Life Drawing Session 3 – Breaking the rules

For the third life drawing session I decided to break the no eraser rule.  But not to rub out mistakes but instead to help add tone to the form.   I was also keen to keep with the objective of not seeing the model as a human form – don’t worry this isn’t some latent sociopathic tendency  I possess but moreover an attempt to not over complicate the process of drawing the life model.

This session was also pleasing because in the last pose (30 mins) –  I really explored further the application of negative space.  It really helped me to understand what was a complex pose.

I also thought it was time to start introducing other media and used the quick pose phase (1 minuters) to use a technique that I used a lot in art college – drawing each pose with a different colour pencil.  I find this quite a liberating exercise because what you end up with is some unexpected and abstract forms.  These forms can often be abstracted further into dynamic three dimensional forms in their own right or interesting surface pattern.  The possibilities are endless!


Coloured pencil on paper – I minute poses

This exercise was not the best outcome but I will be using this technique again.  It’s worth sticking with.


  1. Reinforced negative space  which helped with foreshortening
  2. Begun to model the 3D form and picking out subtleties of form
  3. Started to introduce other media and used the putty rubber judiciously

Areas to improve – what didn’t work?

  1. Tone though moving in the right direction needs work
  2. Lines still a bit heavy in places but I do wonder if experimenting with softer media such as chalk will mitigate for that.  However I must persevere with pencil a little longer before cutting corners on this issue.
  3. Explore foreshortening in more detail

Finally – I need to move to a different part of the room so I can get more frontal and 3/4 poses.  I also need to gain the confidence to move around the room a little more.  At the moment I am clinging to my the same position in the sessions.

Life Drawing Session 2 – Using the space

In the intervening week I had spent some time doing quick drawings at home – simple objects using mugs, tools – anything to hand.  My objective was to start to apply the use of negative space to understand the relationships between objects and create a sense of perspective.   I also needed to revisit foreshortening again.   All of these things are crucial in any good drawing ability and never more so in life drawing.

Session Two was great – we had not one but two models – a male and a female.  It was a first for me because we got to draw them both together in quick poses – one minute to ten minutes.

 Unless you are going for some sort of abstract interpretation or you cannot answer to the affirmative on any of those points your drawing is wrong – nice shading by the way!

Once you understand the relationship between forms – drawing complex objects like the human body become less intimidating.  I remember Jeff Phillips, my life drawing tutor back in my foundation days telling us there is a simple rule of thumb in this game – step back, forget about style – look at your drawing and ask your self  if that figure suddenly came alive could they walk?  How does one limb relate to the other?  Would they look out of proportion if they stood up?  Unless you are going for some sort of abstract interpretation or you cannot answer to the affirmative on any of those points your drawing is wrong – nice shading by the way!


  • I used the negative space option to good effect when I needed to do
  • Still some work to do on tramlining but in certain drawings there is an improvement
  • Foreshortening is coming back to me!

Areas to improve?

  • Need to learn to include the entire figure on some examples some of it was missing!
  • Start to look at shading and use of tone – still very untidy and be aware of lines in places – too heavy



Detail of a Henry Moore, Upright motif no. 8, 1956

Whilst at the museum I couldn’t resist sketching a bit of this Henry Moore,  I wanted to have a go at experimenting with tone.  I really enjoy sketching works of contemporary sculptors such as Moore and Giacometti in particular.  You get lost in the forms they create and you almost feel like you are building with them and getting a sense of what it must have been like to make these breath taking pieces.

…I need to work more on variation of tone

It was almost like molding something out of the pencil I was using on to the paper and trying to make the most of how the light hits the object.  To be honest what this example of mine demonstrates is I need to work more on variation of tone – that bit has been lost some how over the fallow years!


8 October 2016, Detail of a Henry Moore, Upright motif no. 8, 1956

Learning to See Again – Augustus John

I have been out of action for a while – part of the process of “learning to see again” is to analyse how those that do this or had done this as a way of life see for themselves…

…your skill level on its own will only take you so far.

It is so important for me to strike a balance between doing it yourself and learning from others. There is a saying in professional tennis, I think John McEnroe said it – “you only learn by playing people that are better than you”. Art and design is no different in that respect for me. Unless you expose yourself to as many different styles and genres your skill level on its own will only take you so far.

So, on a Saturday afternoon I decided to jump on a bus and have a spin round the Cardiff National Museum and Gallery  – I often go there but most recently it was as a casual punter that enjoys a bit of art. On this occasion it was different, I wanted to see drawings and good use of line and technique. I wasn’t even sure who I was going to see but I knew what I wanted. I must admit I was really excited – it was just like being a student again – I wanted soak up as much as I could.

I wanted to analyse examples of use of line and construction in particular of drawings. During my quest I stumbled on a small exhibition of Augustus John’s work. It was an interesting exciting exhibition – there was so much to take in but I had to stop myself and stick to what I came for – examples of line and tone – it showed a wide variety of his work throughout his long career and also examples of work in varying degrees of completion.

