I was recently digitally interviewed by Andrea Pinto, a student at the Universidad de Especialidades Espíritu Santo in Ecuador, who wanted to learn more about the site as part of a class project. As I was writing my answers, I realized that other people might have some of the same curiosities, and asked Andrea for permission to share the questions and my answers with all of you.
When did you created the website and which was the main reason for its creation?
Right after college. In college, I had lots of access to figure study classes with live models. After I graduated, I did not have the money to hire models on my own, and I would have had to travel a very long way to find a class to join, and I didn’t have a car.
So, I created a little slideshow script for myself that mirrored the format of the figure drawing classes that I had had in school. The first version of it utilized images I had found just by searching the internet. This version was never online.
Later, I was going on vacation with my family, and wanted to be able to practice while on the road with a laptop that was so old and tiny it wouldn’t store all the images that I wanted to practice with locally. At that point, I turned the slideshow script into a website, so I could access it while on the road. Because I was putting it online and I realized there was a possibility that other people might eventually find it, I wrote to a number of photographers I knew or admired (mostly from the website DeviantArt, back then) and asked if they would be interested in donating photos to the tool. That way, I was only making use of images to which I had the rights. This resulted in a very strange patchwork of licensing agreements that to this day limits what I am was allowed to do with the site, but it did get the site up and running very quickly and cheaply.
Once it was online, I shared the URL with a friend or two from college, and told a handful of people on DeviantArt who I also knew were studying figure drawing.
It was very, very ugly back then. I had put almost no effort into styling the website, because it was just for me and a few friends to practice with. I didn’t even name the site; I just called it “Figure and gesture drawing tools” and put it on a subdomain of my company website. As a result, many people think the tool is called PIXELovely, but it isn’t — that’s the name of the web design company I run as my day job. What name should you use for the tools, then? I’m still thinking about that; it’s never been given a name beyond a description of what it is, though I hope to finally change that in 2016.
How long did it took to the site to gain popularity and a greater number of visits?
I wasn’t tracking in the beginning, because I didn’t actually expect anyone to use it. So I’m not completely sure. Some months, maybe even a year after I put the tool online, I got a huge bill from my host for bandwidth. It turned out that from the few people I had told, they had told more people, and then it got to the point that thousands were using it every day. When I realized that, I put a little more effort into making the site nicer to use, and put up a donate button asking people to help me pay for the bandwidth. Once it looked nicer, I felt more comfortable telling more people myself, and made a few posts on various forums telling people about it.
How do you find the models that pose in your videos?
In the early days, I didn’t. Photographers would “loan” us the rights to use their photos. But last year, I saved up some of the donations people have sent to hire a photographer and a studio, and we shot photos for two new tools: hands/feet, and the faces/expressions tool. I chose these as our first forays because after many years of running the site, it was clear that these were some of the most difficult parts of the body for artists to learn to draw, and it would be beneficial for all of us to put in some extra focus on those studies. It also seemed much less difficult, expensive and legally challenging than hiring nude models.
But, back to the original question — the models for the hands/feet and faces/expressions tools were volunteers, most of whom are artists themselves and were excited to help other artists. We posted ads around town and asked anyone we thought might be interested. Scheduling was a big challenge in this process. We ended up with mostly people in their 20s and 30s because people with families tended to be too busy to want to come to the shoot, or bring their children.
I would like to repeat this process to get more photos for all the tools, and include a wider variety of people.
How long does it take to film one session of life modeling?
When we did hands/feet and figures/faces, we were taking photos from early morning to late evening. The photographer and I didn’t even get a lunch break! It took between 45 minutes to more than an hour to shoot each model. Some of them were very confident and creative about coming up with poses, and others needed much more direction or reassurance.
Is there any particular reason for using always a structure of 1, 2 and 5 minutes videos?
If you put the tool into “class mode”, it will start you off with 30 second drawings, and gradually increase the length of the poses up to 2 hours! Of course, it depends on the length of the class that you choose. Clearly, if you only set it up to give you a 30 minute class, it limits how many poses and for how long it can show you.
What I was taught when I was in school was that it was crucially important to start your practice with very short “warm up” drawings, even – or perhaps especially – if the time seemed so short you felt it was “impossible” to get a drawing done in the length of time that they gave you.
This is because one of the most common traps that artists fall into is focusing on details too early. For example, you might look at a model and think that their expression is so beautiful that you want to draw it right away, and only when you’ve got a lot of detail done on the face do you start drawing other parts of her body. Then, you might think that the way she is holding her hands is gorgeous, and get overly focused there. The end result is a lot of pieces that look good individually, but when taken as a whole, they somehow don’t seem to fit together. They might be too big or too small when compared to one another, or they might be too far apart or too close together. This method of “piecemeal” drawing also tends to lose the energy and direction of a pose. But if you know you have only 30 seconds to capture the entire image in front of you, you change your priorities to capturing the entire pose in as simple and quick a way as possible. In the beginning, this might mean putting down a single line on your paper, that describes the way the energy is moving in the pose you see.
If you can make a habit of capturing the whole before you focus on the details, you can infuse your drawings with a wonderful life and energy, as well as solve many common issues of proportion and placement.
Starting with short poses and then increasing the length worked wonders for me in getting into this habit, and seems to work for many others as well. I’m told it’s very traditional and has been used since the renaissance to train artists. So I kept that format.
That said, custom class structures and custom pose lengths has been a popular request for years, and just started to be worked on. So this may change in the relatively near future!
By the way, when I was in school, we called those super short poses “gesture drawing”, because often you only had time to make one gesture with your hand before the pose changed. You just tried to make that one gesture count!
Do you have some kind of requirements(physical features) that you ask your models to have or don’t have? Which are they?
