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Why Life Classes do it Wrong

Life Drawing Academy

Why life drawing classes do it wrong

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Why drawing in chalks and charcoal slows down your learning curve

If your life drawing skills are yet to be developed, spend more time drawing in graphite pencil. There are two reasons for that. First, red chalks and pencils naturally resemble human skin, and therefore artworks in such a medium look more appealing. That is why for a beginner, it is much harder to see mistakes in life drawing when using red chalks. On the other hand, chalks and charcoal are good for fast tonal rendering but not really suitable for precise thin lines. This might slow down your learning process, because good life drawing skills require ability to make precise and accurate constructive drawing that reflects proportions and anatomy. Such precision is less attainable with free-flowing chalk lines.

When you get to the level of skills when a human body's proportions and anatomy are no longer a challenge for you, and you can draw figures from life using such knowledge on autopilot, then to go to the next step—it is good to use a more "artistic" medium like red chalks. This would be the time to try different creative tasks—not learning anatomy and constructive drawing but working on your own creative style, loosening your sketching techniques, finding ways of expressing yourself on paper.

Why making fast sketches is not the best way of learning life drawing

A ten-minute sketch is considered a very fast gesture drawing, because students begin learning life drawing with long studies of marble busts and standing figures, followed by long poses of life models. Such drawing includes numerous sessions, and one pose may last anywhere between twenty and forty hours. After many such studies, where students learn about proportions and anatomy, poses become shorter, for example six to twelve hours. After some time, students are ready for short fifteen- to thirty-minute sketches. This is not the case in many local drop-in life drawing classes, where poses last one two, five, ten, and twenty minutes. With no solid knowledge of how to draw from life constructively, time pressure doesn't help. That is why, if you have a choice, start with long poses and study how to apply constructive drawing principles in life drawing. Constructive drawing principles mean using proportions, axes, symmetry, angles, alignments, cross-contours, cross-points, anatomy for artists, and so on.

When you have good understanding of those principles and sufficient practice, using anatomy and proportions will come on autopilot. You will be able to apply those principles without thinking much about them. This would be the time when short gesture sketching in chalks or charcoal would be very beneficial for elevating your skills to the next level. This is the exercise Natalie Richy demonstrates in this video—how to draw from life under time pressure using constructive drawing that no longer looks like constructive drawing.

Why life classes do it wrong - Life Drawing Academy

When you reach this level of skills, people around you will say, "Oh, you draw so well because you have talent!" But you will know the truth. You draw so well because you have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours studying proportions, skeletal and muscular anatomy for artists, doing long studies from life, making drawings from memory and imagination, filling sketchbook after sketchbook with drawings and notes about figure drawing. If this is what you would like to achieve, you know what to do: Study theory and apply it in practice. Talent has very little to do with creative success. 98% of your success will depend on your long and hard work.

Why it is important to use constructive drawing principles when drawing from life

Once again, if you are a beginner, it is better to measure those alignments, angles, and cross-points in life and apply such measurements in drawing. Thereafter, you can measure by eye, draw what you've measured, and check the measurements in life using a pencil. And finally, when your skills go to the next higher level, you will be able to measure everything by eye without the need of doing it with a pencil. Constructive drawing also means portraying the outlines and contours of a figure with the necessary knowledge of human anatomy for artists. This means that every line you draw must have some logic according to the anatomical construction of a human body.

The proportions, alignments, and angles you see in life will not substitute for the knowledge of anatomy. Such elements of constructive drawing must be used to make an artwork proportionate. Yet to make it realistic, you also have to use skeletal and muscular anatomy that is not visible on the surface. If you have gaps in this area, there is no other way but to learn anatomy for artists. It is actually not as difficult as you might think, and it can be done fast with the help of the Anatomy Master Class online video course.

Applying anatomy in life drawing doesn't mean that you have to draw a figure's bones and muscles. It means, however, that you have to draw visible outlines and contours with the knowledge of anatomy. Without that, you would be copying what you see instead of drawing what you know. Such an approach ends up with mistakes in drawing. If you know human anatomy for artists, can use constructive drawing principles, and measure all you want by eye, the next level is to work on developing your own creative style, loosening your gesture-sketching skills, and finding your unique and recognizable way of drawing models' figures and portraits. This is what professional artists work on for the rest of their lives.


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The ultimate choice if you who would like to receive personal, one-to-one tutoring from the Academy teachers, which is custom-tailored to your skills and needs

  • Everything in Online Course, plus:
  • Dedicated team of art tutors
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  • Up to 100 drawing tasks with by-task assessment
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