Tag Archives: life drawing


The group practice of figure drawing and painting has to observe certain courtesies between model and artists so that the creative process can unfold without unnecessary interruptions.  A comfortable temperature in the studio, cleanliness of the posing dais, and adequate privacy from outsiders (and for the model to change) are only the beginnings of good professional manners.  There are some behaviors, too often overlooked, that need to be seriously addressed and definitely changed.  Cavalierly dismissing the impacts of tardiness, mob rule, overt criticism, cell phone use, unwelcome talking, and broken concentration tends to make the drawing session chaotic and unproductive of nearly everything but frustration.

First of all, be ready to start by the time the model is ready to begin–no dragging tables, easels, tabourets, portfolios, drawing boards, paintboxes, or rolling carts around the room in an attempt to set up while not only the model but the punctual artists are trying to work.  If you’re late, wait outside or stand in the back and work in your sketchbook until the break.

Only one member of the group should direct the posing, correct a mis-pose, light and tape the pose, and otherwise interact with the model on behalf of the group; other members should speak to the model through that coordinator.  The break is for chatting if the model permits it, but technical matters relating to the model’s work should be deferred to the coordinator.

No artist should talk about how the model looks during the duration of the session, or within earshot of the model (or anyone else, for that matter).  Keep grumpiness about the pose or the lighting or the costuming to yourself–real artists make the best they can out of the spontaneity of the given moment.  Besides, most sessions are meant to be workouts, chances to practice and build the skills that contribute to more laboriously crafted and carefully finished pictures later on.  In other words, you’re not in the group session to make a masterpiece–you’re there to flex and grow your hand-eye coordination under the stresses of time and chance.

Cell phones are not to be used in the studio.  Models who don’t want to be photographed can’t tell whether or not that’s being done when  a cell phone is waved around, and those models have every right to terminate the session and be fully compensated if they even suspect that photos are being taken without their permission.  In any case, ringtones are vastly annoying; the group has just had its concentration broken by their irritating noise, often unfortunately accompanied by the atonal yacking of a one-sided conversation that overrides the subtle working rhythms of the studio–quiet music, graphite and charcoal scratching gently on paper, and the tapping of brushes on water jars.

Each group has its own dynamic as far as conversation during the session is concerned, so if you speak and no one replies, that’s your cue to speak no more.  Wait for the break.
When its time to change your place on the floor to another perspective, or to go to the bathroom, or get coffee–wait for the break!  Its not only rude to the model who’s concentrating on holding the pose, but rude to the artists still trying to work who must now deal with the shuffle and scrape of someone moving through the studio.  If that person is leaving early, the rest of the group must also endure the dragging of tables, easels, tabourets, portfolios, drawing boards, paintboxes, and rolling carts around the room as well, often right in front of them and their view of the model.  If your picture is perfect, and not another jot or scratch or stroke can enhance its stellar beauty, then work in your sketchbook until the break signals the proper time for you to exit.

A larger group will have more strictures, and a smaller on fewer, but these are pretty basic to most situations in the figure studio.   After all, the model is usually the least physically active but most energetic member of the group, a silent wellspring of inspiration to the receptive spirit of the artist.  Breaking that bond of concentration is rude, selfish, and unforgivable; just a small amount of self-discipline contributes mightily to the harmony of dynamic drawing experience for everyone.


D. Riggs

Making Art from Real Life

Many artists try to freeze a moment of life into a photograph, presuming to make it the model for a leisurely recollection, in paint, later. What too often happens is that the photo becomes a slave driver instead of a muse, and the subsequent painting is a flat, lifeless copy of an inferior derivative to the lost moment. These artists have forgotten to include feeling, memory, dream, and mystery in the standard elements of composition because interpretation — not documentation — is the essence of the artistic vision.

Art is a record of how the artist feels about what she’s seeing, and the reality of that is a complicated mix of sensation and expressive media. “What is reality?” makes an intriguing metaphysical dilemma which we all have to figure out for ourselves One way to confront the enigma is for the artist to go back to the subject again and again, examining it in every variation of shape, color, and value. Maybe the physical world isn’t real after all, but it’s invariably the beginning of the investigation, and art means taking risks with perception at all levels as it presents itself at the moment of its experience.

If the need to use a photograph is because the subject is unobtainable, the artist may be overlooking all that which makes up her real life and so, of course, her true art. A photo is an extraordinarily fallible document which can be only one of the starting points of a compositional strategy. The practices of drawing and painting must be taken back from a mechanistic dependence on photography in order for them to come alive again and become proper artistic statements about real life.

Doug Riggs

originally posted 08/01/1