|Question: Question for the Master - from Robert in Manitoba. How long should it take to make a good classical nude drawing? You suggest that a session with a live model should be about 1 1/2 hours. For the average person, could a drawing be done in such a short time or would it be considered a sketch? It takes me about 24 to 30 hours of work to complete a drawing that I can live with. Because of this handicap I need to work from photos. Could you comments on this challenge that many of us beginners face in drawing the nude figure?
The master’s reply: You ask a good and valid question. To answer it, I will give you the example of my own process and style, a process and style that is classical. It involves two kinds of drawing environments. One, the life drawing session with a nude model and the other what I call just plain studio work without a live model. The style ranges from rough conte chalk and charcoal drawings to highly finished conte, graphite and silverpoint drawings.
With a live model, this is the process:
1. Very quick warmup gestures - 1 minute each ( about 5 or 10 of them )
2. Move to 15 minute drawings - still rouch sketches
3. Move to 30 minute drawings - no longer a sketch and with a greater degree of finish.
4. Move to what is called "sustained" drawing ranging from 1 hour to 1 ˝ hours and longer, depending how good the model is at holding poses. Sometimes a good model can inspire you to work on the same drawing over a number of sessions. During our 3 hr. Monday evening life drawing sessions we do no further that a maximum length of 1/2 hr. poses.
Studio work without the model means creating new drawings from existing sketches, from photographic reference, and from memory depending on style ( photorealism, realism, expressionist and abstract ). I seldom copy a photograph using photographic reference only for scale and proportion, and unless it's supposed to be a photographic likeness, I readily interpret the work any way I feel, without using the photograph. All drawings I create from photographs are models who I have drawn "live" extensively because I want my nudes to be real people. My studio nudes are usually about 24 X 36
inches and take from 30 hours to 80 hours sometimes longer. In part, because the nature of studio work is highly focussed and very enjoyable over the long haul. My studio is my sanctuary so why rush? I don't want to work quick, but I have been known to draw spontaneous nudes from memory in less than ten minutes.
So, it all boils down to what it is you want to create. The pose, style ( quick sketch, longer drawing, sustained drawing ), the size of drawing, media ( conte, charcoal, graphite, colour pencil, silverpoint, etc. ), availabilty of model, all these pretty well determine the length of drawing. My advise is, work the above across the full range of drawings as often as you can, learning to juxtapose long sustained drawings with series of smaller, quicker work, and ( if possible ) studio work with "live" work. If, as a beginner, you have no access to live models, and photogtaphs are all you have, remember the integrity and copyright of someone else's photographs. Use the photographs as "models." Do lots of quick sketches from the same photograph and slowly work up to a sustained drawing. Also remember your source. Fasion pictures usually make lousy drawings. They certainly don't look "classical." Nude photos from magazines are ( for me ) a no no. Too mechanical, sexist and commercial ( or worse ). A great way to learn drawing the nude in the classical tradition is to use the time-honoured tradition ( I still do, after 40 years ) of copying other master drawings