There’s more to life draw­ing

Naked truth Artists have sought beauty in the hu­man form since clas­si­cal times, but is life draw­ing as pop­u­lar as it was? Gar­rick Web­ster finds out…

ImagineFX: Sci-fi & Fantasy Art magazine - - Imaginenation -

From the em­bar­rass­ing pos­si­bil­ity that your girl­friend’s mother poses nude for the lo­cal art group, to male mod­els with nick­names like Tommy Salami, there are enough old clichés about life-draw­ing classes to keep a 1970s sit­com go­ing ad in­fini­tum. But are enough fan­tasy artists tak­ing life draw­ing se­ri­ously th­ese days? That’s the ques­tion in this age of on­line self-tu­ition.

On­line cour­ses can be ben­e­fi­cial – that’s not in dis­pute – but artists who do at­tend life-draw­ing ses­sions find they get more from work­ing in the phys­i­cal mi­lieu, with a liv­ing model. It not only broad­ens their skills, it changes the way they see the world. And see­ing the world dif­fer­ently is it­self a core skill if you want to be­come a topflight fan­tasy artist.

How the light falls

Pa­trick J Jones is an il­lus­tra­tor, author and univer­sity lec­turer based in Aus­tralia, with lots of life-draw­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. His lat­est book, The Anatomy of

Style, was pub­lished re­cently and cov­ers the topic in de­tail. For him, sit­ting in front of a model and ob­serv­ing how the light falls on them is a very dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence from us­ing on­line ref­er­ences. “Life draw­ing has taught me to quickly see and draw land­marks in the anatomy – such as the hip crest high­light and the shadow of the tenth rib,” Pa­trick points out.

Time pres­sures – be­cause your model won’t pose for­ever – force you to use your in­stincts. By learn­ing ges­tu­ral draw­ing you can be­come a bet­ter artist. “Photos give us too much time to labour and be­come con­fused over unim­por­tant de­tail. Photos also have cam­era lens dis­tor­tion. I can al­ways tell if some­one has traced a photo,” con­tin­ues Pa­trick.

By learn­ing ges­tu­ral draw­ing you can be­come a bet­ter artist

In Sara­sota, Florida, An­drew Theophilopou­los teaches at the Rin­gling Col­lege of Art and De­sign, and re­cently wrapped up a 25-paint­ing solo ex­hi­bi­tion. He laments the fact that lo­cal draw­ing classes are get­ting harder to find. “Un­for­tu­nately, it’s very tough to af­ford fig­ure mod­els mul­ti­ple times a week. Rin­gling will ac­tu­ally be can­celling its much-loved fig­ure-draw­ing club be­cause of a lack of in­ter­est,” says An­drew. “I’ve been at­tend­ing the Rin­gling classes since I was in high school and now it’s doomed due to a fund­ing is­sue.”

Plenty of life-draw­ing cour­ses can still be found around the world. In New York, a two-hour week­night ses­sion at Draw­ing New York is $15, or an eight-ses­sion course at the Na­tional Academy School of Fine Arts for $325. In Lon­don, City Academy of­fers life-draw­ing classes start­ing at £69 for a full day, and Life Draw­ing Manch­ester has two-hour ses­sions for £10 (£8 for stu­dents).

In­creased on­line learn­ing may be one fac­tor, but stu­dents and young artists may no longer have the funds or time to jus­tify classes. Even pro­fes­sional artists such as Aaron Miller, based in Chicago, find there’s pres­sure to work from photos rather than a model. “Times have changed and il­lus­tra­tors don’t have the re­sources they once did. The client’s de­mands for speed and cheaper fees have made the pro­cesses of the past al­most im­pos­si­ble. Yet, I still work from a model for al­most ev­ery il­lus­tra­tion,” he says. Like Aaron, the Swe­den-based artist Miles John­ston wishes he had more time for fig­ure draw­ing. In be­tween teach­ing at the Swedish Academy of Re­al­ist Art and cre­at­ing his own beau­ti­fully ren­dered fan­tasy art prints, he does quick stud­ies to keep things tick­ing over. It’s be­come a Zen-like rit­ual for him. Miles calls it “vis­ual mind­ful­ness”: be­com­ing con­scious of how your brain ren­ders the world around you.

