As a child, I never had much luck with art. At 9 years old, I enjoyed going to extracurricular art classes conducted by a neurotic middle-aged woman who called me ‘sugar’. However, the fish that she helped me with were always better than the fish that I drew on my own (I liked fish a lot). So I stopped going to art classes.
I remember being 12 and, with trembling hands, handing my mother one of my latest abstract ‘masterpieces’ that I was sure was very Picasso. I don’t remember what she said after looking at the picture, but from that moment onwards, I would never draw a thing.
Or so I thought, until four months ago. It was July, it was hot, I was stressed from studying for exams. My friend, who is a professional artist, proposed an impromptu life drawing session at the beach. I’ve never drawn ‘real people’ before, let alone at a public place. I was terrified by my friend’s suggestion, but I was curious and decided to tag along.
At my first ever life drawing session, I really hated myself for getting involved. My friend and I were supposed to look out for unsuspecting people whose bodies we were to put down on paper with pencil, ideally in one swift movement of the graphite. One has to be fast, because normally at public places like beaches people change their position and move about constantly. The task is to ‘catch’ the outline of the person’s figure and posture in about 4 or 5 minutes. Naturally, my first attempts at life drawing looked more like my 12-year-old abstract efforts than real people.
However, there was something in the exercise itself that I enjoyed greatly. Being intensely focused on a task, so focused that you let all other thoughts go, felt like meditation. Throughout my exams, I kept venturing out for life drawing sessions, on my own now, sketching people in cafés and streets. This, I believe, saved me from collapsing under the pressure and strain of the exam period.
So I went on with my practice. I am unfortunately a perfectionist. I hate doing things that I’m not good at, but somehow this wasn’t a problem for me when doing life drawing. Perhaps because you have a limited time frame for completing your task, you don’t ask too much of yourself. There’s no need for a life-drawing sketch to look ‘complete’. Also, being so concentrated on what you do, you have no mental space left to ponder upon the quality of the work you’re producing. In the end, life drawing has shown me how fun art can be by allowing me to concentrate on the process of making, rather than the end result.
When the Michaelmas term began, I started going to ArtSoc’s life drawing sessions. Organised life drawing is a bit different from what I’ve just described but is just as rewarding. Firstly, there’s more time allowed: there are 10, 15 and 25 minute poses. This makes the life drawing process more relaxed, because you don’t need to hurry. Secondly, you’re surrounded by a group of people who are doing the same thing that you’re doing. It can be great to look at all the different styles and the way that people solve problems differently. Thirdly, you have the opportunity to study naked life models and see how everyone’s body is an absolutely unique combination of lines and shapes. After you’ve drawn people for a while, you start seeing all people as beautiful, regardless of their body type, size and features. You realize that each body is a masterpiece in itself, which you’re trying to reproduce on paper. This, of course, does wonders in terms of your personal body confidence.
I asked my artist friend for a piece of advice for life drawing beginners. She says: “Try out different materials, different paper. Life sketching is literally a ‘sketch of life’; think of your lines as breathing beings and draw them so. Most importantly, don’t be afraid.”
If you’re not afraid, I’ll see you at the next life drawing session.