What’s It Like In A Life Drawing Class

By Bill Kray

Innumerable nude women.

Standing less than 20 feet away from seated freshmen was a woman displaying every adolescent's dream. She was the first of many nude women. I was one of several fine art majors. Welcome to our world.

Does your young one have a knack for drawing? Early grade-school art classes begin with finger painting, drawing your family, and still life compositions. More advanced students may sketch clothed figures or copy photographs. In a college life drawing class, the gloves are off — and everything else. Despite the amount of exposed flesh in the classroom, there is nothing vulgar or erotic about the session, and there's no sexual tension among coed students.

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At the beginning of class, the instructor indicates the medium used and may explain techniques while displaying some examples. The medium might be pencil, charcoal, pastels, paints or clay. When working with watercolor, students will learn how to stretch the paper affixed to a board so it won't warp. For oil painting or acrylic, canvas needs to be stretched onto a frame or it may have been ordered prestretched. Canvas pressed board can also be used.

A time limit is established for each pose. It can be 1 to 5 minutes or longer. During the first year, there was only one male model who happened to wear a jock strap. Most models are female. She enters the room wearing a robe or changes into one behind a screen. When the timer starts, the robe drops and she strikes a pose.

 School of Fine Arts,  Bridgeview

School of Fine Arts, Bridgeview

Before such classes, most student drawings might have been limited to straight forward or profile. Now there are angles and positions that may have never been attempted.

Initially there are flood of questions in your head: Do I understand the instructions? Am I familiar with the medium? Am I seated with a good angle? Is foreshortening required? How do I handle the lighting and shading?

Many answers are resolved quickly and inaudibly. The instructor walks around the room to motivate students to commit something to paper. As the drawing begins to take shape, anxiety subsides.

 1-Minute Figure Sketch

1-Minute Figure Sketch

When drawing or painting on a white surface, all the highlights are there. By squinting you can filter out the shadows. After some light outline sketching for scale and proportions, shadows are blocked in. A more advanced technique is to draw on colored paper. In this case, your surface baseline includes the midtones; you still start by roughing in the shadows but then highlights must also be added.

An art gallery work-study program gave me insights into many art styles. Later, I pursued graphic art, where I focused on hand lettering, product packaging, technical and medical illustration. Posters of some of my works are sold on this site.

A Different Nude Woman Each Day

Most college or university models are contracted through an agency. Paid hourly, they must schedule multiple appointments each day. It's rare to see models more than once in a big city. (Read story of nude art model.) When the session is over, they generally waste no time fraternizing because they may be running to their next appointment.

On one occasion, a curious model, not unlike Claudia, put on her robe and began leisurely walking around the room to view the work of each student. It was initially a somewhat awkward experience — a nude woman had crossed an invisible boundary. The awkwardness quickly subsided. She offered no critiques, though some drawings were less than flattering, she just satisfied her own curiosity. That day we were working on facial portraits so I wondered why the instructor had her disrobe. She may have been just as surprised to see portraits on everyone's easel after exposing herself so long. I had a brief conversation with her about the shape of her nose before she left.

 After the Session,  Sergio Lopez

After the Session, Sergio Lopez

Why Draw Nudes

Drawing the human body is considered fundamental art education. There are many complexities to master. However, you don't need to be an artist to know what a person should look like. We immediately notice if someone's eye is asymmetrical. Women often obsess over every unwanted bump and bulge. As we move naturally, perspective shifts, garments fold and hair moves without a thought.

When capturing such natural movements on paper, each aspect is a field of study — foreshortening, lighting, rendering and textures must all come together. Our familiarity with human movement, makes atypical proportions stand out. I advise new students to instinctively follow such built-in auto-correction. After learning more about the underlying anatomical musculoskeletal system, you can focus on your preferred medium and develop a style that is uniquely your own. In so doing, you will take more command of model positions, foreshortening and lighting so as not just to render well, but to convey a powerful emotion. Follow MY figure drawings and MY art workspace on Pinterest.

Bill Kray

Los Angeles, United States

Vegetarian health advocate, graphic designer, illustrator, programmer and prolific blog writer.

You may purchase anatomy posters from ClinicalPosters.com.