Improve Faster – Draw From Life

Despite living in the UK where the sun is barely functional, one of my favorite things is to get out to explore a new place, find something interesting about it then break out my sketchbook and start drawing.

I’ve done a lot of art exercises since I began drawing in 2011, but those I’ve seen the most return from have revolved around drawing from life. It can be useful to learn from other people’s art, but at the end of the day, if you take too much from other artists, you risk making your art more style than substance. An artist’s style is a window into what they take as important enough to capture and emphasise in their subject. If you don’t study the world around you, but simply imitate other people’s art, it’s like you’re copying a copy. Each copy mutates away from the truth of the subject.

Life drawing sessions are one of the best ways to build your drawing skills. The human body is incredibly intricate as a subject. Models are often changed around every session and will take on a variety of poses, so you’re constantly observing the subject from a new angle. For this reason, life drawing is one of the best ways to build your observation skills – it’ll equip you to capture any subject efficiently.

That said, there are better and worse ways of approaching life drawing. When I first began, I’d work in ink and be very cautious over every mark I’d make – mostly I’d draw outlines of bodies, like I used to do when inking comics. My skills really rocketed after taking on a more flexible media,¬†though, (charcoal) and then learning a better approach for the task. I remember hearing the idea from Aaron Blaise (an incredible animator), talking about sketching animals at the zoo. If you want to learn the most from your sketching, don’t try to be exact. Instead of trying to get it perfect, make lots of lines/shapes quickly; keep your sketch light and rough, so if a line isn’t right it doesn’t matter – just draw another that fits better.

This approach may not work for finely polished artwork, but in sketching (especially when there’s a time limit) it allows you to quickly observe your subject, relate its components to the page, see where you’ve misjudged it and correct yourself. Remember: if your goal is improvement, sketch to understand the subject; don’t worry about making refined artwork. That can be done later.

I hope you’ll think about taking up life drawing. It’s really helped me grow. Below are some of my sketches from recent sessions.

Know any other great sketching exercises? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!

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