He ex­plains: “A cam­era cap­tures light in a very spe­cific way, which isn’t ex­actly the same as how we per­ceive the world mo­ment to mo­ment. Un­der­stand­ing th­ese dif­fer­ences can give your work an added sense of re­al­ism.

“Also, you have the abil­ity to move around your sub­ject and re­ally fig­ure out the form, along with prac­ti­cally un­lim­ited res­o­lu­tion com­pared to a photo or a com­puter.”

fan­tasy re­al­ism

Be­cause sub­jects are imag­i­nary by def­i­ni­tion, there’s al­ways the temp­ta­tion to dis­miss the real world when cre­at­ing fan­tasy art. Cru­cially, how­ever, your work still needs to be be­liev­able and have its roots in the real world, and that’s some­thing that life-draw­ing skills de­liver. Pa­trick J Jones loves paint­ing mer­maids be­cause he can prac­tise de­pict­ing the fe­male form, and be­cause they’re al­lur­ing, ro­man­tic, mys­te­ri­ous and deadly.

Pa­trick rec­om­mends ex­tend­ing your anatom­i­cal work to an­i­mals and ex­plor­ing new pos­si­bil­i­ties. “Un­der­stand­ing that most an­i­mals share some hu­man anatomy, such as the scapula [shoul­der blade], makes

The model be­comes an ob­ject you need to un­der­stand and try to trans­fer to pa­per or can­vas

it eas­ier for me to join, say, a bird’s wing to a hu­man’s back con­vinc­ingly,” he says. “I have com­mis­sions pend­ing that in­volve harpies, cen­taurs and mer­maids, all of which will in­volve me meta-mor­ph­ing an­i­mals and hu­mans to­gether. That’s great fun if you’ve learned your anatomy, but a night­mare if you haven’t.”

It’s not all doom and gloom for the life­draw­ing scene, though. Clothed and cos­tumed ses­sions for sci­ence fic­tion, fan­tasy and comic artists have been pop­ping up every­where, such as Dare2Draw in New York and Aaron Miller’s Fig­u­ra­tive Il­lus­tra­tion Work­shops that are held in Chicago – as seen pre­vi­ously here in Imag­ineFX.

For Aaron, the key is for artists to start early, and not to see it as ei­ther a chore, or a chance to see some­one naked. “There’s a switch that seems to flip when you start work­ing from life, at least if you’re se­ri­ous. The model be­comes an ob­ject that you need to un­der­stand and try to trans­fer to pa­per or can­vas,” says Aaron.

“Once that hap­pens, the real work be­gins,” he con­tin­ues. “You can ac­tu­ally find an en­tirely new ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the body that you just can’t grasp when all you’re think­ing about is boo­bies.”

Th­ese 20-minute poses painted by An­drew Theophilopou­los put the em­pha­sis on in­stinc­tive and ges­tu­ral strokes, giv­ing the paint­ings a sense of life.

Pa­trick J Jones works with a life model in his stu­dio, mak­ing close ob­ser­va­tions on anatom­i­cal struc­ture, in the flesh.

“No! This is not a self-por­trait,” laughs Miles John­son. He uses life draw­ing to come up with works that aren’t just nat­u­ral, but are full of de­tail.

Cap­tur­ing the mood as well as the anatomy, An­drew Theophilopou­los wishes there were more op­por­tu­ni­ties to do real life draw­ing.

In a real, phys­i­cal space, it’s eas­ier to study hu­man di­men­sions, says Pa­trick J Jones. At a fig­ure-draw­ing work­shop in Chicago, Aaron Miller’s model dressed as Nick Fury from the Avengers.

Like Pa­trick, Aaron en­joys merg­ing hu­man forms from life-draw­ing ses­sions with pieces of an­i­mal anatomy.

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