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Life Drawing Classes

Conversations with Alexander Ryzhkin

In this video lesson, we will talk about Life Drawing Classes. This video is special; we will talk with the Life Drawing Academy tutor, Alexander Ryzhkin, about art and life drawing as well as how to cultivate good drawing skills.

Life Drawing Classes Near Me

Drawing from Life

How to develop good drawing skills?

In Russia, there is a traditional classical art education system. Unlike in the West, it wasn't derailed in the 20th century. This system steadily and methodically prepares fine artists starting from art schools for children to postgraduate degrees. In a children's art school, a student starts from very simple tasks like, for example, drawing a sphere from life and rendering its tonal values. Gradually, such student learns how to hold a pencil, how to draw lines, how to hatch strokes along contours. Drawing tasks get more complex, and students learn to draw vases and other geometrical man-made objects. Drawing simple objects prepares students for more advanced topics like drawing a human eye, for example. Because an eye has a spherical shape and students already know how to draw a sphere, depicting an eye is a not a great leap from simple objects to human body forms.

If an adult decides to learn drawing, his or her way to art would be very tough. Such a person usually doesn't have time to spend the whole year drawing just spheres, cones or cubes. At the same time, one would need to develop muscle memory to handle a pencil proficiently, which requires separate long exercises. And if an adult art student wants to draw a model from life, it would be very challenging without the basic foundation and necessary drawing skills. At the same time, when someone has a burning desire to draw and succeed in art, such a person would not require constant reassuring and praise. He or she would understand that constructive critique is useful and helpful. For example, my students often tell me "Alexander, do not give praise, just advise about what is wrong with my work. Give me the harsh truth."

Learning to Draw

How long does it take to learn drawing?

In Russia, children who would like to become fine artists, start their art education in art schools from the age of 9 or 10. By the end of this school, which takes 4 to 5 years, they have very good drawing, painting, decorative arts, composition, and sculpting skills as well a firm knowledge of the history of arts. Nevertheless, to enter a good art academy, it is necessary to take 3 additional years of preparatory courses to raise their drawing and painting skills to the next level.

Art academy entry exams include drawing a figure and a portrait from life. A student should demonstrate high level of drawing skills and full understanding of constructive drawing principles and the knowledge of human body proportions and anatomy. Such skills and knowledge students receive in art schools and courses, where the first year is spent on drawing only geometrical objects. It starts with flat casts of rosettes. From flat objects, they move to three-dimensional bodies like spheres, cubes, prisms, cones, and cylinders.

The next year is dedicated to a transition from drawing single objects to simple still lifes, which consist of man-made geometrical objects. Such still lifes become more complex with the addition of draperies. Thereafter, students move to drawing classical order capitals, organic three-dimensional rosettes, and still lifes with organic items that are getting more elaborate and advanced. Drawing man-made and natural things lasts a long period of time.

The next step is progressing to drawing separate facial features, like eyes, a nose, a mouth, and an ear. Afterward, students draw a human skull in various views. Life drawing continues with simple head casts that have geometrical planes.

After this, students are given to draw écorché of a head, which shows the muscles of a head without skin. Only after these exercises are these art students ready to move on to drawing casts of classical Greek and Roman busts, which are also ordered from simple to more difficult. Step by step, students learn construction, anatomy, and proportions of a human head. This takes about one year.

Thereafter, they advance to studying anatomy and construction of a human body. They draw casts of arms and hands, including écorché, skeletal anatomy, feet, and other parts of a human body. The study continues with drawing écorché of a torso from different points of view and progressing to drawing casts of full standing figures. Studying casts of classical busts, torsos, and figures also takes a lot of time. Every drawing takes from 20 to 40 hours and students spend about one year drawing cast figures from life.

Only then are students considered ready to draw live models. This is the final step of their pre-academy art education. Usually, it is very easy for these students to advance from drawing classical casts to portraying live models because there has been a great deal of preparatory work done in the previous 4 to 6 years.

