Creative process

Experiments with… drawing from life

Life drawing is something that I always feel I should do more of, but as I primarily draw animals it’s kind of tricky to do in real life. Whale life drawing anyone? Before lockdown I had intended to start going to life drawing classes to get better at drawing people, but technology is a wonderful thing and I’ve found some creative ways to experiment with drawing from life while working from home.

I feel like this blog needs to start with some context because I’m not new to life drawing. While I was studying for my Illustration degree we had regular life drawing classes, which I wish I could say I enjoyed, but I really didn’t. Our life drawing tutor was pretty opinionated and his opinion of my drawings were that they were terrible, which was not enjoyable to hear as an 18-year-old. Obviously now I’d tell him to jog on, or at least ask him to tell me why they were terrible (in his opinion) and how I could improve. But 18-year-old me just stopped going to his classes and instead I started drawing people in cafés, in the streets and in the student union bar with a pint. Then I stopped drawing people for the most part and started drawing animals instead.

Obviously animals are much harder to draw from life. They’re always moving and the likelihood of me being able to draw a Mako shark or a sloth from real-life is laughable. When sketching for my paintings, I often start with photos or videos as a reference. I’ve noticed that I like drawing from videos more as you get a sense for how something moves and the weight of something, which somehow translates into the drawing. The main skill in life drawing is looking, observing and drawing your sense of the scene. That’s something that I’d definitely like to be better at.

In my quest to experiment more and get better at things that make me uncomfortable, drawing from life – and drawing people from life – was always going to be one of my creative experiments for 2020. Earlier in the year I was planning to go to a weekly wine and life drawing class with a friend, but lockdown put a stop to that. Luckily technology is a wonderful thing and I’ve been able to find ways to draw from life from the comfort of my own sofa, without making my partner get his kit off in the living room.

Life Drawing Live!

Last Friday I poured myself a beer, sat down on the sofa and caught up with BBC Four’s Life Drawing Live! on iPlayer. The show guides you through drawing a range of models in various poses using different techniques, from quick 30-second sketches to a 20-minute drawing.

I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It was fun to draw just for drawing’s sake, without a finished painting in mind. I found that I enjoyed the quicker poses more than the longer ones, as it was fun to work quickly and make loose marks. For the poses where I had longer than 10 minutes, I ended up overworking them and losing some of the immediacy. For the 20-minute pose at the end, I did three six-minute sketches instead.

Here’s a look at my drawings from throughout the programme:

I was also surprised that I liked my drawings of the male models more, which is not what I remember from my university classes as I used to find women were much easier to draw than men.

Osprey cam

If you follow me on social media, you’ll know that I’ve developed a bit of an obsession with The Woodland Trust’s live stream of an osprey nest in the Scottish Highlands. I’ve also started drawing the ospreys from life, which is much more difficult as they’re not great at keeping still!

Here are a couple of my sketches of the nest on a damp evening, with the mother osprey struggling to fit all three chicks under her wings in the dry.

Fancy having a go?

Normally in this section of the blog I’d give my five top tips for people who think they might like to have a go. But this time there’s only one tip.

Pick up a pencil and have a go. Whether that’s sketching your family while they’re watching TV, drawing strangers in the park or joining in with a programme like Life Drawing Live. Just have a go. It’s great fun and even if you think you can’t draw, you will definitely notice progress over time.

It’s definitely something that I plan to keep doing.

This series of ‘Experiments with…’ blogs is based around one of my goals for 2020 – to experiment more and develop my creative practice. This means trying out new techniques, using new materials and making new products. The hope is that I’ll develop as an artist, learn new skills and have a lot of fun in the process. My aim is to try one new thing each month and blog about the process as well as the results.

You can keep up with my experiments in the creative process section of my blog. If you’ve got any suggestions for experiments that you think I should try, please get in touch.