0.2 What you need to know for your first life drawing class

Pencil figure drawing of sitting man
A coloured pencil drawing of an artist with easel

What I wish someone had told me before my first class

Before starting life drawing, I had a number of basic questions. Since then, I’ve found out some answers and thought it would be useful to share them with you.

Where can I find a class?

Finding a life drawing class is easy – click here!

What to expect when the class starts?

There will usually be a naked person – aged anywhere between 20 and 65 years old, male or female and sporting a variety of builds and body types. They’ll be posing in the middle of the room with artists standing or sitting in a wide circle around them with easels or sketch pads on their laps. The atmosphere is quiet and tranquil and the people are generally pretty chilled out.

Usually, the class starts with a warm up pose for around 20-30 minutes. Then you’ll practise with quick poses. The model will hold a pose for  2-5 minutes and you’ll do rapid sketches of them. Then the poses get longer and you do one long one (maybe 40-60 minutes at the end). The model can hold more difficult poses when it’s just 2-5 minutes, but for the long poses will have to do something easier. That’s why they’re often sitting or lying down for the long poses.

What to expect from the teacher?

So far, I’ve found that it’s great to have a good life drawing teacher, but not essential. They generally walk around and whisper some one-to-one advice to you for a few minutes (life drawing is quiet!) and then move on to the next student. Their advice can be really useful, but the contact is short and really you learn from practice, trial and error and techniques from books – or our wonderful online course.

Having said that, at the class I’m going to currently, at the University of London Union (you don’t have to be a student to join), the teacher is brilliant at giving you great tips in the few minutes of contact time he has with you, and this really improves the class. The teacher will also decide on poses and duration of each pose, and a good one will have you warm up with quick poses where you do a quick drawing.

What to bring with you?

Check out this full guide to life drawing equipment. The basic life drawing starter kit would include some decent pencils or sticks of willow charcoal, a rubber, some paper – preferably at least A3, and a sharpener.

Often the class will provide a board or something so you have a hard surface to draw on. Ideally, they’ll even have easels. If you’re unsure what they’ll provide, it’s a good idea to bring a board or use a sketchpad supported with good solid card.

What if there’s no classes near me?

If there aren’t any classes near you, then you might be able to hire a model or get a friend to pose for you. Remember that a life drawing model doesn’t necessarily have to be naked, if your friends don’t want to get their kit off for you. Some artists feel that drawing from 2D images will result in flat and lifeless pictures. However, using photo references is effective practice when a live model isn’t available. Just be sure to also draw from life when you can.

How do I know if I’ve found a good class?

The bare essentials for a life drawing class is that a suitably spacious venue is hired for 2-3 hours and a model is hired that is able to maintain a pose for a long time. It can take a little time to warm up for life drawing, and once you’re in your groove you want to keep going for a while. So much less than 2 hours won’t be very satisfying. One pretty annoying thing that can happen during life drawing is that the model moves such that you need to keep altering your drawing. Rubbing out marks all over the page don’t look great! But if you have a few hours and a still model, then you’ve got the ingredients for a decent life drawing session.

What if I’m rubbish at drawing?

I was definitely concerned that my drawings would be rubbish before my first class. But of course, you’re not supposed to be great at something during the first class. That’s why the class is useful –  because you improve! Life drawing classes don’t really involve too much judgement from your peers anyway. You don’t have to show your drawings to anyone except maybe the teacher if you don’t want to.

Isn’t it weird looking at a naked person for ages?

Not at all, because of the context. A naked person on the bus would be strange. A naked person at a life drawing class is expected and accepted. It’s clear why they are naked – drawing practice – and that isn’t anything to be embarrassed about. It might be strange if there was something sexual about it, but it’s not like that at all (though while researching for this website I’ve seen a lot of references to ‘life drawing hen parties’ which I suspect are a different story). You are there to draw the human body – it’s one of the best things to do to practise your drawing because we are so familiar with the human body and it’s one of the most difficult and most interesting things we can draw.

To build a solid foundation of life drawing skills that will accelerate your progress as you practise, have a look at our online course.

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