by Trudi Murray
Every week, I attend a life drawing class in an art studio on the River Thames. It flooded once, and the swans swam right in. There’s a kingfisher on the barges outside, and a steady stream of ducks, coots, and geese gliding past on the current. The odd heron makes a regular, regal appearance, catching his breakfast just outside the windows. There’s a studio dog, Charlie, who pads about being friendly and getting in the paint, good coffee at 11 and the eternal discussion about what music to have on the battered CD player.
Despite the fact it sounds like Heaven, I sometimes don’t want to go. Life drawing is a discipline, and any discipline is hard. The nuts and bolts of a discipline make your brain hurt. The practice of a discipline requires a mental effort – the first hurdle being just to get there. Mornings are hectic in my household. Sometimes, I tell myself: I do not need life drawing today. I need Facebook! I need to relax. I need a minute to calm down. I need a cup of tea. Lies, all of it. I need discipline.
Without discipline, without the constant retraining of my brain to see – actually see – what is in front of me, my work, and I mean ALL my work, becomes wooden, less fluid. I begin drawing what I think must be there. I take shortcuts, and it shows. I miss the beautiful details – those gorgeous quirks of nature that you can’t make up. I stop noticing things. In short, my brain starts drawing by itself. The combination of the eyes/ heart/brain that life drawing trains, disappears. The result? Well, you wouldn’t want to buy it, and I’d be ashamed to show you it.
Life drawing then, is more and more a vital part of my practice. It informs everything. It’s a respectful art, and I love the hush that descends as the model drops her robe. For someone to undress in front of me, so I can study their naked form in detail, surely demands a concentrated, intelligent response. It’s a privilege to be part of a life drawing session. I feel grateful to the models for their open heartedness. Sure, it’s a job, and models get paid. But it’s hard work on their part – demanding physically, and a display of both mental strength, and vulnerability. I don’t take it for granted.
I usually work in smudgy pencil, in a sketchbook, using bold dark patches to bring the figure forward. I’m more than happy to stretch and stylise the figures, although the artist who runs the sessions insists that although there are no rules, for the first year at least, one must rigorously learn proportions and scale. I am someone who does not get on with being told what to do. So happily for me, he prefers to teach this by practice, looking and repetition rather than prescriptive rote. Gradually, everyone’s sketches become more recognisably accurate. He’s the best teacher I’ve ever had, in so many ways. I know I must have somehow passed my apprenticeship, as he now generally leaves me to my own imaginative devices (and I have stopped swearing at him in my head).
I recently had the idea of taking some of those quick, smudgy drawings from my sketchbooks and making them calmer, more graphic – but elegant. The pieces you see here are the result. They’re painted carefully in acrylic and watercolour, with bold outlines. It’s quite tricky getting them just so.
If you have never tried life drawing, why not have a go! There are classes everywhere. Be prepared to work hard at it, as at every other discipline, from diets to driving lessons, and to feel as though you will never manage it. One day, I promise, everything will come together, and your heart, eyes, brain and hands will begin to express, in your own way, the wonderful beauty of these divine bodies we all live in.
Words and Art by Trudi Murray
Editor: Beck Nickolls @artistscribbles
Categories: Art Diaries