Understanding technique is crucial for drawing – which is why much of our site is dedicated to it. However, even more important than technical knowledge is practice. This can be a pretty annoying fact. If only we could download the know-how into our brains like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix and hey presto – ‘I know Kung Fu’. Fortunately when it comes to life drawing, the process of practising and incrementally improving is fun, and good for the soul.
So, nothing can replace regular visits to a life drawing class. One thing we can do though is train ourselves in smart and efficient ways. This article will provide some ideas for how to vary the methods with which you practise.
Drawing Negative Space
A great way to see and learn something new is to draw something you’ve not drawn. Rather than focusing on the model and pose as usual, you can look at the space around the model, and draw that. The space around the model, that defines the model’s shape, is called ‘negative space’. Here’s an example:
Drawing negative space helps in various ones. For one thing, training your eye to see negative space is helpful for normal drawings. You can use it to measure, to see whether you have placed and aligned things correctly.
Secondly, it helps you to start drawing what you see, rather than what your brain tells you you are seeing. Your brain has pre-determined ideas of how things should look, which conflict with the reality that your eyes are taking in (see this article). Your brain doesn’t have pre-conceived notions of negative space though, since that isn’t how we normally see things. So learning to see a figure in terms of negative space helps break down the pre-conceived images we have.
Copying the Masters
The word ‘copying’ has negative connotations (for artists anyway – I’m sure it’s not frowned upon at Xerox). Everyone is supposed to express their own individuality, and not plaigarise the work of others. And it’s true that it would be reprehensible if the work you want to exhibit or show off as your own is actually copied from other artists.
However, copying the work of the artists you admire is an excellent way to practise – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s simply an effective way to try a different style and deepen your understanding of how your favourite images were created.
You can select any images that you enjoy and try to re-create the lines, the colours or some other specific element that you want to learn, or just reproduce the whole thing. Below are two examples of copies of some of the ‘old masters’ – Lautrec and the under-rated Federico Barocci.
Practising with Photos
Many people say that drawing from photos just isn’t the same as drawing from life. However, there is a lot that can be learned from drawing from photos. The figure has already been made 2D – it is already a picture. So observing the lay of the photo’s lines can inform us about how to turn a 3D figure into a 2D one. You can see how a foreshortened limb behaves as lines on a page.
And perhaps most importantly, photos can provide us with practice material when a live model isn’t available. The more practice opportunity you can get, the better.
Our friends at http://artists.pixelovely.com/ have created a fantastic online resource here. You can have an experience that is similar to a figure drawing class at your direction and in the comfort of your home. You can flick through a large number of photos of poses, you can set the photos to change at different time intervals and there is even a ‘Class’ mode, where you can warm up with quick poses and ease into the longer poses. Another free online resource is Croquis Cafe. They also have a weekly video with a model posing for different lengths of time – like a life drawing session would be.
Mixing up the ways we practise keeps things interesting. This is vital because half the battle is to keep ourselves motivated to practise more. It also makes the learning process more satisfying by developing new skills and accelerating progress. Hopefully this will help make practice more sustainable, more enjoyable and more effective.
If you prefer live models and need to find some, a great resource for life models in the UK is http://www.life-models.co.uk/ which includes a life-model search hub and modelling directory, a personalised life modelling promotion tool and a gateway for making contacts & connections. Also have a look at Cardiff Life Models if you are in Cardiff.
For more ways to build up your drawing skills, have a look at our new online course Draw Life Beautifully: The Foundation Skills of Life Drawing Every Student Should Have
Do you practise in alternative ways? Lets us know in the comments below!