Contemporary Figurative Sketches

Contemporary Figurative Sketches or ‘Life Drawings’

Figure drawing, Damian Osborne

What is Contemporary Figurative Sketching?

Contemporary figurative sketches are usually timed drawings done from a live model, hence the term ‘life drawings’. Usually, the model is in the nude, as this allows the artist to really observe and study the structures and anatomy of the human form. 

Life drawing practice is the basis for artists learning to draw the human figure. It is the practice of drawing from life, not photos. 

The poses are usually timed. In my life drawing group, we do several 2 minute, 5 minute, 15 minute, and 30 minute poses. This forces the artist to gather information quickly, to draw faster and more intuitively, and it really tests the artist’s anatomy knowledge and drawing skills.

It’s easier to see where you are lacking as an artist when the time pressure is on. It also helps to prevent overworking a drawing to death.

Mindfulness in Figurative Drawing

Every Tuesday morning, I attend a life drawing group. And oh, what a grumpy artist I can be if I skip a week. (My wife sure knows!)

This is the place where I get to just sit and draw. No distractions, no emails, phone calls, social media, talking — in fact, hardly any thinking.

My brain goes into a deep meditative auto-pilot.

My fingers are getting sooty from charcoal; I’m aware of the minute changes in pressure and angle of my pencil lead; watercolour or ink washes are doing their thing and I watch with fascination.

I’m studying the fibers, bones, shadows, shapes, rhythms, planes, creases, curves, masses and gravity of the human body.

Life drawings are fundamental for an artist’s training. For learning to see, to understand, to practice, to be patient with oneself, to revere our humanness and our lives.

Some days, I’m not getting it. I have too much on my mind. My paper sucks, or my charcoal is scratchy. I can’t focus. My hand feels alien.

Other days, I’m in the magic space. Where everything is just coming together and it feels like someone else is almost drawing through me.

And yet, I know it’s me because I have such perfect control of my hand. My eye is seeing and balancing instantaneously. My materials are a dream to work with.

But most of the time, it’s kind of in between these two modes. Most of the year, I don’t really notice much in terms of improvement.

There are occasional aha moments (and every session I really do learn something — particularly about anatomy or how to interpret something).

But, I see the greatest difference when I start comparing my drawings from the year before.

It’s a very long journey, learning to draw. But I love it, and it’s amazing to know there’ll never be an end to training.

Drawing is being fully in the moment. And you never really see something until you try to draw it. And humans are the most fascinating things of all.


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