I answered this question on Twitter a few months ago so I made a mental note to publish this post.
Life drawing is enjoyed by many for a variety of reasons. Some are keen to improve their drawing skills with every lesson, others draw because it makes them feel good, it relaxes them.
If you have always wanted to attend an untutored life drawing class and are unsure of what to bring or what to expect, I hope this helps. Once you are in and set up you’ll find that you’ll be quickly focused on the problems of drawing the body, and any nervous nasties will depart.
- A support to draw on
Most classes provide easels and drawing boards. Some also have plenty of stools or long bench type stools which have drawing boards placed at the end of them. It depends on the physical size of the room and the resources. I have been to a lot of life drawing classes, in different locations and they are always very similar. I have never been to one which hasn’t provided a support for you to draw on. Always best to check though so you might need to make a phone call. If you have found the class on the internet it probably has some notes about this.
- Someone to guide the poses
This is usually the person who has organised the class and collects your money. Always bring cash to the life drawing classes and try to bring the exact amount. They will position the model – often ask the class participants if they have any specific requests – and time the poses. They will always tell you how long you have to draw. As soon as you arrive at the class, try and find them and introduce yourself. Then off to grab an easel and get your materials sorted.
- Coffee and biscuits!
You will have a break halfway through the session where tools are dropped, the model puts on his or her robe and stretches their legs. This is time for you to mingle with the other artists, walk around the room and peruse the artwork. Don’t forget the coffee. I have been to some classes where you need to contribute $2 to the coffee/biscuit kitty, so be prepared.
What do you need to bring to a life drawing class?
You will need to bring your own paper. I usually bring a couple of sheets of textured, heavy expensive paper such as 300 gsm watercolor or printing paper, a sketchbook and some cheap cartridge paper or newsprint. I always like to be prepared. Let me tell you, you can never bring too much paper! It’s a pain if you run out. Don’t be surprised if someone asks if you have a spare sheet of newsprint. Artists are a sharing bunch so there won’t be a problem if you do run out.
Why the different types?
- If you find yourself sitting on the floor at a life drawing class, this is when the hard-backed sketchbook comes in handy.
- The newsprint or cartridge is for the easel or board and specifically used for the shorter poses where you want the bigger size, but you are not looking at doing a finished piece. Warm ups and practice.
- The good stuff is for the longer poses where you’re more focused on detail and accuracy. You might frame these for home or be producing some for a portfolio or an exhibition.
Purchasing paper for you life drawing class
To buy the right paper just pop on down to your local art store, the paper is usually stacked into shelving and always clearly marked. If you aren’t sure what you are looking for, I have always found people who work at the local art supplies store VERY helpful (they are often artists themselves). Little tip – get to know them and don’t hesitate to ask them about ANY art materials. If you are an amateur artist, the knowledge you can gain from these guys about materials will be invaluable. Many mistakes can be avoided and art materials can be expensive.
*gsm is the weight of the paper. 300 gsm is a very heavy paper. In general the lower the number the thinner the paper. More advice about choosing paper.
- Something to draw with!
Charcoal, pencil, pastels, watercolor, ink. If you are starting out try and experiment with as much as you can. There is a HUGE list of media here.
- Bull dog clips to clip your paper to the board. Some classes have these but bring them just in case.
- Brushes if you are using water color or ink.
- Fixative to spray good charcoal drawings (though spray outside). A tip – if you don’t have fixative, use hairspray, it works a treat.
Structure of the class – what to expect
No class is exactly the same but all follow a similar structure. After you have met the organiser, found an easel and placed your paper and tools the class will usually start with some really quick short poses. These are usually a bunch of 1 minute poses so have your sketching paper – newsprint, cartridge or sketchbook and get ready to draw. This is my favourite part of the session. Short snappy poses don’t allow you time for ANY DETAIL – the purpose of these short poses is to warm you up, get the arms and hands moving quickly. Sketch the movement of the poses, the action line. Contours should be free flowing and expressive. Look at the model more than the paper. Take some risks, draw with your wrong hand, or don’t look at your paper at all.
You will then go onto longer poses for example a 2 x 10 minutes poses and a 20 minute pose. Towards the end of the class will often be a long pose – 30 minutes and longer. Usually a long pose will have a break in the middle and you have have a stretch (and the model!) and analyse your work.
What the class will expect from you
You are there to enjoy drawing the figure and to learn. No-one goes to a life drawing class expecting to be surrounded by masters. There is always a broad range of skill levels in a life drawing class. Some simple rules for you:
- Peace! You will know when it’s time to chat, and when it’s time to draw because as soon as the pose begins, there is a hush over the room (I love this time). Chatting is for breaks.
- Arrive on time. It can distract others if you wonder in late, make clunky noises positioning your easel or walk in front of the pose.
- As I said earlier, bring cash and try to bring the correct amount. Don’t expect the teacher or class organiser to have change for you – they might not.
Very important – enjoy yourself. After a class you will feel GREAT and proud of yourself
Good luck and let us know how you go.
(Image of life drawing class – source: quinn.anya)