Approaches to Life Drawing

The last few months during my program at Central Saint Martins I’ve had the opportunity to attend a few different set of classes on life drawing. The more loose but intensive classes by Vanessa Luther-Smith, the more structured experiments by Maryclare Foa and the freeform UAL Student Union classes. Each has offered a different approach to interpreting the human figure on to paper.

Now approaches to figure drawing are as numerous as there are people who draw regularly. And going back to renaissance period or older artists will be based largely on conjecture. So I’d like to mention arguably three of the most well known methods, each named for the artist who defined them: The Reilly Method, the Loomis Method and the Bridgeman Method. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Bridgman deconstructs the figure into masses of the body and how they join together.
  • Loomis deals with constructing the figure from simple shapes and proportions of the body.
  • Reilly gives a system for understanding the rhythm and flow of the body’s lines and curves or any organic object in general.

Bridgman and Loomis transcribed their approaches into books Bridgman’s Complete Guide to Drawing From Life and Figure drawing for all it’s worth respectively will help you understand the system. The Reilly Method is mostly passed on through his students, Angelo John Grado’s Mastering the Craft of Painting would be a good place to start. Trying to understand this method can be a lot more daunting at first, because it’s very removed from how you would naturally approach drawing, as one of his students Jeff Watts put it “The Reilly Method … is way more cryptic than people give him credit for, and people dumb it down a lot of time. It’s not just about abstraction … It’s about thinking abstractly.”

Here are (quite a few) of my life drawing sketches:

Bridgman, G. and Simon, H. (2001). Bridgman's complete guide to drawing from life. New York, N.Y. : Sterling. Originally published: 1952.
Loomis, A. (1943) Figure drawing for all it's worth. New York : Viking Press.
John Grado, A. (1985) Mastering the Craft of Painting. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications Inc.

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