Life Drawing and Urban Sketching

I get asked this pretty often:
Question: Do you need a life drawing practice to be able to draw people from life?
Answer: No
(and this one I don’t get asked)
Question: But does it help?
Answer: A big YES!

A huge part of the challenge when drawing people is capturing subtle motion and shift in weight. Without these subtleties people look wooden. Life drawing helps me see more easily why my people sketches might look wooden. These two studies were both done during a 15 minute pose. The one on the left was my first attempt. It took a second attempt and keener observation to get to the more dynamic balance of the second sketch.
Life drawing gives me a chance to examine everyday stances. To see how the body moves. To give a gesture a second shot when it doesn’t work out the first time. To problem solve and understand first hand.

The twists in the body, the shifts in weight from one leg to another, the resting of hands in hips or in the pocket of jeans and how that affects stances…these are super common things we come across in drawing people. Can they be observed on location? Sure, but clothes mask and make subtle changes harder to see. People move away. And getting an exact replica of a pose to re-look at is challenging.

What I learn and observe in life-drawing sessions helps me see and ‘find’ action, movement and weight more quickly and easily when drawing on location.

Foreshortening and dynamic motion: a good model will give you all of those.

Understanding it in life-drawing helps me capture it in life. Especially when my models are a kid that won’t be holding still long, or dancers doing the fast-paced waltz.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg on the benefits of life-drawing.

Not sure how you find a life-drawing session near you? Community colleges and art museums near you might hold one? Search Meetup for a group near you. Contact your local model guild and see if they can share locations with you. Or, find a space, share model costs with a group of artists and get fantastic models through your local model guild (that’s how I practice and learn).

What if you can’t attend a life-drawing session where you live? There’s always anatomy and figure-drawing books. And there are online life drawing sites… so, so many of them. I haven’t used them enough to recommend one over the other. But if you have used them and have a favorite, write in and let me know which ones and why, and I’ll share your list right here on the blog.


About Suhita Shirodkar

obsessive-sketcher. graphic designer.
This entry was posted in Close to home, Figure Drawing, people, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Life Drawing and Urban Sketching

  1. Nice drawings, I took life drawing in college, but I wasn’t very good at it.


    • elizabet says:

      If you were good at it. you wouldn’t need to pay for a class. I hope you were able to enjoy it anyway.


      • I don’t know, sometimes I think you may think you’re not good at something , others might disagree. also, I take classes to learn regardless of whether i’m good at something or not: every teacher has their own way of teaching, every person sees differently…


  2. TheArtistOnTheRoad says:

    Excellent drawings Suhita and good advice too! The top two figure drawings are a great example of how you pulled the drawing together in the second attempt incorporating rhythm. It looks solid and cohesive. Great work!


  3. Shawn, to me life drawing is rarely for more than study and honing my observational skills so I don’t worry about how good the results are.


  4. miatagrrl says:

    Excellent post, Suhita! I agree completely about how regular life-drawing practice helps when sketching out in the “real” world. One other thing I think life drawing is really good for is gauging how to approach a sketch depending on how much time one has. I approach a 1-minute or 2-minute pose in a different way compared to a 20-minute pose. I want each sketch to be “finished” in some way, even if they were made in different lengths of time. That kind of training is very helpful when I’m out urban sketching and I sometimes have only a few minutes and other times have much longer.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. TRUE! And such great examples!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. themhbd says:

    That is so true Suhita – the kick of a hip, the lift of a shoulder – all these things our clothes are hiding. I go to life drawing every week now, and it does help in sketching in general – just observation and eye-to-hand coordination! The online resource I use occasionally when I can’t go to life drawing is Croquis Cafe on Vimeo. There are many others – Line-of-Action and LoveLifeDrawing are two others that I have used as well. But nothing beats the real thing! Marie-Hélène

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Jeff Gold says:

    Great post, Suhita. I don’t write often but I love your blog and, of course, your voluminous work. I discovered life drawing about 7 or 8 years ago and have really enjoyed doing a weekly session of two hours. I live in a small town in Northern Vermont but we have been able to form a life drawing group and keep it going for over four years. There are a few small colleges in the area that provide work for models so we are lucky to have access to them as well. I schedule the four or five models that pose for us. I find that life drawing has helped my spontaneity in drawing anything including in urban sketching. I’d like to share my life drawings with you and your followers at my blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. kioratash says:

    As usual, I am transported and dream myself to be loose and skilled. So glad to see your work.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. This is awesome! I have trouble doing life drawings, you are amazing at it!! (^_^)


  10. Katherine Robb says:

    Model here, grateful to see the discussion of figure drawing! This is inspirational!

    Liked by 1 person

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