For the last couple of weeks, an artist friend and I have been attending a life drawing class one evening a week. This is something we had talked about doing for a long time and finally decided that it was time to stop talking and just do!
I have not done sketching from life, really, since art school and that was way back in another century! I doubt I took much away from that class as the teacher, a man who had, shall we say, quite unorthodox and overly authoritarian ideas about how we should be seeing and working and sketching, was quite intimidating and in the end, had many of us in his class so edgy all the time, it is a wonder that we could even put charcoal to paper.
I have, from time to time over the years since leaving art school, sketched in my books from life, but usually just as adjunct thoughts like when sitting in the airport at Arusha, Tanzania waiting for the return flight to the States and momentarily doing some quick gestural studies of fellow travelers, trying to capture the moment in as few lines as possible (something which I will admit now, I think came directly from that tyrant of a life teacher in art school!).
But, since my major focus of work over these last almost forty years in graphite has been animals and the natural world, it is interesting and fun to be, now, working once again with human form. I will not say that my efforts so far have been anything to be jumping up and down about, but I think with a number of three hour sessions under my belt now, I can see some improvement and am beginning to feel comfortable with what my eye is seeing and my hand is translating. And that, in the end, is a very important aspect of doing things such as life drawing - to be able to make that all important connection between what the eye sees and how the hand reacts to and translates it.
As I have said many times to young artists who ask, and to parents of youngsters who seem to show promise and want to know how they can continue to encourage their children, having a small sketch pad and pencil with you at all times is of great value in allowing you to do quick gestural, line studies of people or whatever is within sight. Training yourself to capture in as few strokes of the pencil as possible, a fleeting movement or contour outline, is one of the best means of mastering your drawing skills.
Many of the artists in the group are painters and are working on ongoing pieces, since the model takes the same pose for six consecutive weeks, and are constantly working and reworking and refining their paintings. I have been sketching in graphite, charcoal and now working on colored grounds as well. I even picked up some oil pastels last night and will 'play' with those in the next session.