If you're wondering if it is possible to do it any faster, probably yes, if you are exceptionally talented and already have good constructive drawing skills and proficient tonal rendering techniques, and all that remains is to fill in the knowledge gaps in anatomy for artists and body proportions. This system gives great results and has developed very skillful and original fine artists for many centuries.

I hope that these teaching methods will stay in place in my country for future generations of artists to come.

Becoming an Artist

What students learn in Russian art academies

The skill to draw realistic portraits and figures does not necessarily make someone an artist. To become a fine artist at a high level, students must enter one of the best art academies in Moscow or Saint Petersburg, where they will spend another 4 to 6 years, depending on the course. There, they will take part in more advanced tasks than just drawing proportionate portraits with likeness. Now, a student will learn how to portray personality and describe moods in portraits and figures.

A student will learn how in simple drawing of a head to tell the story about the person, his life, his thoughts, and his moods. The same applies to drawing a foot or a full body. Students will portray single sitters and do multi-figure compositions on given topics.

Every new cycle of life drawing assignment will be more difficult and demand higher levels of skill. In the Stroganov Art Academy in Moscow, where I teach, students become not only fine artists, but also industrial or graphic designers, illustrators, sculptors and so on.

Russian Art School

What makes it different?

Every art school has its worldview and methods that have been developed over many years and even centuries. It is easy for me to talk about Stroganov Art Academy (Stroganov Moscow State University of Arts and Industry) because I studies there and now I teach at the school.

When it comes to the fundamental core of this art academy, it is constructive drawing. In this academy, we have drawings that teach artists to think constructively and three-dimensionally, to understand construction of any object.

That is why in drawing, tonal rendering is secondary; it serves the purpose of describing a construction of an object, its cross-sections, volumes, and three-dimensional nature of its shapes and contours.

I have to say that all Russian art schools have similar points of view; they all have strong constructive drawing in place. The difference between schools is what they superimpose on such drawing. For example, in Surikov Art Academy (Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture), they put emphasis on making works of art similar to literature that tell stories, describe different moods, where every artwork is designed to portray emotions, states of mind, and hold a deeper meaning.

On the other hand, at the Repin Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg (Imperial Academy of Arts), which I like so much because it is the pinnacle of art schools in the world, they combine all the best systems of drawing and deliver the best art education possible. Art students there are learning constructive drawing as well as drawing styles similar to literature, drawing that is close to painting, easel drawing, monumental drawing, and so on. This is an ideal example how constructive drawing is used as the foundation for all other types, genres, and methods of drawing.

The higher the level of classical art education, including academic drawing and painting, an art student receives, the richer and better their art will be. The same applies to graphic and industrial designers, sculptors, and architects.

Entry requirements

How to get a strong art education

There are certain requirements to enter the Stroganov Academy of Arts. A person has to demonstrate sufficient drawing skills by making a portrait from life, an artwork of a classic order capital, and a life drawing of a model standing in contrapposto. The better one makes those drawings, the more likely their chances of gaining entrance to the academy. So, without good life drawing skills, there is no hope of studying there. That is why future students go through a long process of learning art to enter the Stroganov Academy of Arts.

The academy's curriculum is based on the premise that a student already has to have good skills in order to be able to develop them to the highest professional level in this institution. There is a great number of art schools for children in Russia, where students spend five years studying the arts, simultaneously attending their regular schools.

By the time a child finishes school, one already knows how to draw figures and portraits. This makes it possible to teach students new techniques and methods and develop their philosophy and creative personality.

A graduate of an average Russian children's art school would be considered a professional artist by Western standards. However, this level is not enough to enter the academy. A student has to spend three more years in preparatory art courses that are given within the walls of the academy for the purpose of preparing students for drawing entry exams.

The academy teachers give these preliminary students the necessary knowledge of drawing techniques, so when those students finally enter the academy, they have the required skills to continue their art education.

