If there is one thing you will always hear coming out of the mouth of a good instructor it is to draw, draw, draw from life. Then go home and draw some more. And, usually when the instructor is championing a need to draw they are talking about drawing from life and drawing the human figure.
It’s a good thing to draw from life — say, Aunt Mamie napping on the settee (presumably clothed), Horses (presumably without clothes, unless you’re busy sketching Mr. Ed), interiors, chairs, trees, cars, flowers, fields, clouds, barns, apples and pears — whatever seems of interest. But what is most essential of all is that you draw from life, both literally and figuratively, and not copy from another artist’s drawing or a photograph, or worse, make something up out of your head. (Well, at least not until you’ve invested thousands, if not tens of thousands of hours in drawing from life already.)
But why should drawing the nude from life be so important? Is it just to help you get past the urge to giggle at the body parts out on display? Not really. It is important because of how easy it is for the inadequate artist to fake a horse, the grill of a ’57 Chevy, or a mountain lake. However, drawing the human figure in all its nakedyness, well, that’s a different game. A little mistake here, a little distortion over there, and before you know it you are left with a drawing no one wants to look at. Not even you.
So drawing the nude from life is the best training you can commit to, assuming you want to learn how to control your hand and train your eye. It gets you over the giggles too, fast.
Are there some ways to draw which are better at training the hand and eye than others? I believe so. But then I distinguish between executing a drawing to create an artistic object, say, similar to the way a painter finishes a painting, and drawing to learn something you don’t already know or have not yet mastered. The first distinction is obvious. The second could use a little clarification.
Drawing to learn means the you aren’t overly preoccupied about the finish or style of the work, or perfect alignment of the hatchings, or the slick rendering of skin and hair. Drawing to learn means you care about making continuous changes that accurately represent what you see as you study the human form in all its expressive glory. Beautiful or ugly. Young or old. Lithe or Fat. Fit or droopy. None of that matters. Drawing to learn turns everything in front of you into grist for the mill.
One thing to remember while drawing to learn is your eraser becomes just as important as your drawing tool. Being willing and able to eradicate those pesky errors and misjudgments that keep popping up means you are becoming capable of seeing them in the first place, whereas you weren’t able to spot them before. This leads to more accurate depictions and better draftsmanship. Being willing and able to continuously correct your drawing on the fly is a far more important skill then trying to get it right on the first pass. Very few artists ever come close to doing that anyway and most of them are savants. Mozarts with the brush. Which is why any tendencyyou have towards creating and maintaining a sweet precious rendering must be jettisoned. Sacrificed like a baby you can’t afford to feed. If only to get that sweet preciousness out of the way to see what lies underneath. (I’m kidding, you wouldn’t ever sacrifice a baby, right?)
And sure, drawing to learn — from life — is hard. It’s difficult. And frankly, there ain’t no way around that fact. And I’m sorry to be the one who tells you if you are working hard at it already: drawing from life won’t get much easier despite how good you get. I am told it is similar to power-lifting or running a marathon. There is always pain involved. So be brave and do as any decent instructor will tell you. Power through the pain and draw, draw, draw from life.
Then go home and draw some more . . .