In September 2016 I finally plucked up the courage to start a life drawing and painting class at the Midlands Art Centre having never done any life drawing before. I walked into the studio feeling absolutely petrified, not knowing what to expect other than a naked model and the opportunity to draw them. Beyond that I didn’t have a clue, so as I walked in the studio to find lots of arty looking folk setting up easels, I wanted to turn on my heals and hobble out of there, as I thought I was out of my depth and comfort zone.
Luckily I managed to keep my nerve and stay for the first session, but looking at the work the other students had produced I realised this was not the beginners class that I thought it was. It was full of very talented people, with experience of life drawing with many different individual styles. I was so impressed by them and the teacher but really thought this wasn’t the class for me. Looking at all their work it brought all my insecurities about drawing people rushing to the surface. Making me not for the first time question whether art can be learned or whether you have to be gifted with a talent. A talent I certainly do not have.
(Example of their work in the early sessions)
Everyone in the class was so friendly and welcoming. The tutor Ann Brierley was new to The Mac but was brilliant at recognising the differing levels and experience of her group. Setting and facilitating a varied array of different activities. Offering different advice and guidance and level of support to each of us. Something she continued to do expertly for the entire course, whist covering many techniques and mediums. It was all these factors that gave me the confidence to return to the class following week, and that made me love every single session. Made me sign up for an extra two terms turning that studio on a Saturday morning into my happy place.
It is amazing looking back now that it was only one academic year and only one morning a week. As so much was crammed into each session, we even managed to break for coffee! When I say I am a self-taught artist it is a lie really. Not the doing by myself bit but the taught bit. As I haven’t read any how to draw books or followed their step by step projects. I haven’t spent hours on YouTube watching artists ‘how to’ videos. In fact. I didn’t do any real learning. I would choose a photo and try to reproduce it, time and time again until I was reasonably happy with the end product.
So the first and biggest shock to me was that in this class, it was clearly about the process the practise, the learning more than about making a completed piece of art. This second shock came to me in the means of short poses.
(example of my 1 & 3 minute drawings)
Short poses are when the life model stands or sits in a certain position for a short timed period – obvious huh. But when I had only every spent hours and hours painting the same picture until whatever time that I decided it was finished – short poses came as a shock to me. Especially when I realised that short could mean anything from 1 minute to 10 minutes. I think on my first 1 minute pose drawing I hadn’t even drawn a single line when the time was up and the model change position. I was horrified by quick poses, there wasn’t time to think or draw or rub out, everything I did was rubbish, child like and embarrassing. Of course I could see some of the other students were able to produce some amazing drawings showing movement, form structure style and even composition (all things I wasn’t able to discuss back then let alone do).
By the end of the year I really loved short poses, 10 minutes poses felt like long ones and when we did some hour-long sittings in the final sessions well they felt like a day not an hour. I loved the short poses because they taught me the single most important thing that has changed me and my attitude to my art and hopefully will make me a better artist,they taught me to stop being obsessed with the end product. I had to learn to loosen up, relax, look more carefully and ditch the rubber. I actually ditched the pencil towards the end finding that charcoal and I got on better.
(My charcoal examples)
Most importantly it taught me absolute importance of just drawing, which may sound strange. But I am better at painting because its easier, it’s more forgiving, you can hide imperfection that you just can’t in a drawing. Like people and portraits I had avoided drawing too much as it was difficult the end results were not so satisfying. A big regret now of course. Anne says its like flying hours you have to clock the hours to develop drawing skills, and there is no other way around it.
Quite often she would set additional elements to these short pose drawings exercises. For example, only using straight or curved lines, not using any outlines at all. Not letting the pen leave the paper, not looking at the paper whilst you draw or using a straight-arm. We often used our non dominant arm and at first my initial thought was well I cannot do that as it is my stroke affected side but actually to my surprise I was able to manage something that resembled a human form, just because I tried. It was amazing looking at the stunning drawings that people produced in a short time when focusing on the exercise rather than the end product.
It was funny by the end of the course I loved short poses and dreaded the long. The minute I knew we were doing a longer pose and I had a crisp blank piece of paper on the easel I would fall back into old habits. Worrying about the end product, stiffening up, and wanting to use the rubber to hide mistakes rather than seeing them as a useful measuring tool they can. But as the weeks progressed I improved slowly but surely. Though I will admit I did choose when the option was given to paint, solely because its easier – but old habits die-hard.
So many times during this course I found myself out of my comfort zone, using materials I had never touch before. such as charcoal, inks and oil pastels. Combining them in ways that I was surprised could work. I found that actually I am better when blocking out the form rather than drawing an outline of a person and despite learning this my instinct is always to start with outline and have to battle with myself to break that spell that often leads me in to dismal drawings.
(examples of my Different mediums work)
I learnt that people have so much creativity and can be looking at exactly the same model in exactly the same pose and see something completely different. I found that I am lacking in a creative style and the one that seems to be developing slowly actually does not fit that closely to my own taste. I wish I could be more interesting with my choice of colour, my composition. My instinct is still to want to produce a drawing or painting that is a realistic example of what I see and I know if I am honest I probably would want to see a hyper realistic impression appear on my page. Even though I think this form of art is amazingly skilled I agree with a friend who says that “if you want to produce art that looks like photos use a camera” I always fall in love with the pieces people produce that are full of colour, splattered with drips ,if the figure is somehow emerging from the background as if you can see the art materials giving them life. Maybe an art style comes later, once you have put the hours in learning the basics. It will be interesting to learn whether style is something that artist consciously chooses in conjunction with their personal taste or whether it is something more organic that chooses you?
(examples of diverse styles amongst students in class)
Is life drawing for you? Maybe, maybe not. What I would say to anyone wishing they had a certain talent, or is looking at someone else’s amazingly crafted piece of art thinking I wish I had been born with such a talent. Stop right there and think about it – could you drive a car or fly a plane without hours of practises? The artist behind that piece of art you are admiring, wishing you had the talent for has put the hours in, honed those skills, and at some point or another been a beginner or not that great. The most certainly would have produced something a bit crap, or wished they were better worrying if they were talented enough.
I am astounded by how much I have gained from a couple of hours on a Saturday morning drawing naked people. It has given me the confidence to get out of my comfort zone, and realise that actually it is an exciting rather than scary place. To stop being stuck on perfection or the end result, wrapped up in planning for the future and often forgetting to focus on being in the moment and enjoy being just in now. An art studio might not be your happy place, it might be doing creative writing, cake decorating or losing your self in a line dance. If you haven’t found yours, are you looking? If not why not? Are you putting off giving something a go that your heart tells you, you would love? If yes ask yourself why? You might be missing out on the very thing you were made for and it’s never to late.