This was a five-minute pose (charcoal on toned paper). I started with a loose gesture drawing and, because I had a little more time left, I added some tone and blocked in some value shapes.
Learning to draw takes hard work and practice—and there’s no better way to practice than to draw directly from the nude figure. Weekly life drawing sessions are a great, affordable way to keep sharp and to grow as a draftsman. They also help you connect with fellow artists and give you the opportunity to learn from one another.
If it’s been a while since you attended a session, you may feel some anxiety. No need to fret. Here are a few things you’ll need to know to enjoy and make the most of this enriching experience.
Short poses can range from 30 seconds to five minutes. These quick poses can loosen you up and give the model a chance to warm up as well. The key here is to get a feeling of action and movement. The model may stand, sit, twist or have an arm stretched out—more athletic models may use ropes to hang from or swing a pole over their shoulders. Don’t be concerned with registering detail. Short poses are simply exercises to help you see the model as a whole figure. Ask yourself, What is the model doing? Where is the weight? How do the limbs balance and counterbalance?
During short poses, your focus should be on the major masses—the head, the rib cage and the pelvis—not the surface detail. Knowing anatomy can come in handy in this situation to help you see these masses as building blocks. The pose should always have action—a feeling of direction, a rhythm. If you don’t take this aspect into account, your drawing may look stiff and lifeless.
Above: For short poses like these (charcoal on toned paper), I always remove the sheets of paper from a pad and clip them to the drawing board. I’ll fill one sheet with numerous drawings and then quickly pull it away to start on a clean sheet. During these poses I try to stand in order to draw from the shoulder. This practice helps with the quick gesture poses.
Warming Up: Gesture Drawing
Gesture drawing is the classic exercise of drawing in a loose, free style. Focus on what the model is doing, not what she or he looks like. Beginning with a sharp charcoal pencil, allow the line to swing freely through the whole figure without lifting the pencil off the paper. Draw from your shoulder and let the line roam continuously over the figure; search for volumes and action. Don’t worry about edges. During one- or two-minute sessions, play lively music so you and the model feel the rhythm, movement and theme of the pose.
Warming Up: Contour Drawing
In these early, short (one- or two-minute) poses, you can also try a contour drawing. While gesture drawing deals with movement, in contour drawing you envision the lines riding over the form of the model. Draw not only the outer edges, but let the pencil search over the body masses. I do this exercise slowly, sometimes not even looking at my paper, letting the line flow over the form—not stopping or lifting my pencil. I’m drawing with a “sense of touch” and strengthening my powers of observation.
For neither contour nor gesture drawing does the artist pay much attention to proportion. These are simply exercises to help artists loosen up. I often begin with a loose gesture and then combine the contour line over that to capture the whole figure. If possible I stand back so I can see the full figure without moving my head up and down. The drawings may not look like much, but I’m laying the foundation of the form. After doing several of these drawings, you’ll feel more in touch with the figure.
Above: These drawings (charcoal on toned paper) are of the same male model on a single sheet of paper. The model posed for a series of one-minute poses. My goal here was to capture his rhythm, movement and gesture.
Thompson’s entire article “The Live Option,” which appeared in the May issue of The Artist’s Magazine, explains preparation and setup, importance of practice and knowledge of anatomy, short poses, five- to ten-minute poses, twenty-minute poses, the long pose, and how to make a grid.
Click here to see Thompson’s list of 12 books on practical figure drawing.
Meet George Thompson
Thompson, whose Juliana in Red Kimono appeared on the December 2009 cover of The Artist’s Magazine, is a fine artist and illustrator living in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He began attending life drawing sessions at the Brooklyn Museum at the age of 17. He was chairman of drawing at the Society of Illustrators in New York City and has run life drawing sessions for the past 25 years. He continues to run weekly sessions in Bucks County. To learn more about Thompson, visit www.georgethompsongallery.com and www.georgethompsonfineart.blogspot.com.
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