I’ve now been organizing open life drawing sessions here in Athens for over 2 years. It’s been a slow but steady progress – from 1-2 people the first year to 5-6 on the second and now occasional bursts of 10+ alternated with 1-2. It still puzzles me that in the city the size of Athens there seems to be no tradition or knowledge about this type of life drawing classes. Even the usual word for quick sketching, the French “croquis”, denotes a certain type of architectural drawings here.
About half of the crowd we draw are foreigners – people who are familiar with the practice and actively looking for this type of sessions. The Greeks who take it seriously have either studied abroad in art schools where a strong base in live drawing is expected or professional artists who find it useful. From the rest I still get the question that’s really become a pet peeve of mine: “What’s the use of life drawing?” What I hear is a sportsperson or musician asking: “Why should I train?” “Why should I practice?”
If an artist wants to be any good, to reach a level of mastery that is higher than plain mediocre, she needs to practice. Practice constantly and practice with thought – ideally with a teacher who can point out the weaknesses – but if that’s not possible, with a critical mind, pushing oneself to new areas if the old ones are getting too comfortable.
What does this training finally achieve? It achieves to build up a full 3D model of a human body in your mind, a real moving body that allows you to draw believable dynamic figures from fantasy and eliminates a great deal of need for references. Once you have this model, you can focus on it and make it move as you wish, then freeze it in time and draw. That’s what live drawing practice can do for you. It sets you free.