Life Drawing – 10 Do’s and Don’ts of Drawing a Nude Model


1 – Do Arrive Early

Due to the popularity of life drawing classes (I can’t imagine what for?) even large-sized classrooms can easily become packed out. No one cares for the slacker turning up late, clambering over everyone’s easels, elbowing people in the face. Being a latecomer won’t make you popular. Also it is embarrassing for everyone concerned when you start asking to borrow a knife to sharpen your pencils or masking tape to stick the paper to your board. Yes – make sure you get all that chit chat and material pilfering over with before the model even disrobes.

2 – Do Draw The Whole Model

Although this isn’t a problem for the serious artist, when I attended art college it was surprising the number of people who chose to either eliminate areas of the model’s naked body, or concentrate too hard on one specific ‘region’. Unless it is your raison d’être and master plan for world domination, it probably doesn’t serve your masterpiece well to do a tiny doodle or a huge close up of the model’s breasts (or whatever your favorite part is). You will appear amateurish and slightly foolish. Another good tip for impressing the tutor is to begin drawing your drawing from the inside-out rather than just focussing on the outline of the body. Although Picasso got away with it in his awesome nudes the Van Gogh ‘crazy marks everywhere’ approach is more artistically engaging.

4 – Do Draw Negative Spaces

A good way of convincing everyone that you aren’t simply there to act like a deviant and behave badly – and, more importantly, learn something about drawing – is to focus on drawing the spaces between the figure. Doesn’t sound like much fun does it? However it is often the case that by filling in the background as much as the figure itself, a stunning drawing can be achieved, especially if you draw a silhouette of the figure — perhaps basking in the shadows as the daylight fades from the room. Another reason to draw in this style is because a nude is far more alluring and atmospheric when details of the body are suggested as opposed to rendered in full, resplendent detail. This sometimes also has the dual benefit of making your drawing easier to do. Why make it hard on yourself? Knock everyone’s socks off with this clever trick.

3 – Do Remember Sketching A Nude Figure Is The Same As Any Other Drawing

It sounds obvious but some people get carried away with the fact that they are drawing a naked human being. Keep it real. Artists have been focussed on using the nude as a subject for centuries and not all of them slept with their models. It is unlikely to go down well if you form an unhealthy stalker-like fixation on the model. Also, if you join a class which runs for a full semester, it is likely the actual model will be switched around and you never know who will turn up. It will become very suspicious if you suddenly vanish when the seventy year old, bearded man makes and appearance but start hanging around for ages before the class when there are rumors of the twenty-five year old naked Swedish girl being ‘on’ this week.

5 – Do Pay Attention to Foreshortening

If you look at any object from different angles it has a different eclipse. The nude human figure is no different. You are trying to create the illusion of depth which is no easy feat. Foreshortening is quite like perspective and can either be used as an excuse to show off – for the well practiced and talented – or a very easy way to display your shortcomings (and perhaps give you away as a voyeuristic intruder). Just keep the faith and move around the room, taking advantage of the versatility you can obtain by drawing multiple poses. Before long you will be as good as some pompous renaissance artist.


1 – Don’t Dictate The Flow Of The Class

Some novice life drawers are surprised when the tutor suddenly goes all hyper-active and starts ordering the class to carry out quick ‘familiarization exercises’ such as doing lightening-quick charcoal sketches and frustrating fifteen minute poses in which the model is told to change pose when you are just getting started. It is outrageous to vent your frustration in such a situation and you may even risk being banned from the class for being a troublemaker.

2 – Don’t Forget To Use The ‘Thumb and Pencil Method’ When Drawing The Face

Although you may feel somewhat self-conscious standing there with your arm outstretched, the thumb-and-pencil-method is a sure way to make certain that everything balances up. Become aware of seemingly irrelevant facts such as how many human heads fit into the nude human body and how you can line your pencil up with the top of the model’s head and slide your finger down until you get to the chin. This is a basic unit of measurement which you can use to figure out the rest of the proportions in the body.

3 – Don’t Be Afraid Of Drawing Yourself

When not in class the enthusiastic can use whatever spare time they have to keep up the good work. All you need is a mirror to draw yourself. The bold can take their work into the class next week or you can stuff your sketches in an old drawer. It doesn’t really matter. The point is that you are developing as a figurative artist. Many famous artist’s such as Van Gogh and Rembrant have used their own bodies – or at least their faces – in their paintings. One good exercise is to look out some old photos and choose a few where you are in a situation that brings back positive memories. Start blocking the background from the photo into your drawing or painting and simultaneously use a mirror to draw yourself in the present moment. The cheerful associations from the photo will affirm everything that is sanguine about yourself and art in general.

4. Don’t Look Down On Online Virtual Figure Drawing Galleries

There are many portals on the internet where models – such as – pose using full frontal nudity in the name of art. Some sites are composed of glamour models as well as artist’s models but you can usually find a good array of figures, shapes and forms. Choose someone who arouses your interest and draw them repeatedly for several weeks then move onto another model. Some 3D computer artists post their animated models online which allow you to turn the model’s body around in three dimensions. This can be particularly helpful when learning foreshortening and how to draw accurate proportions.

5. Don’t Go Out With The Model

Although it may be fine to date the tutor if they are a part time lecturer it is a no-no to hit on the model. Some classes meet in coffee shops and bars after the class but it isn’t usual for the model to attend. Conflicting signals can be sent by entirely liberated models who skirt around the class during rest breaks without putting their robe back on. If confronted by the large breasted naked Swedish exchange student complimenting your drawing whilst smiling at you in the afternoon sunlight try to see that as enough without also asking her to accompany you on a dinner date.