I know, I know. You’re busy. You’re trying to create top-quality art, promote that art or your art business, work a full- or part-time job, and manage your personal life. Whose got time to draw from life?
That’s what I used to think, anyway. Every minute of studio time was devoted to client work. There was no time for artistic exploration, let alone drawing from life. Besides, isn’t that all rather, well, passe?
Well, maybe not.
Over the last few years, I’ve changed my point-of-view on that subject. And in case you’re in the same place as I was, and could use some encouragement, here are my top 5 reasons why I think drawing from life is so important for artists:
Reason #1: It’s a great change of pace
Drawing from life gives your creative brain the opportunity to do something other than what it usually does. It gets you outside the daily routine of your artistic work-for-hire, and lets you do something new (and maybe challenging!)
Whether it’s once a day or once a week, a regular life drawing habit can easily become refreshment to your creative spirit, as well as a much needed break from routine.
Reason #2: You’ll learn to see better
Unless you’re an abstract artist, the most important factor in creating successful art is being able to see what you’re drawing. And I mean actually see it instead of seeing what you think should be there.
I’ve drawn horses for over 40 years. I’ve been around horses in some capacity for most of that time. I know what a horse looks like.
But. . .
I don’t know what a specific horse looks like. How long and thick are its legs? Is it a bulked up horse or a tall, lean horse? What coloring and markings make it unique? Those are things I have to be able to see and distinguish in order to paint a portrait of that particular horse.
Drawing from life forces you to draw directly from your subject. Yes, you can draw an apple or orange without all the details, but then it’s just a generic apple or orange. It’s the unique details that make a subject interesting. You will see things when drawing from life that you may not see—or that may not be visible—in even the best photography.
Reason #3: You’ll develop new skills
In most cases, drawing from life comes with automatic time limitations. This is especially true if your life drawing takes you outside and not just out of the studio.
Conditions change, sometimes rapidly.
The sun rises or sets. Shadows form, change shape and location, and disappear. Animals change position, even indoors. Flowers wilt and fruits spoil (though hopefully not as quickly.)
In order to accurately draw under those conditions, you have to learn to capture the essence of the subject quickly. Usually, that means the big shapes. Perhaps even as little as a few lines quickly drawn. What’s often called gesture drawings.
This is an important lesson for artists like me, who have spent years drawing details from the first pencil stroke to the last.
Reason #4: You’ll expand your drawing repertoire
For most of us, the subjects we prefer to draw and the subjects we have all around us are not the same thing. For example, I live just a few blocks from the downtown area. We have cats and we could have chickens if we wished, but horses are out of the question.
So when I draw from life, I have to draw something other than horses. When I draw outside, that’s usually trees or parts of trees, but I’ve also drawn coiled extension cords, fence posts, and car door grips.
When I draw inside…. Let’s just say a computer mouse can make for an interesting study. No matter what your favorite subject, you can build skills for observing and drawing other subjects with regular life drawing. Developing your repertoire that way also helps you more accurately draw your favorite subject.
Reason #5: You’ll have more fun!
Drawing from life is a great way to inject a little fun into your life as an artist.
I recently wrote a tutorial on drawing wet rocks, for example. Part of that process was looking for stones to draw. I ended up drawing a couple of stones from life (though in the studio) in the process of getting the right illustrations.
In addition to completing a reader-requested tutorial, I had fun. Yes, it was fun to see how well I could draw the stone and how wet I could make it look. But I’ve had the same experience drawing branches, skies, and clouds.
Basically, it’s just fun to challenge yourself and draw something different. And if you get to try out new materials or techniques along the way, even better!
So ask yourself—are you drawing from life? If not, what’s holding you back?
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