Figure drawing or, as it is better known, life drawing, is one of the purest forms of visual art.
It’s that moment when the model steps up on the plinth in the life drawing room. He, or more usually she, then transforms from naked to nude. It is a curiously asexual place, the life drawing room. This a celebration of who we are, in the most natural form laid bare, in the nude.
I have been life drawing for almost my whole adult life. For over forty years I have used life drawing as a life affirming activity, as the perfect antidote to the digital age. There is no real purpose to this batty activity. My grandchildren will most probably toss granddads pile of mouldy folios on to the garden bonfire, and who could blame them?
Yet we still do it. It is still the artist’s equivalent of “class”. A prima ballerina (however good) will still attend class. It stills the mind and frees her from technique allowing her to just dance. Life drawing is a bit like that. We do it without purpose, without seeking the “nice” drawing. We do it to explore the human form. Looking hard to meet the unique balance and shape of the human body, to channel the elegance and strength of the bearer – and come up short time and time again.
Life drawing is the most difficult and the most visually nourishing activity a human being can engage in. It helps tell us who we are, whilst inspiring us to become better.
I began my drawing career at the Ruskin School of Fine art at Oxford University in 1968. At that time, the school was situated in the Ashmolean Museum, and to slip out for a smoke one had to pass a whole gallery of classic Greek statuary. In these stolen moments, the artistry of the human form became part of the fabric of daily life, in even the most quotidian of moments.
Before we could engage in life drawing, students had to qualify by spending a term drawing these plaster casts of classic pieces from the Parthenon. Then they let us draw the living flesh. I learned very early on that it is a thing to be respected in the deepest sense.
I remember one of my favourite models – Bridget, a woman in her fifties with what seemed like very large feet. She was ordinary, and yet, extraordinary – she could hold a pose for hours as long as she could find balance and support herself on something. The pose would be repeated for possibly two weeks to allow third years to get the painting done. We just banged out drawing after drawing after drawing. Another favourite model was Bridget’s daughter Valerie, a slender and very beautiful woman.
This work filled up the portfolio and gave me a profound visual memory of aspects of the human form – of how the body worked, how arms and feet articulated. How eyebrows framed expression and eyes were, truly, the gateway to the soul.
The Royal Academy Schools in Piccadilly London gave me a further three years of postgraduate education at the centre of things. Their life drawing room is a piece of history. Dammit Reynolds, Turner, William Blake, they are the alumni of the Royal Academy schools. I loved that life room, purpose built for sitting and drawing.
The life drawing room at The Royal Academy Schools in Picadilly London. This is where David Savage learnt to draw. These are the classical drawing techniques that we will show you.
All drawing is, is looking very very hard… Well, if you believe that, good luck. That is only one element of the drawing process. But that’s where we start. The life drawing room is almost silent, yet abuzz with the energy of five people scratching away at boards. Sitting here feels almost like an hour spent in somewhere between a church and a bordello.
Whether you are an aspiring furniture maker, or simply a creative soul in search of a new expressive outlet, learning the craft of life drawing is a fundamental step in your personal journey.
At Rowden Atelier we have kept this rich tradition going with our life drawing classes. We teach furniture makers to draw because it is good for them. It is good for the eyes to see better and good for the spirit. After all, how many chairs have been inspired by the curve of a hip, how many tables inspired by the poise of a leg?
If nothing else, every furniture maker should become enlightened to the ergonomics of the human form to inform the function of their designs. After all, almost every piece of furniture should be created with its relation to the human body in mind. How will the chair’s owner sit on your piece – will they be comfortable and at ease?
Life drawing also forms part of our one-week drawing course – a great antidote to the digital age. Take a step back from scrolling through images and ‘pinning’ inspiration on a screen; this is your chance to connect your visual inspiration with your artistic practice. This is your real repository of experience and the testing ground of one of the most time-tested techniques in the art.
Student drawings left out around the benches. Don’t judge them straight away, but don’t put them out of sight in a folio.
Beautiful life drawing by Tom Bradley. Curiously he says he had almost no experience of life drawing before doing this sensitive and well proportioned drawing
Typical of a good student bench area at Rowden Atelier. This is Australian student, Paul Chilton’s work