The Importance of life drawing for the serious visual artist

by Gary Long


Since the dawn of time drawing has played a significant role in the life of every human. From the early cave dwellers images have given us an insight into their behaviour as hunter gatherers.

Drawing predates the written language which in itself is a form of mark making. Drawing and mark making is at the root of all visual communication. Through this practice we are able to organise the world visually and to see and understand.

Let whoever may have attained to so much as to have the power of drawing know that he holds a great treasure.’               – Michelangelo 1452 – 1519 ‘

Drawing to life drawing

Life drawing or drawing from the figure has sadly been dismissed for the last 30 years or so as ‘old hat’, mainly by those who find it difficult to do and rely on words rather than image to convey ideas.

For any visual artist drawing from and understanding the figure in my view is fundamental as a practice, to train the eye to see accurately and observe emotion and gesture.

Other things that can be gained from the practice are personal visual language, composition and spacial awareness. As humans it is only natural that depicting our form should play an important role as subject matter.

‘The art of drawing which is of more real importance to the human race than that of writing…should be taught to every child just as writing is’. – John Ruskin 1819 – 1900

Practice & experience

If you have studied drawing the figure seriously, your non-figurative art will be stronger and have more substance.

In my experience as a life drawing tutor at university, many students expressed the essential part it played in their art education making them aware of how the body works and operates in the space it occupies. Drawing from life should still be the under pinning practice for all serious visual artists and continue to be the main stay of the St Ives School of Painting.

‘It is time for us to look how images are made, to place greater value on drawings and draughtsmanship… practically everything comes to life on a drawing board’. – David Hockney 1973 – today

  • John Richards

    Absolutely – learning to draw is essential!

  • disqus_jBph00Comk

    is it important for someone to be nude for you to draw though?

    • Xander Van Den Berg

      No it is not. However clothes hides how and where the body moves and bends and flows. Once you have mastered that you can intuitively apply that understanding to clothed figures or anything else really.