The Life Drawing Environment: Prepare, Familiarize, Acclimate
Find an accredited institution or respected, well-frequented studio, and gauge your comfort level according to your gut feeling as you participate in the class. Do the poses seem reasonable, tasteful and appropriate? Does the model appear comfortable, professional and at ease? Is he or she being treated with respect by professor and students alike? Do clear boundaries represent a predictable, non-negotiable part of the class experience?
Arrive a few minutes early, so you can ease into the class routine at your own pace. You’ll see a loose semicircle of easels and chairs set up around a central area and, most often, a slightly raised platform. Here, the model will go through a series of quick poses for warm-up (gesture) drawings before moving, at the direction of the professor, into two or three longer ones. Settle in, find a comfortable spot, and align yourself with the rhythm of the class. This is your chance to relax and expand as an artist.
You will have brought with you a few essential supplies. I prefer a giant pad of newsprint; it’s inexpensive, plentiful, and has a smooth texture highly conducive to charcoal drawing. Have at your disposal a reasonable assortment of charcoal options, capable of imparting a variety of texture and pigmentation. Allow yourself the freedom to go from darkest black to lightest gray; realistically, this won’t require more than just a few sticks. You’ll also want a couple of good erasers, one of which should be kneadable, and a perhaps a chamois to use instead of your fingers for blending larger surfaces. Bring along a spray fixative to preserve your finished pieces.
As you begin work, make an effort to fill your page as much as possible. You’ll want to be able to really see and take stock of what you are doing, right down to the finest detail, and so will your teacher. Listen to their comments as they come around, take them to heart, and remain accepting of feedback. Harsh critique has no place in life drawing class, but pointed, specific comments are to be taken as fuel for your advancement as an artist. In ballet class, corrections are usually considered a positive sign; they signify that the teacher is paying attention to you, and cares about your progress. So it is in life drawing class. Open yourself to the knowledge of your instructor; their words, carefully chosen from a foundation of long experience, can act as gifts, transporting you into your future as an artist. The results, for the dedicated, long-term student, can be astounding.