From the Simple to the Complex

From the Simple to the Complex

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I recently took a life drawing class and showed my sketches to a friend, who’s a super-skilled painter. I was reluctant to share them, but when she looked at my final sketch–in which the model had her hips contrapposto but twisted slightly away from me with one arm across her chest and the other hanging at her side–she said what I had been thinking all along: “That’s a tough pose.”

Standing Nude Back Study
by Sadie Valeri, 18 x 24, white chalk
and colored pencil on buff paper.

It was! It had been really hard! The proportions I had come to count on when drawing models had sort of disappeared in this sketch because of the model’s pose. That’s why I wanted to take this opportunity and go through how model poses can range from the simple to the complex, so that if you are ever in a position to decide on the life drawing pose you’ll be sketching, you will go into knowing immediately if you are working with a basic or more complicated pose.

Long shot. A pose that is comfortable to work with in the beginning of your life drawing lessons could be a person standing straight with arms at his or her side. That way you can most easily measure proportions of arms and legs against the length of their body, and focus on the light and shadow shapes on the body.

Bend it like…The complication factor of drawing models is enhanced when arms or legs are bent in such a way that the limbs appear foreshortened. It’s the equivalent of landmarks disappearing, which means you really have to see with your artist’s eye. Abstract that bent knee or folded arm so that you evaluate it as light and dark shapes, otherwise you’ll stay stumped-or end up with a stump-like me!

Red chalk figure drawing by Robert Liberace,
detail, chalk on paper, 14 x 22.

Advanced! I’ve found that the most complicated life drawing sketches I’ve struggled with don’t involve big movements like arms overhead or a body bent over, but subtle moves like shoulders that are tilted back or hips that tilt contrapposto. If you find yourself struggling with how to draw a model repeatedly, it may be that there are a few subtle body positions that you are overlooking. Step away and reassess, and I bet you’ll pick up on something you weren’t aware of before.

Whether you are pursuing simple life drawings or ones of more complexity, you are doing the right thing by making it a part of your practice. It will pay off big time in your art, giving you skills that will take you far. For more inspiration and a better sense of the power of figure drawing, get your copy of Drawing with the Masters, an eMagazine for fine artists who understand the power of Old Master works.


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