Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The joys and challenges of life model drawing

I signed up for a portrait and figure drawing evening class at the Volkshochschule (community college) in my city. I really like online classes, they are so convenient, as you can watch the video instructions whenever you want, and follow the lessons in your own pace. But I miss the "critial" part a bit. Sometimes it's helpful to be told where you're going wrong, what could be improved, and how, an experienced teacher pointing out something you've never noticed yourself. And this preferably while you're drawing, and not after you've finished the piece. And of course it's nice to meet some "real" people and have the whole thing in your own language.

The class began last week Tuesday, and after introductions and looking at basic portrait proportion guidelines, we got to draw our first portrait. The teacher had taken her daughter with her, who was going to sit for us as a model. I found it very exciting, but also a bit scary, as I had never drawn from life before!

It certainly is a very different experience. What I found the hardest was the different relationship you have towards your model. I usually use photos from magazines, or other sources, and don't care so much about likeness and such. They're just images, serving me for practising, and my relationship to them is very detached.

But with life drawing, it's entirely different. It's so more personal, even if you don't really know your model personally. I really wanted to produce a good drawing of her, a good likeness, a pretty, nice one. As I progressed with my drawing, I was more and more concerned and dismayed at how stern and severe she looked on my paper. She was a lovely girl, and I somehow felt that this should show in the drawing. That she should look happy and friendly, and smiling, even though she actually wasn't smiling but looking rather serious as she sat for us. But there's this constant urge to please, that fear of offending.

So when the teacher came round to look at my work in progress, I felt I had to apologised for making her daughter look so sad and stern. She said I didn't have to apologise, as I was just trying to draw what I saw. I sometimes wonder though how much of ourselves goes into a drawing. Of the 100% percent that makes the finished portrait, how many percent is the model we draw, and how many percent is ourselves? I notice again and again when I draw a portrait, that there always seems to be a certain touch of sadness sneaking in. And it makes me think, and wonder. Is that just my own, personal drawing style emerging? Or is there more to it, on a deeper, subconscious? Should I be worryied?? I prefer the drawing style option...

Although my drawings from photographs usually look like humans, there's often not muchof a likeness. I think this portrait is the first one that actually really looks like the model it's drawn from. What made me most happy was that the model herself thought it was a good likeness (and that she wasn't offended at all :) ).

At the end we only had about 20 minutes left to discuss and draw he profile, It was even more of a challenge. It can be difficult at times to persuade the brain to see what is actually there instead of what it thinks how it should be. The face, the profile is one smooth line, without any sharp, protruding edges, it keeps telling you. But it is wrong, and you have to learn to ignore it, and trust your eyes. With your eraser, if necessary. And even if you successfully manage to turn off your brain, there still is the challenge of putting on paper what you see. That chin line was a real battle, I can tell you!

Tonight's the second class, and I'm really looking forward to it. It's going to be self portraits tonight, though, which I think will be a really difficult challenge. We'll see how it goes...


  1. You really did Beautiful job with your life sketch. I'd have been petrified too.
    Thanks for visiting and commenting on the new featuring magazine. It really is a fantastic mag. I'm the type that gets bored quickly and if something doesn't keep my interest, even if I'm in it, I wouldn't recommend it. I was so interested in the magazine and have read it through. I totally recommend it and hope EVERYONE orders on then it'll be popular and be able to continue.

  2. Your sketches are gorgeous! I can't draw people. I have much better luck with birds so I admire your determination to get this girl's sketch right. I don't know what the girl looked like but I love your work and think these sketches are perfect!


  3. I love the profile and the idea that we draw what we see. I find that a very powerful idea.
    Thanks for sharing,