The Art Student's Survival Guide to: Life Drawing
Megan Archibald studies Painting at Gray's School of Art. Not just an artist, but a keen writer too - she has offered to share her first year of university with us. She'll be taking us through some of the key elements of studying at art school in the modern day - from applications through to end of year assessments - and will be offering her advice to budding art students. Take a look at Issue #4...
Your first life drawing class is always going to be a little surreal and nerve-racking, but it’s a necessary part of art school and great for building your portfolio in preparation for future interviews and residencies. With a little advice and experience you may well find that life drawing classes quickly become one of your favourite artistic challenges.
Almost all life drawing studio etiquette is based around respect for the model, which makes sense really - I can’t imagine many people wanting to stand naked in a room full of students who are checking their Instagram! Remember, the model is putting themselves in quite a vulnerable position for your benefit, so keeping them happy and comfortable is incredibly important.
- No electronics and NO photography! (Well, unless full consent is given by both the model and the tutor leading the class.) Most student drawing classes operate under a code of silence while the model is posing, except when your tutor comes over to give you advice. Don’t worry though, the model will be given breaks during the class so there will be plenty of time to check your Twitter or catch up on The Art Student’s Survival Guide...
- My art school doesn’t allow bags or jackets within the drawing rooms because of limits on space - it can be quite a squeeze when everyone is set up with an easel, plus the model needs to be given enough room to comfortably hold a range of poses. It's a good idea to bring only the equiment you need for the class and leave all excess baggage in your studio space.
- This one is probably a little self-explanatory, but DO NOT touch the model, talk to or distract them, and don’t make any comments about them to your friends! It should go without saying, but you’d be really surprised…
Okay, now I’ve laid down the law let’s get onto the fun part!
What should I bring to a life drawing class?
Bring only the equipment you’ll need for the day - normally your tutor will give you a list or a rough idea of what you’ll be using in that particular session, but some good basics include:
- A selection of sketching pencils (2B - 6B)
- Charcoal sticks or pencils
- Putty rubber
- Ink and a brush or nib
Other materials may be course-dependent, so use your initiative. For example, as a painting student we may sometimes be required to bring oil paints and Turpentine, but our tutors always let us know in advance. Other materials, such as paper, are sometimes be given to you during the class, and there may also be a few little surprises along the way - In my life drawing experiences so far I’ve been given large wooden dowels to make marks with, and gardening wire to use for a 3D drawing!
How will the class be taught?
There are two types of life drawing classes, broadly speaking: self-directed, and guided.
- Self-directed life drawing classes tend to run outside of university teaching hours, and can often be found at local art centres run by community art groups, or organised by students in empty studio spaces on campus. They are informal and open sessions, and generally involve the model offering a variety of timed poses for group members to draw from at their own pace with their own choice of materials. These classes are great for portfolio preparation as they give you the freedom to produce the work that best represents your practice.
- Guided drawing classes are much more structured, and will generally involve a tutor talking the class through a series of drawing exercises using a variety of pre-arranged materials. These sessions usually begin with warm ups - quick 2-5 minutes sketches using a variety of techniques, such as drawing with your non-dominant hand or without looking at the page. Warm ups are followed by longer poses, normally up to around 45 minutes, where you’ll have the chance to produce more detailed drawings with the guidance of your tutor. Guided classes offer great opportunities for learning and developing your drawing abilities- make the most of the time with your tutor, who will be able to offer you valuable advice on perspective and proportion, and to help you get to grips with the range of materials and techniques.
Last-minute life drawing tips:
- Bring masking tape! People always forget or run out of masking tape during a life drawing class, so being the person with the tape is a great way to become the most popular student in your class.
- Wear comfortable shoes and clothing. You'll be standing for prolonged periods at your easel and you won't want a painful high-heeled foot to distract you from your drawing. I also suggest wearing layers that are easy to take off during the class - life drawing classes can be crowded, and heaters are often kept on to make sure the model doesn't feel cold. This means the room can quickly get very hot, so having the ability to strip off a few layers should ensure you stay cool and comfy throughout the class.
- Go to the bathroom before the session begins... Just trust me on this one.
- Relax and remember if you get lost at any point during the class, just raise your hand and ask the tutor for clarification or an opinion - it’s what they’re there for - and in my experience they’d always rather you asked a silly question than made a silly mistake.
Find more of Megan's work here.