Figure Drawing or, as it is better known Life Drawing.
Its that moment when the model steps up on the plinth in the life room. He, or more usually she, then transforms from naked to nude.
It is a curiously asexual place the life room. Although feminists have attacked the practice of life drawing as a degradation of women, it is I believe quite the opposite, more of a celebration. Of both men and women. A celebration of who we are, 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 artists 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 for balance and shape, for elegance and strength, 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. The school was situated in the Ashmolean Museum at that time and to slip out for a smoke it was necessary to pass a whole gallery of classic greek statuary. Before we could engage in life drawing we had to qualify by spending a term drawing plaster casts of classic pieces from the Parthenon. Then they let us draw the living flesh.
I remember a favourite model was Bridget a rather dumpy woman in her fifties with what seemed like very large feet. She was extra ordinary, 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 painting done. We just banged out drawing after drawing after drawing. Another favourite model was Bridgets 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 the gateway to the soul.
The Royal Academy Schools in Piccadilly London gave me a post graduate three years at the centre of things. Their life 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 thats where we start. The life room is almost silent, the energy of five people scratching away at boards is palpable. Like a cross between a church and a bordello.
At Rowden Atelier we have kept that tradition going. We teach furniture makers to draw because its good for them. Good for the eyes to see better and good for the spirit. Life drawing also forms part of our one week short course in drawing. A great antidote to the digital age.
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