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Artist Community

Written by Joanne Gervais

Working live from models is always the preferred method of creating portrait and figurative work. This is not always feasible, and in those cases, we refer to memory, previous studies and photographic reference. For anyone who has had the pleasure, and sometimes distress, of working from models, many factors need to be addressed in order to achieve a successful life drawing/painting session.

Success does not always mean the creation of a masterpiece, but should always be a great aid in your development as an artist. Life drawing is unmatched in the training of the "artist's eye: from seeing the essence of movement in short gestural work, to a virtual sense of touch in contour drawing, to the understanding of three dimensional form in mass studies, and the opportunity to see the subtle nuances of color only visible from direct viewing of the human body. Below are some factors to consider when doing a session with a model or commissioned work:

Prepare your materials prior to the session. Go to your local art supply shop or go to their catalogues and web sites. Get familiar with all the supplies available. Do not be afraid to experiment and try new techniques and materials. Courage to try new things will often speed up your development and increase your skill as an artist. Have your easel, board/canvas/paper ready. Line them to your eye level and model position, so that you minimize body twisting. Your drawing arm should line up between the marks on your paper and the model. Have your media ready and close at hand-----clean water bucket, solvent and brush holders, pastels laid out, rags, malh stick, brushes chosen, paint laid out on the palette, etc. etc.

Do not worry about the cost of the material. Your time and your model's time are the two most expensive costs to your drawing session. A beautiful drawing on newsprint will give you good practice, but if the work was of a quality that you would have liked to keep, it is on an extremely non-permanent material and will be lost. You can have the same practice on a good substrate and if it is a beautiful work, great, you can now keep or sell it with confidence as to its archival quality. Art shops have many great art materials, of artist's quality, and at reasonable prices. They also offer many great sales. Buy your supplies in bulk at these times, and your savings will be substantial.
Pose the model:

Take the time to "pose" the model. Place the model in an artistically attractive position, but one that is also comfortable and natural for the model. Choose a background fabric, board or divider to place behind the pose so that distracting walls, chairs, doors, etc. are hidden.

It is preferable to choose a fabric color that will compliment the model's hair, skin tone, clothing, props, and personality. A darker, lighter, cooler, warmer background color will all affect the mood and appearance of the pose.

Pay particular attention to the lighting. For portrait work, a stronger slightly above the models eye level, soft spot light is used.

Sometimes in conjunction with a softer, more subdued light shining up onto the chin. For figurative work, a light is used to enhance the body's sculptural form with good contrast between light and dark areas.

Tripod lights are most useful as they are stable, flexible, have a good hood that will withstand a strong wide bulb, and can easily be moved up and down. They can be found at both art shops and camera supply stores.

Gestural warm ups are good for both the model and the artist. They get the jitters out of the way, all the while keeping the artist and model loose. Gestures are excellent at training the eye to see and put down the essence of a pose, without getting caught up in the unnecessary details. need to be done Choose the length and type of pose according to what the artist needs to create, keeping in mind the model's strengths and limitations.

Some models can only hold short poses, are easily distracted, fall asleep, some even fall over! You will quickly learn to appreciate a model that can naturally fall into an artistically attractive pose, and keep in position, alert for the whole length of time you need. To get models, post notices in you local art shops, galleries, dance studios, body building gyms, etc.