This last week I took life drawing at school. Every day a model would sit for 2 hours (20 min x 6 with 10 min breaks in between) we drew with hb and 2b pencils on A2 paper and we would spend the time like this:
1) Horizontal and vertical measurements. This is done by holding a stick or a pencil up in front of you, measuring and marking where different parts of the body goes and making sure the drawing is as big as possible but still fits inside the paper.
2) Triangle measurements: measuring triangles in the body primarily by holding up the stick and seeing what angle the underside of the leg is - drawing a straight line from where the underside should be, and at the angle you just measured, all through the paper - measuring the angle of the upper side of the leg and doing the same. Afterwards the whole thing can be examined by placing the stick in the same position and seeing what should be on that line, and what is in fact on it on the drawing.
3) Negative spaces: placing lines at angles (e.g. from her head to her shoulder) and looking at the angles, size and shape of the room next to her. This is often where the complete line around her is drawn.
4) Go over the last three steps and make sure everything is in the right place.
5) Define the planes of the body by drawing lines where the planes turn. Give each plane one shade.
6) Finish up
Three hours seems like an excessive amount of time and it really is! The thing that makes the big difference though, is that you really get to study the body, the slouch, the skin, how the foreshortening actually looks and so forth – often we think we know how the body looks and how the proportions are, but it is quite good to study how wrong and standardized most of these ideas actually are ;) (mine anyway :P). I did this five times this week and I was pretty tired of it by the end. It is very consuming of energy and focus, but I also learned a lot.
I can’t bring myself to use this kind of time at home when there isn’t a clock running and a teacher walking around, but I hope maybe some of you will find it beneficial to try and go through the steps – maybe only spending a minute or two on each (or whatever you prefer) to try and get placement and proportions right, or maybe even better, to study how everything really looks.
There is a huge difference between doing gesture drawings and doing these. I can’t say that one is better than the other, just that I think they are mutually beneficial and that I now know how to spend those loooong 10 minute sessions ;)