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Attending a Figure Drawing Class

Take Your First Life Class With Confidence

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A life drawing model posing for art students.

A life drawing model posing for art students.

Photo © Rayman / Getty Images
What is Figure Drawing?
Figure drawing, also called Life Drawing, is drawing the naked human form. Figure drawing has always been the cornerstone of artistic training, but is also popular with amateur as well as professional artists. The figure presents many technical problems - form, structure, foreshortening and so on - so is wonderful training, and also allows the artist to display their skill. But the nude figure also allows the artist to express a great deal about human nature. Stripped of the cultural baggage of clothing, the nude figure can express every aspect of humanity, from the heroic to the pathetic. So, when you attend a life drawing class, you are participating in a centuries-old artistic tradition. You might like to visit an art gallery and observing the many classical nudes in painting and sculpture before you attend your first life drawing class.

Finding a Figure Drawing Class

To ensure you have the best experience, find a reputable class through your local art society. Often art groups will gather informally and hire a model, but as a beginner, you'll need some tuition, and it is worth paying the extra for a teacher. Occasionally, artists (and models) will have mistaken ideas about what constitutes an figure drawing class. Poses that are too revealing, or inappropriate familiarity to the model, are not to be tolerated. You should not find this type of behavior at an art school or art society. You will be able to tell that the class you are attending is professionally run, with the model treated respectfully and the students working diligently. If you feel in any way uncomfortable, speak to the co-ordinator. and if need be, find a different class.

Overcoming Shyness

There's no need to feel shy or embarrassed at your life drawing class. Professional models are used to posing nude and being observed by the artist. The model is not to be touched at any time, but the teacher may strike a pose themselves to demonstrate how they want the model to be placed. Poses should always be tasteful, in the manner of classical art - life class is not the place for 'pushing boundaries' or risque poses. You'll find that you are soon so focussed on the problems of drawing the body as a collection of lines or values that you'll forget any awkwardness about nudity.

What You'll Need

Most classes will provide easels and drawing boards, and you'll need to bring paper (usually large, inexpensive 'butcher's paper' - newsprint - for starters), charcoal, a kneadable eraser, and perhaps bulldog clips to hold your paper - but this may vary depending on the class, so check materials requirements when you enrol. Make sure you have plenty of paper. Its also handy to have some wipes or a rag to clean your hands, and a snack.

Your First Class

Life classes and models can be expensive, so make sure you arrive on time to make the most of your class, and so you don't disturb others. You'll also feel more relaxed if you have time to chat with the other students, and meet your teacher. When you arrive, the model may be clothed or wearing dressing-robe. He or she will usually be introduced by the teacher. A privacy screen is usually provided close to the posing dais, where the model will disrobe, then move to take up poses for drawing.

Most life drawing classes commence with some quick warm-up sketches. Then they may do some longer five to fifteen minute poses. You may find that you are unable to complete a drawing at first. You'll soon learn how much detail you can include for different length poses.

After the model has had a break, you will probably do some longer poses - thirty minutes or longer. Sometimes a class may do a very long pose, with a break in the middle. You'll probably find that your arm gets very tired, unless you are used to painting with your arm outstretched. Try drawing with your 'wrong hand' or sit and draw in your sketchbook for a while if you need to. If you've practiced drawing at a standing easel before your class, you'll be more produtive.

Showing Your Work

During the life drawing class, the teacher may walk around, looking at each person's work and offering suggestions. Don't be shy about showing your teacher your work, no matter how terrible you think it is - they are there to help, and can suggest ways to improve. Sometimes your model may also look at work during breaks. They may well be artists themselves, so feel free to chat with them about your work. Don't feel bad if you feel it isn't a great drawing - figure drawing is about many things and flattery isn't one of them.

Many life classes include a group discussion, with everyone turning their easels in to see how each student handled the same pose. This can be very daunting for beginners. Remember than everyone was a beginner once, and that you can all learn from each other's mistakes - and often even a beginner's work has many wonderful qualities that can be enjoyed, as well. Try to offer constructive thoughts about other students' work.

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