Nudity exists in as far as I am aware, all artistic traditions. In Western art though it is almost always women, and they are almost always portrayed as a passive sex object. This has been said much more expansively and better by John Berger. I consider myself to be somewhat of Bergerac.
You see very few male nudes. Particularly in what you might think of in a classic nude pose. The only famous one that comes to mind is Lucien Freud and even then he is looking you in the eye. This is how I think nudes should be portrayed. As a person not a sex object. My least favourite type, in fact I really hate it is the nude female body with the head obscure or replaced (with something horribly trite like a storm troopers helmet or an animal head. No.
The best ones are when you get the impression you are looking at a person. In the house I grew up with there was this very odd nude on the stairs (above). This figure, looks right at you and there is lots of what later in life I began to realise was sexual symbolism. Mogidiliani does much the same thing but better (top).
I saw a good example of a good nude in the recent affordable art fair (above). It is very much an actual person.
So then how to approach life drawing. I like life drawing. I think it is very useful to do. It is also fun. You get to meet other people interested in art and there is nothing quite like drawing someone from life. I go to Candid Arts in Angel which is a drop in, every evening in the week and is £9 (apart from Friday which is £15). They provide quite a range of models, both Men and Women. More women than men in my experience but not by much.
So given the above how to approach this. Rule 1: remember this is an actual person who is taking off their clothes for you to look at them naked. You should remember this. I always try to our the name of the model. Somehow this is important. Incidentally there should be a word for when you run into a life model in public and takes you a while to remember you’ve met them.
Candid arts is fairly informal and everyone wanders around the place, looking at each others works. Including the model. Frankly if the person you are drawing says your drawings are good. To me anyway. This is one of the best ones I’ve done. You build up making longer and longer drawings, usually ending on a 40 minute drawings (of which the two gentleman above are example).
Always try to draw the actual person. This is tricky to do in a 2 minutes sketch (like the above). This is why I don’t like Cezanne. He doesn’t paint people. He paints people shaped objects.
Always draw the head and if you have time the face. Even if it goes horribly wrong. Don’t just draw the naughty bits people.
Anyway I’ve been going for a while now, and they do a fine line in Saturday all day courses, taken by the excellent Kim Scouter. Teaching you techniques like measuring, and drawing without outline (like the above left) and drawing with two different colours (above right).
I also went to a drawing with pastel course which was very intriguing and taught me some very useful things (above)
This included drawing, pastelling (I am not sure what the right verb) is the same person in three different poses. Difficult and i managed to get her legs far to small in the standing pose but it worked out quite well (above).
The drawings I am proudest of are the ones where I manage to capture the spirit of the person. Often this is the last picture of the day but sometimes not. For example the one in red (above) was the penultimate one of the night.
And then it sometimes really comes together as in the above two pictures. I had a coherent idea of what this post was going to be about but it seems to have just drifted into pictures of naked people. Well never mind. I suppose what I am trying to get at is that drawing people is difficult. I try in approach in a way that does exactly that, draws people.
Incidentally I have a show going on (details below).
William John Mackenzie
I am an artist with a specialism in landscapes and still life. My contact details are here.