A life class is no place for self-consciousness, prudery or sniggering (that said, one model is so uninhibited she re-enacts the terrifying scene in Poltergeist where the kids are terrorised by a giant vagina lurking in the toy cupboard.)
Life classes (or rather, permission to stare at naked people without being arrested or shunned) are exulted by artists as the very basis of representative art. When I first began to draw the human form, I was drawing stick people. I hadn’t picked up a pencil with intent since I was twelve, but was pleased to be sketching the legend that is Jeff the life model (he’s shaved so to facilitate our drawing his dick.)
Everyone has their own technique. Some people are life painting. One smart alec is using a laptop, while another is making collages out of ripped paper and elastic bands. The models run through poses: some with props (one actually puts a bag on her head) while others lie on the floor (not moving is tiring, and lying prone must be a blessed relief.)
As a novice, I am concerned with proportion, scale, and realism, although I don’t aim with hyper-realism (I couldn’t even if I wanted to.) With me – if a drawing looks vaguely like an earth dwelling creature, then that’s a bonus. Mostly, I want to capture and express some sense not just of the body, but the personality in front of me, as opposed to a cold but accurate replicant.
Penis. Nobody says it, but we’re all thinking it. Before I attended my first life-class outside of the Institution I Decline To Name (I don’t want to tell tales) I noticed that drawing willies is a hobby common amongst those who frequent the pub above the room where classes are held, because there are loads scratched freehand on the tables.
Now I know that I can’t draw a dick to save my life.
One model is older than the others, some of whom resemble the young protoganists in Hollyoaks: smooth and free of creases. They seem to have amassed no backstory. This particular gentleman is draped in a white sheet, and to me he seems somehow heroic and wise, like a good philosopher shortly before he’s forced to drink poison. Those around me say I have gone some way to communicating this.
I have learned this much so far: I don’t like charcoal, as it makes drawings look like people have a false black wall around them, and that I like using colour. That I go over outlines time and time again to build up layers of colour, and that I don’t like the fast poses (I can’t see too well, and need to adjust to what I presented with.)
A man who has been watching me work leans across and asks about my training and background. I have neither: am fresh to drawing and also am untrained. “Well,” he says. “You’re not wasting your time are you?” Which, considering that just months ago I was drawing stick men is a massive compliment.