Memories of Figure Drawing

This is when Back Lit is Good. The room had direct sunlight coming in the window, and I just happened to have a 2 yard length of custard colored satiny material. This was pinned over the window, and made the light lovely: diffused and warm.

The maternity shoot involved clothes and no clothes. For those who have been to art school, it pretty normal to be around nude models. In my first figure drawing class, in freshman year of undergrad, I got over seeing nude people pretty quick. When I start drawing, I forget about the social non-normal-ness of seeing a nude person, and that model becomes an object.

Years later in art grad school, I was the Figure Drawing Session Coordinator for three years. I hired models, I set up screens (so that random people in the hallway couldn't ogle), pushed wooden pedestals to the center of a studio and selectively turned on spot lights. Some 20 artists (students and Ann Arbor art community members) gathered weekly with everything from little sketch books to oversized drawing/painting pads. They situated themselves around the pedestal, and then the model would show up and shed his/her robe and step up on the pedestal. We started with quick sketches; 1 min, 2 min, 5 min poses, which I timed. Then we moved to long poses, lasting perhaps, 2 sets of 30 or 40 mins each. Typically these were reclining or sitting poses.

On the occasion that a model canceled at the last minute, I had to model. Clothed. I wore flowy clothes, so artists could practice their drape drawing. And having drawn so many models, I know what sorts of poses are interesting to draw. They are non-symmetrical, involving twists / bends to the body s that the head, torso and hips face different planes. These poses are good for interesting photos too. So yes, I've done the 2 sets of 30/40 min poses. What seems comfortable at first becomes extremely uncomfortable. Body parts go numb, or worse, ache, and I dream and long for a stretch. But managing to ignore the discomfort is a source of pride for figure models! It's their job to just deal with it.

An observation. Young college men tended to draw female genitalia in agonizing detail, whereas women artists situated themselves where they didn't have such a frontal view. When it came to male models, college women represented male genitalia with a quick scribble. As did the young male artists.