We had cases where students were coming from abroad; unfortunately, they had no chance because their level of art skills was far below the minimum entry requirements. The art classes they had back home did not provide a classical art education. One student did life figure drawing as she thought at the top level of her atelier, yet the quality of her work was greatly inferior to the level required. She had numerous mistakes in body proportions, anatomy, and tonal rendering. Unfortunately, we could not take her because she would not be able to follow the academy's curriculum.

The entry competition is very high. Every year, we have more than 50 candidates for every place available. Here are examples of our students' drawings. They give a good idea of the level of skill required to enter the Stroganov Academy of Arts. There is much more to these drawings than an eye sees. The untrained viewer doesn't see what they don't know, and they don't know that the knowledge is missing.

If you are a self-taught artist, and, for example, do not know color theory, or the theory of tonal values, it doesn't matter how accurately you can copy the lights and shadows you see in life; if you don't know how the laws of light create values, then your drawing will look amateur. Such knowledge is hard to get by pure practice. You need to have talented teachers explaining and showing you the principles and rules of drawing. That is why art students in Russia go through a such long and difficult path of learning how to draw, paint, and sculpt.

Learning drawing is not possible by reading 'how to draw' books. This is a long and hard process of practicing, with a teacher polishing their students' understanding of drawing principles step by step. Also, it is very difficult to explain to a self-taught artist where they are making mistakes because a huge amount of knowledge is missing. Until such an artist gets all that is needed to know about constructive drawing, and processes that knowledge though hard practice, he or she would have no chance at competing with other students who apply to enter the academy.

Skills vs. Creativity

What is the best way to learn drawing?

The majority of Western contemporary art colleges have as their main aim developing creative thinking in their art students; yet the focus on professional art skills is lost. They want their graduates to have a creative core; having good drawing skills by the end of college is optional.

The approach in Russian art schools is very different. Above all, they give professional art skills, focusing less on developing the creative personality of a student. The reason for such an approach is that every person is creative by default, especially those who chose art as profession. What these students need to express their creativity are strong skills. That is why Russian art school gives students a solid classical education, which yields great results. With such an education, a person has the possibility to develop their creativity to a very high level. This produces a high number of artists that are creative and having great skills as well.

However, if the education system is focusing on finding a personality and developing creativity without giving the necessary skills of trade, such a student would have to search for skills later in his career. For example, success of an athlete would depend on hard training. If someone wants to become an Olympic champion, they would have to practice every day to develop the necessary skills. So, there is a conflict when an art college develops creative personalities who are not able to produce the art they have in their mind.

The ideal approach is when an academic school develops creativity and gives skills simultaneously. That is why, in Russian art school, apart from drawing and painting, students also learn philosophy, economics, history, and all other subjects to get a deeper understanding of the world, to form their personal views, and to develop their creativity.

Portrait Drawing

How to draw good portraits?

There is nothing difficult in drawing portraits. Every child can do it. However, there are "naïve portraits" and "professional portraits." There are amateur artists who do primitive works of art that are very impressive and eloquent, but such artworks are labeled as "naïve art." This is because an artist doesn't know the laws of constructive drawing or chooses not to use them.

And there is a completely different level of portrait drawing when an artist knows the anatomy of a human head, its proportions and construction, can use constructive drawing principles, and has proficient skills of tonal rendering. To draw good portraits, you have to know those things and to draw what you know.

Life Drawing

How to get good figurative drawing skills

I hope you found the story about art education system in Russia interesting. I understand that learning Russian and relocation for seven years into Moscow or Saint Petersburg might not be feasible for you. However, there is a solution. You can learn good drawing skills whatever your level of skills, age or location. You can do it from the comfort of your home, starting right now.

This is your unique chance to get a lifetime academy membership and a dedicated team of art teachers.
Such unlimited personal tutoring is not available anywhere else.

Enroll in the Life Drawing Academy now!

Online Course

Lifetime membership
One-time payment: $297 USD


Personal Tutoring Online + Online Course

Lifetime membership
One-time payment: $997 USD

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