvious reason to go to life drawing class is to improve your ability to draw people and to create beautiful pictures of human beings. You’ll certainly become better at drawing people, which is one of the images we as humans find most fascinating. The life drawings of the ‘old masters’ like Leonardo da Vinci have a timeless quality to them – they don’t look dated at all. While art goes through various trends, drawings of the human form will probably always capture our imaginations. However, it’s not only for the ability to draw people that you should consider life drawing.
You’ll also improve your general drawing skills. Your cartoon drawings will get better, your drawings from imagination will get better, your drawing of ogres fighting evil elves armed with samurai swords will get better, your landscape paintings will improve. Why does life drawing help with all forms of art?
“If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a dodgeball.”
Wise words indeed. Have you seen that snooker players are moving into playing pool tournaments – the big pockets and small tables are easy for them after playing on difficult snooker tables their whole lives. Or how about darts players? They practice on special dartboards where the double and triple scores are smaller than competition boards. Practising the most difficult form of your art is a powerful way to make you better at your art. And drawing people is difficult.
You might think that because we’re so familiar with the shapes of the body and features of the human face, that they would be extra easy to draw. Ironically, they are the most difficult to draw precisely because we are so intimately familiar with them. If your lines are off just a little, the picture will look funny. You might get away with that drawing a tree, but not when drawing a human.
The other great challenge with life drawing is that drawing a person means more than getting the lines right – you need to make them look real and alive. A living thing has a certain organic energy that sets them apart from inanimate objects. Capturing the life in the model is a really difficult thing to do, and something I must admit I haven’t mastered at all. I get close when we do 2 minute sketches where I can’t be too careful or methodical, but lose it during a longer pose. Mayko, though, is able to do it every time, and all her pictures are full of life and energy as a result. The picture above is one of my favourites of hers (see the gallery for more).
So, if you practise life drawing, you’ll be great at getting what you see onto the page, including the most difficult things to capture. If you’re interested in drawing or painting from your imagination, this is a fantastic skill to have. You’ll be able to accurately transfer what your mind conjured up onto paper and be able to show it to the world. Often, people will be creative and have wonderful imaginations, but not have the means to express that and turn it into something tangible. Life drawing gives you one means of doing that by teaching you to draw what you see.
Reason 2: because it so peaceful and relaxing
Life drawing class is quiet and tranquil. You are there for 2-3 hours with nothing to think about other than drawing what’s in front of you. This is a stress-free task that is easy to understand but hard to do. It requires focus, so you won’t be thinking about that annoying person at the office, the twelfth item on your to-do list or how to pay next month’s gas bill. It’s a different type of thought to those that bounce around our minds in modern life, and it feels very healthy to give your mind this break.
To build a solid foundation of life drawing skills, have a look at our new online course Draw Life Beautifully: The Foundation Skills of Life Drawing Every Student Should Have