No. I would personally like to get a MUCH wider range of body types, ages and ethnicities into all of the tools. I think it is important to learn about different body structures, how fat settles on the body, where lines appear on the skin when it has seen a lot of use, and more.
Right now, especially in the figure study tool, our models are primarily young, white, female and skinny. Since most of the images were provided by generous photographers, I didn’t have much control over what images were given to the site. Young, skinny, white females made up a huge portion of the images that I was offered, and so that’s what we have. I don’t think there is anything wrong with this set of attributes at all, I just think there’s more out there, and variety is beautiful and educational!
I do plan to do more photoshoots with our own models to try and correct this, and I hope it’s some day soon. I am considering running a kickstarter or similar to try and speed up this process.
Do you have a contract between you and the model before shooting the session?
How do you maintain the website and pay the models If your [tools] are free?
People from all over the world send in small donations to help support the site. Nearly all of this money goes toward bandwidth, but some gets saved for photo shoots. So far, the models (that we have shot ourselves — I don’t know about the models that the other donating photographers worked with) have all been volunteers. I’m certain that this will have to change when we start to take nude photos of our own.
The site is not really commercial in any way. I’ve considered adding a few more paid features to the site so that we can bring in the funds to do more photoshoots, update with more tutorials, and create extra tools like apps and other goodies, but I don’t anticipate it will ever be a real “money maker” beyond supporting itself. It’s important to me to make sure that even those who do not have a penny to their name have access to the tools they need to practice their art.
Do your consider that people need to have bases(from books or magazines) about human anatomy drawing before doing live drawing?
Is the question about needing to practice drawing from photographs before doing live drawing? If so, I don’t think it’s true at all; live models are always the best way to learn. But if all you have access to is photos, then you make do.
If the question is that people need some training before they start doing gesture drawing, I’m not sure I agree with that either — some of the greatest artists in history were self taught, just by studying the human form and drawing as much as possible. But I do know that training can be an amazing “short cut” and give some insights in weeks that you’d otherwise need years to realize on your own, so I definitely encourage everyone to take advantage of every class, book and article they can get their hands on! I’ve tried to pen a few articles on the site to answer some of the most common questions I get asked, but I don’t always know the answers to some of the questions people I ask! For this, I hope the forum helps, where a wider array of people can chime in.
Is there any process or steps to do a figure drawing?
This depends a great deal on the artist, and what they are attempting to learn more about, or what they want to express in their finished work. I’m not sure there’s any “wrong way.”
However, since many people struggle to get started, I’ve written some blog articles with a suggestion about one way to start practicing.
Gesture basics #1: Line of action
Gesture basics #2: Torso and hips
Gesture basics #3: Joints
What do your think about the thought that life drawing is an “indecent act”?
I think it’s misguided – studying the human figure is essential to improving as an artist, if you intend to produce images of humans at any point in time.
Much like you would not want a doctor caring for you that had never studied the human body, you also would not want an artist (who draws humans) that did not understand how musculature and the skeletal structure works. That is just basic knowledge to get the job done, and there is no better way to gain this understanding than to actually study the unclothed body in many poses and in motion.
Even if you have, or plan to have, a personal style that is very “cartoony” or stylized (à la Picasso for one example), it is important to have a strong grasp of the basics before you start to “break the rules”. This lets you “break the rules” on purpose, in deliberate, chosen ways, instead of letting your art fall to accident.
Being able to make deliberate decisions about what you will exaggerate, downplay or omit in your drawing helps you to control the message you are sending, or the feeling you are creating.
What would you say to someone that doesn’t agree with life drawing because he/she thinks it is obscene?
I might point out that many of the greatest works of art in history are nudes. I might also point out that knowledge of the body is critical to drawing a person, even if they are clothed in the image!
I know that some people have personal or religious objections against looking at nude imagery, and in an effort to be respectful to them, I have an option in the figure study tool to only be shown models whose state of dress is “decent”. I think that is perfectly fine, if that is how someone wishes to practice. I think they are making learning anatomy more challenging on themselves, but if they are willing to deal with that, then why not? That is okay if it is their choice.
But that is a personal choice; it is when people try to force their personal choice on others by saying that NO artist anywhere should study the nude figure that I start to lose patience.
Honestly, I don’t talk to a lot of these people. It is like arguing with someone who thinks that plumbers should not learn about toilets, because toilets are gross. They are welcome to personally find toilets gross, but I bet they could not tell you how any plumber could do their job without learning this piece of information!
Some people have very extreme views about preventing others from seeing nude imagery, and even resort to terrorism to try and force others to comply. Over the years, this site has received threats, suffered denial of service attacks, and even a number of hacking attempts by people with intense ideological disagreements about nude figure study. If someone feels this strongly, there is really no reasoning with them.
I have also heard from people in countries around the world who have said that attending a nude figure drawing class could mean imprisonment or worse, so using this site is the only way that they can learn. I am stunned by their bravery in finding other ways to learn even if it means risk to their persons or reputations! It is humbling to think I have helped people like this, even in a small way. It never occurred to me back when I first put the tool together. But I feel terrible that they have all these added challenges to learning. It’s hard enough to learn even without added fear!
What advice would you give to someone who does life drawing for the first time?
Keep at it! It takes a long time to master, but it’s very possible with regular study. Do not be too hard on yourself at first. Set small, achievable goals for practice. Don’t compare yourself to other people, just to yourself from yesterday.
Figure study is one of the hardest types of art to learn, not just because the human body is complex (so are animal bodies!) but because human brains are typically better at identifying and recognizing other humans and all the details about them than they are at noticing details about anything else in the world! It’s a survival skill to be able to tell how other people are feeling by looking at them, so large portions of our brain are devoted to it.
But for the same reasons it’s very challenging, it’s also very powerful for creating art and story telling.