When I studied Architecture so many years ago, we, as part of our curriculum participated in a few life drawing classes. For those of you who don’t know what a life drawing class is, you basically attend a class with an instructor, or as a non –instructed open workshop, where a model (usually nude) is provided for you to draw. The point being, to train and develop hand-eye coordination to convey what you see physically in front of you to your drawing, sketch or painting.
In my opinion, life drawing is the most important part of an artist’s training. Life drawing is where you develop the skills required to convey what you see in front of you to paper or canvas. This is where you learn about gesture, proportion, line, shading and tone. As an Architect, you have to be able to conceptualize an idea in sketch form as a part of your development of a design. Drawing and sketching is an important part of the tool kit that the Architect has at their disposal to develop an idea and convey it to a client. Life drawing teaches you how to see and about visual communication.
The great thing about life drawing is that it affords the opportunity for total expressive freedom to experiment and explore different techniques and materials. Depending on the class you take, there may or may not be an instructor to guide you. I recommend for beginners that you attend an instructed class as the teacher will introduce you to many different approaches to drawing. As you become more comfortable with life drawing, open workshops are available at most art schools where the artist is totally free to explore their own approaches to the subject matter. Life drawing classes can be be quiet, contemplative, fun and engaging.
I recently joined an open workshop at the Ottawa School of Art. It was over 20 years since I last attended a life drawing class. The workshop was actually a Christmas gift to my daughter who is building her portfolio to apply to art college. Participating together in a life drawing workshop enables her to her to sharpen her drawing skills, build her portfolio and for me to spend some quality time with my daughter (Maybe a bit self-serving but I love spending 3-4 hours with my daughter every Monday evening).
The other nice thing about life drawing is that anything goes as far as materials. You can pretty much play with any materials you like - ink, pencil, crayons, pencil crayons, oils, acrylics watercolours and even an iPad. You have to check out some of the iPad Apps like Sketchbook Pro or Brushes - They are awesome! I decided that my materials of choice would be a small moleskin sketchbook and I would draw using only a fountain pen. This means that any mistake I make, I either have to work with it or abandon that sketch and move on - no erasing allowed!. If you are a beginner, start with a pencil, charcoal, conte and an inexpensive sketchbook or a pad of newsprint. You can pick up a drawing kit at your local art store including a sketchbook, set of pencils, a sharpener and kneaded eraser often for less than twenty bucks. I personally love the moleskin sketchbooks but they are a bit expensive. Most life drawing classes recommend inexpensive newsprint paper and charcoal or conte for drawing - its way cheaper and the drawings become less precious - if you make a mistake, who cares!
I have to admit, getting back into life drawing after so many years, I was a touch intimidated - my drawing skills were very rusty. Over the last decade or so, hand sketching has pretty much disappeared in the architectural world having given way to computer aided design and drafting. Personally, I really miss the hands on feeling of sketching on rolls of trace paper with a fat marker! Needless to say, I was really nervous - kind of bizarre considering I have been painting for so many years. So if you are a beginner artist and feel nervous about joining a class because you are worried that you may not be able to draw, well, join the club! Even the most seasoned artists will have off days where their drawings suck big time! One thing for sure though, once you get started and the first couple poses have been sketched and under your belt, you will find that you totally become so engrossed in what you are doing, it really doesn’t matter how well you draw. Its about the doing, not the final product. You will also soon realize everyone feels the same way.
Sketching and life drawing is very meditative. Frederick Franck calls sketching a “moving meditation”. He is so on the mark with that association - life drawing is very much a meditation. You become so hyper focused on the task at hand that all your problems, challenges at work or in life take a back seat. You will leave the life drawing session feeling relaxed, totally calm and refreshed - and you likely will have a sketch or two that you will really like to boot!
So I highly recommend taking a life drawing class. Go on your own, or take a friend. You will likely meet lots of new friends. You will exercise those drawing muscles you may have thought didn’t exist. You may find, as I have, that life drawing and sketching is very meditative. Take a class at your local art school or check out the local arts community. You may find that your city has organized events in commercial galleries, studios or even at a local tavern! The pub at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto has the longest running life drawing class in the city dating back to 1957. In fact tomorrow night the Gladstone is hosting an event called “Paintbrush in my Wine” – not a life drawing class but a painting class - pretty self explanatory. There are “Drink and Draws” in New York and “Sip and Sketch” events many cities out there. Lots of opportunities to get out there to meet new people, have fun and sketch.
So get out there and take that life drawing class. You won’t regret it, and it will teach you to see the world around you in a completely different light.