Immediacy and Certainty

For me the preparatory stage of an artist’s work is often more interesting than the completed outcome. What struck me about John’s work was the spontaneity of his drawings and paintings. Nothing was overworked – it had a freshness and an immediacy to it.

For example Pyramus John (1905 -13)

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Pyramus John (1905-13), Oil on canvas on board

The painting encapsulates the immediacy and spontaneity of his brush work. There is just enough to suggest what he is describing in paint. The neck of the child is just one or two brush strokes – nothing more. The folds in the clothing and tonal variation are described with an un-fussy certainty. Again the arm of the chair is executed deftly – a few sure strokes illustrating the three-dimensional form and direction of light.

Nothing is overworked or wanting more.

Line and Tone


Agustus John – Nude, Chalk on Paper

Aside from his painting it is John’s drawings that particularly interested me. This nude above is a great example of his use of line and tone. The line has that same certainty and brevity that exists in his painting. Just enough but not too much. The nude displays excellent draftsmanship, for example proportion and distribution of weight.

If you trust the process you eventually arrive at your chosen destination. The outcome is also ‘honest’.

There is also evidence of experimentation and working out the form. Never rubbing out but working out and developing the form further – working through the problem. This gives it an added freshness and dynamism. Other key aspects of this drawing include the drawing of the hands – there is a clear structure – I suppose the main trick of drawing hands is to consider the negative space and for that matter when drawing any complex object. Also I find it easier to not think of it as the object you are trying to draw – such as hand because otherwise you preconceive what it should look like and in so doing you end up with at best a skewed approximation of what it is in front of you. Instead simply draw the shapes and importantly how the negative space interacts with those forms.

It is quite liberating to draw like that – concentrating on the negative space – because its a bit like being taken on a journey of which you are not sure where you will end up.  If you trust the process you eventually arrive at your chosen destination. The outcome is also ‘honest’.


Portrait of a girl (Chalk on paper)

The Portrait of a girl (Chalk on paper) demonstrates how John applies line and tone together. The shading is all in the same direction and gradually built up to indicate darker shadow.


Pyramus as a baby

The pen and ink of Pyramus as a baby is also another good example of line and tone. Again the shading is always in the same direction according to the part of the body he is working on. Tone built up with more intense lines the darker it goes. Notice also the hands and feet – I discussed this earlier when examining his nude – what you have here again is something that is dynamic and that word again – honest.


Study of a boy reading, John’s Sketchbook

This example from his sketchbook is another great execution of line and the development of ideas.


Finally, the unfinished painting of a girl demonstrates why I prefer the preparatory stage of an artists work rather than the finished article.  This example ties together his ability as a draftsman and a painter.   What was also striking was his vocabulary; fresh, energetic but not rushed to the point of carelessness – just enough.  This was visible in a brief sketch to a finished painting, Pyramus, 1913.  


Session One: Getting back in the saddle

I have decided to go back to my college days for the next month or so and stick to very simple pencil and paper – 2B and some decent cartridge paper.  I also gave myself the rule of no eraser to be used.  The reason for the no eraser rule is its good practice to work through your mistakes – however messy. Its a bit like a maths problem that you are trying to work out.

The reason for the no eraser rule is its good practice to work through your mistakes – however messy.

I must admit this is the first time I can recall ever using a sketchbook for life drawing session.  Normally I have been in a formal studio setting with an upright easel in a college or arts centre – here we were in a vault in the Little Man Coffee Shop in Cardiff!

I enjoyed the freedom a sketchbook gives you – the drawings start with quick 2 minute poses – working up gradually to 20 minutes.  This I really welcomed – it stops you over thinking – you just have to get on with it – sink or swim!  I’ll leave it up to you if you think I sunk or not.

My main objective for this first session was to get rid of any barriers I had in my mind about starting again and just draw in a mechanical way as possible.  Don’t get wrapped up in the artistry of it – just train the eye to look at what’s in front of you and nothing more.

…just train the eye to look at what’s in front of you and nothing more.

The best way to describe this session- carrying on the machine analogy – is I felt a bit like walking in to a manufacturing plant that had been mothballed for years – taking the covers off the robots, dusting them down, and sort of re-calibrating them.   Hence there were and will be a few false starts but always positives to take away and refine for the next attempt.

What were the positives?

I still had an understanding of proportion and was not frightened to think quickly.   Also the sense of construction was there as well – I wanted to stop thinking of the life model as a human form but as an object like any other to be recorded.

The negatives?

I was tram-lining too much.  What is tram-lining? Its when you draw over the same line but extend it slightly creating several lines where just one will do.   This is a bad habit to get into because the drawing can quickly lose clarity and intent.

I remember my old life drawing tutor giving me grief for this back in 1992. He ended up making me draw in a 6H pencil as punishment for a couple of sessions.  It worked!  But I guess I need to get more confidence first in overall form before I inflict such a punishment on my self – which I will.  Another good remedy is to draw with pen – NOT a byrow – that’s cheating!  With a pen its permanent – all or nothing.

He ended up making me draw in a 6H pencil as punishment for a couple of sessions.  It worked!