Creative exercises for every month

Improve your life drawing

Starting 1st June 2018. Join our Facebook group to take part. 

Join us to spend the month of June exploring how you can draw the human form to produce an expressive piece of work...

The aim of this course is to realise how little information is needed to create a likeness of a person and the surprising information you can gain from minimal marks on your page. There is an inner assumption that if you can see more, your drawing will be better. That’s not the case.

Exercise 1

  • Look at the impressionist drawing below Boulevard de Rochechouart by Camille Pissarro.
  • Choose one or two of the people from the image, then write as much information about them as possible: include whether their male or female, their posture, what their wearing etc.
  • Copy your chosen figures onto half a standard piece of paper, keep the figures small, you don’t want too much paper.
  • Use a blunt pencil do help you avoid trying to add detail that’s not there. It’s important not to zoom in and get a closer look at the figures on the original image, keep the image small.
  • Write what you find in your drawing.

Passarro, Camile. 1880. Boulevard de Rochechouart. Pastel.,_1880._Pastel,_Sterling_and_Francine_Clark_Art_Institute.jpg

In this example I chose a group of 3 figures. There's a mother with her 2 children, the children are wearing raincoats and the mother has her arm around one of the children. In my drawing the postures have changed slightly but there's still a sense of a woman and 2 children.

Exercise 2

  • In exercise 1, you have copied one of the figures in the painting by Pissarro, trying not to change the sketchy feel to the original.
  • In this exercise you will increase the size of the figure by roughly three times. Still maintaining the sketchy approach to the figure, copy the figure again.
  • It is important to continue paying attention to the basic form the lights, the darks and the Proportions. Make sure that you continue to look at your work from a distance to check this basic information.
  • Don't attempt to add detail or contour lines into the drawing but watch for the small changes in tone of the original.
This process will take time grasp and you may find the next exercises help you understand it better.
In this drawing, an example of this process can be seen in the top left-hand side of the face of the seated figure. You can just see a slightly darker area there which can be understood or read as the underside of the brim of a hat. Seeing the figure in this way determines the direction that the face is looking, and it gives some sense of emotion in the figure.

Exercise 3

This exercise is crucial to the improvement of your life drawing. Your progress depends on your ability to evaluate your developing drawing.
  • Compare your drawing from exercise 2 with the figures from the original artwork.
  • Crop the original artwork down to the same size as your drawing. See the example below. This will make it easier to compare them.
  • Make a rigorous comparison of the two images
  • Look for angles, curves, lines, tones and detail, see if they’re true to the original image.
  • Comment on what you’ve done that is different from the original e.g have you made an area dark where its light? 
  • Now pick different people from Pissarro's artwork and repeat the exercise, keeping all these aspects in mind.

Exercise 4

  • Draw 10 figures, spending 60 seconds on each one
  • Keep them very small, 2.5 cm (I inch)
  • The aim is to draw figures with a people-like feel to them, be open to drawing figures in different poses
  • These are not from life, be open to interpreting your scribbly marks
  • Try not to define your figures, be relaxed and playful in your approach
  • Artist Bob Booth gives a thorough explanation in the video below


Exercise 5

 The aim of this exercise is to avoid getting caught drawing symbols. 

  • Copy the drawing below on a standard piece of paper.
  • Do not try to work out what the image is.
  • Look for significant landmarks that bring the drawing together. This will include shadows and strong marks.
  • Turn your drawing upside down when you've finished it.

Exercise 6

Create a charcoal self-portrait, avoid details and symbols (refer to Pissarro's work in Exercise 1 where you can't see distinctive body parts):

  • Look at yourself in a mirror from a distance or use your camera on your phone so that you only have a small image to work from - don't take a photo!
  • Spend only a couple of minutes on it, then with a soft cloth, wipe over the image. 
  • Spend a few minutes looking at your drawing, get some distance from it, look at the composition, the light and dark areas. 
  • Now draw over the top. Wipe over your work again and then continue to work - there is no need to continue to refer to your reflection at this point.
  • Remember to stop and look at what you have done. Repeat once more, wiping over it and continuing to draw.
  • The drawing wants to be overworked when you're finished.

You will have wiped over your drawing three times.

It is the process here that is the most important, don't be too concerned with creating a likeness of yourself. You are also practicing not getting too attached to your marks.

How do you feel about this portrait compared to the one you did prior to starting this course? Feel free to post them side-by-side and comment.

Exercise 7

In this exercise you will be copying this detail of a sketch by Tintoretto. It's important to take note of the areas of the drawing that are not defined, yet are unmistakably human form. There are no faces, hands, fingers so there is no need for you to draw them either. You want your drawing to have a looseness to it.

  • Copy the drawing on half a standard piece of paper.
  • Use a soft pencil, charcoal or brush
  • Keep your distance from your drawing and the image.

Exercise 8

Find someone else to draw using the same style as the Tintoretto drawing. Don’t try to define the features. Perhaps draw someone from the side or behind them so you’re not tempted to get caught up in the face.


Exercise 9 (Final)

  • Do a self portrait using all the skills from the exercises.
  • Use a medium of your choice
  • Put the mirror a long way off, to reduce detail.
  • Avoid contour lines.
  • Don’t draw eyes, nose and mouth, draw the shadows and tones.
  • Look for basic overall shapes and angles, focus on getting those right.
  • Keep getting distance from your drawing, face it towards the mirror to see it from a different perspective or take photos of it along the way, this helps reduce its size and you can see if it’s basically right.

This drawing technique takes time to grasp and requires a lot of practice.