After the last time I was a life model, the tutor stage-whispered to Tracey “Next time, let’s get him on the other side of the canvas!” I took this as a challenge, but as I have not really done any drawing since… well, ever, I did wonder what it would be like and immediately thought how rubbish my few previous attempts have been (one attempt at a landscape and one of a cottage, using children’s crayons if memory serves me).
The week rolled on and I felt more and more inclined to give it a try. Having Tracey as the model was very much a double (or even triple) edged sword. Firstly, I really know what she looks like, and that could be a benefit. Secondly, I could do a drawing that “does her no favours” and makes her look less beautiful than she is… I definitely would not want to do that! Thirdly, I really know what she looks like… but that feeling might mess up the principle of “draw exactly what you see”.
I watched two videos on the Internet “how to draw life figures” which talked about major action lines, minor action lines, proportion and so on. The slight problem is, that what they show is accomplished artists, rapidly knocking up brilliant drawings, which tends to cause feelings of inadequacy (at least it does in me!)
Several times over the week I meant to go down to the art shop in Lyme and buy a few pencils and maybe a sketch pad but, as usual, time ran out and Thursday morning arrived with the travel arrangements starting before the shop opened. A long time ago Tracey bought me a set of coloured pencils and a tiny A5 sketch pad which had remained almost untouched, so I grabbed that, found a roll of wallpaper (plain cream lining stuff) and a pair of scissors to chop it into pieces and we were off.
Tracey had posed lying on a chaise longue earlier in the week, with her legs raised over the back, rather than the more usual way round, and she wanted to recreate that pose for Thursday’s session. The tutor asked her to do two, 5 minute poses which are supposed to allow the artists time to get the proportions in their heads and a feel for the curves and lines of the model.
That first moment of committing to putting a line onto a blank piece of paper, was way more scary than being a life model and taking off all of my clothes in front of a big group of complete strangers. You know that nightmare people are supposed to have, of being naked at school or work, well that simply doesn’t happen in my head. If I am naked in a crowd I am not in the least bit bothered.
I tried really hard, but those two poses simply didn’t give me enough time to draw more than over-inflated stick figures, and that in itself made me wonder what I was doing there pretending to be an artist. Then the main pose started which was to last for the rest of the three hour session.
Instead of putting my pencil on the paper, I spent quite some time looking at the shapes that make up the pose, checking the relative sizes of parts of the body. (Interestingly from heel to knee, knee to back of the buttocks and buttocks to shoulder were almost precisely the same distance in the pose Tracey had assumed.) I was then able to start with my single black pencil, not allowing the fear of failure to make me freeze, but trying to make marks on the paper that were the right length, angle and curvature to represent what was actually there.
The tutor came over from time to time and asked simple questions which highlighted where I my scribbling was going awry, such as, “Is the distance from ear to shoulder smaller than the distance across the arm?” which is a great way to teach, getting me to work out the answer. He suggested that I work on the tonality as I had little difference between the light parts and the darker bits, so I switched to using colour to do that and it added a better 3d effect to what I was drawing.
There were two breaks, so at each I moved my chair to a new position to get a different view. The last drawing I did was in the A5 sketch book and I focused on Tracey’s face. This took more careful consideration but gave me the most pleasing result.
At the end of the session I was quite happy with what I had accomplished, and although they say a bad workman blames his tools I think I would stand a better chance of creating something I really like with a better range of pencils (perhaps a set of Conté à Paris pencils) and with something bette than cheap lining paper. It is also said that, “you never know what you can achieve until you try” and I think my life drawing session is good evidence for that being true. I have never properly tried to draw and assumed that I would be rubbish at it. Someone may look at my work and find lots of things “wrong” with it, but I didn’t do it for them, I did it for me.
I have my muse, so all I need now is to find the time to draw.