Jack and I took up life drawing a couple of months ago. Virtually every Tuesday we go to a basement in Soho and spend two or three hours drawing a model or two. When the weather is freezing and we are bored with drawing things in our apartment or in photo books, it’s nice to have something new and challenging to sketch. But there are all sorts of drawbacks too.
The process has forced me to break my habit of drawing only in ink in small books. I now have a huge sketch pad and boxes of graphite sticks and conte crayons and a new appreciation for erasable media.The whole process is very different form my usual process; sort of student-y and contrived and academic, with lots of negative associations about right and wrong ways to do things. Maybe it’s putting me back into a beginner’s mind, but the worse sort of self-conscious feelings of ineptitude rather than a fresh tabula rasa.
Drawing from life forces one to think about drawing quite differently. The human body is so familiar and so strange; one can detect any flaw in the proportions of a drawing immediately and yet it is hard to know intuitively how to draw the curve of a calf or the length of a forearm. There is no substitute for simple, intense observation.
The drawings end up having little value to me. They are not observations from life really and the subjects themselves have no meaning to me. I find much more emotion in my drawings of apples or chair legs in my home than in these studies.
Watch this video tour of some of my life drawings and you’ll sense the critical way in which I look at them. I dont know if we’ll keep doing this when the weather gets warmer, it’s really up to Jack who seems to enjoy the experience ( not surprising — he’s a fifteen year-old boy who gets to sit with his dad and stare at naked bodies all evening) but often ends up getting bored after a couple of hours and ends up drawing just details of bodies or staring into space. He is extremely good at drawing under these circumstance ; even though he’s the youngest person in the room by a mile, his drawings are usually among the best.
I’d also like to recommend Walt Taylor’s self-published book “Naked People and the people who draw them“which has been very inspirational and shown me how far I have yet to go. I urge you to check out the book, buy it, and support an extraordinary and unheralded artist.