Figure drawing, also known as life drawing, consists of anything ranging from short, one-minute sketches, known as gesture drawing, to longer, and more detailed, drawings nearing 30 minutes. The nude subject holds a pose for the predetermined length of time as students scramble to recreate the scene on their sketch pads. It is beautiful.
But it’s not beautiful right away. Drawing is definitely not easy. I’ve done figure drawing on and off over the past 5 years and always find the first few lessons are frankly quite embarrassing. Don’t be surprised if your pages are populated with chunky stick figures. It’s like you’re back in elementary school and you’re the worst at drawing.
Each time, my drawings that were only a step up from refrigerator art began to resemble the angles and proportions of real life — the key word being resemble. I realized that it was so difficult for my pencil to mimic the body in front of my eyes. Each pose, each body, each person was perfect — unattainable.
It’s funny. We think of the bodies in magazines and advertisements as perfect and unattainable. Yet through figure drawing, I found that each and every body was perfect in its own right. I began to appreciate a jutting gut, the soft slope of a shoulder, and how each body differed. We all think we know what the body looks like, but figure drawing forces you to toss your presumptions aside. The skin of a real body folds and creases, each body in different ways.
With all the exposure to photoshopped bodies, figure drawing classes were a means for me to see real bodies like mine. I guess you could say figure drawing taught me to stop comparing my behind-the-scenes to someone else’s highlight reel. Moreover, the classes gave me a new understanding of perfection. After taking a couple of classes, there’s no way you can argue that there isn’t something raw and sensuous to the supposedly imperfect human body.
My only regret is not taking classes sooner. I feel I really could have benefitted from extensive figure drawing in high school, or even middle school. While I do understand that nudity is an issue, my experiences have never been in any way lewd, although the first class I had when I was 16 made me blush. Figure drawing encourages healthy body image, as it features real bodies of various shapes. It also nurtures the sense that bodies are difficult to recreate on paper, and therefore are each impossibly perfect. When or if I have a child, especially a girl, I want him or her to also see real bodies and for art to teach them to appreciate their own.