How important is life drawing?
Hello everyone,

I'm a former art student, and haven't done any life drawing (as in a finished life drawing piece) for a half year or so now. I do draw anatomy studies (like 1 minute poses), but I consider those to be practice. My question is, how important is it for me to sit down and really try to draw and shade something from life? I have a cartoony style, and although I use references, I never feel the need to carbon copy them. Could I benefit from drawing from life more often?

Thank you.

You will surely benefit. There's no doubt about that. The question is whether it's worth your effort.

I encourage you to do it, but at the same time it's possible to do it and see no results or application to your cartoon work for a long time or ever. So I'm not going to say it's a must. In other words, it definitely wont hurt, but it could end up not mattering. I know plenty of people that tried life drawing for a while, but didn't stick with it long enough to really see the benefit and it didn't truly make a huge difference in their work. The exact same way you can take guitar lessons for a bit, and then quit and it's like you never even did it.

If you're young or just starting though, I think it's important to learn all you can.

Well even in life drawings you're not really making a "carbon copy", you're simplifying somethings to compliment other things working on composition along with the simplification. At the end of the day drawing is not a machine, it doesn't need to function properly (maybe engineer drawings lol), just be designed well and learning from the source to design more realistically can benefit you. Life also bleeds into everything so you may find something that you weren't looking for in it as well. If you have the time and money I say go for it. Even if it's not really for you, you gain experience in doing something you don't enjoy as much which will greatly help you in any aspect of life.


  1. Practise, Practise, Practise.
Just as a musician, dancer or athlete must practice and train to maintain a level of excellence, drawing the figure from life on a regular basis keeps an artist in good form. Life drawing is like calisthenics for the artist. Moreover, attending sessions regularly affords an excellent means to develop a better work ethic. Just as one is more apt to continue an exercise program with companions, drawing in the company of a group provides an incentive to keep practicing. There is no overstating the value of a regimen that keeps one in the activity of drawing, circumventing any number of distractions at home or simply overcoming a case of artist’s block.
Michelangelo wrote in one of his many sketchbooks: “There is no greater harm than that of time wasted. Draw Antonio, draw Antonio, draw and do not waste time.”
  1. The whole enchilada.
Life drawing is taught to many budding artists as an introduction into the world of art, even artists that don’t primarily want to specialize in the human form, because the human body is a complex object which allows an artist to learn about a variety of essential techniques. Observing and interpreting the shape of the human body trains an artist to see almost every form of curve, line, and subtle undulation found in nature.
Furthermore, while rendering the figure, an artist is able to witness how the entire body reacts when certain characteristics are present, including posture changes and gestures which can help them evoke an emotion in their own pieces. This translates directly to creating artwork which is not necessarily human focussed.
  1. Finding hidden elements. Royalty Accounts
Although the beauty of a painting is that it is still and unmoving, the true art comes from the ability of the artist to depict a hidden movement within their work. Many artists tend to avoid including dramatic movement in their artwork – as it is often seen as too complex to convey – the movement of the human body can give a detailed insight into the world of movement and fluidity that make art truly sing.
  1. Kodachrome.
A photograph rarely offers the subtle variations in vantage point possible when drawing from life. Even the best photographs provide mostly an abundance and even an over-abundance of surface detail, but not the essence of a pose. For the most part, photos are lifeless, cold and full of lies. What could be lost edges becomes hard and direct because the gentle light quality lacks all the delicious subtleties and lays flat and two-dimensional. There is no weight shift, tension points or gestures. It is possible to obtain these elements from a photograph, but only if one understands them first by seeing them in real life.
  1. Do you have any idea how fast you’re going?
If you want to get better at what you’re trying you do, try going a little faster. You will very quickly learn where your faults are. Life drawing for the most part involves shorter poses. From quick gestures - 30 seconds to two minutes - to more extended poses – five minutes to thirty minutes or more. The fast pace of life drawing is a happy little bonus that will speed up your regular painting. By learning to make decisions on the fly, you will make quicker more astute decisions in your painting. The faster gestures poses allow you to find the underlying curves, the angles and tension points that makes the pose sing. Quite often it’s the shorter poses that look the most fresh. This freshness is the subtle element that can make a painting really dance.
  1. Peeking is allowed.
Rarely do you get to see other artist’s work in process. The group environment allows you to see how others experiment and tackle problems in various ways. You can learn a lot about your own work by seeing a multitude of styles and the multitude of mediums being used.
  1. Means to no end.
There is something very liberating and peaceful about life-drawing. Like in a meditation, you are in the moment, without thoughts, lost in time. The set time limit allows you to know when you’re done and it’s no biggie if you didn’t get “finished”. It’s all about the process, and there is another pose coming. The fact that your sketch really means nothing and ends whenever it does, makes for a stress-free time. Simply put, your drawings are what they are - an end to no means.
Happy drawing my friends,

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