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Gerald, pencil on paper, 38x56cm
Gerald, pencil on paper, 38x56cm

Three Exercises for Life Drawing with Charles Williams


Charles Williams - Posted on 08 Nov 2011

Exercise one

For this exercise, use a piece of paper A3 or bigger and set yourself up comfortably. Use charcoal, a putty rubber and perhaps compressed charcoal towards the end. Work for an hour or more on this project.
Ask the model to sit in front of a window – this is called contre jour, or against the light. Have them sit upright, on a dining chair or a stool. A position that seems comfortable at first may not be so after half an hour. They will need to sit for an hour, so have them read a book, or listen to music. The model should be between you and the window. Look carefully at your model and the surroundings.
On a small piece of paper, with a pencil, make a plan of your drawing. How big will the model be relative to the window and the paper? Will you have the whole of the model in the drawing, or just the upper body?
Start by lightly covering the whole of your paper with a layer of charcoal. Use your putty rubber, which has been warming in your hand; take away the charcoal wherever there is a light area.
Work like this, into the tones of the figure and the chair. Use your charcoal to get darker tones and to develop detail, but remember to go from general, large areas, to particular, smaller areas.

Exercise two

This should be a line drawing, but use charcoal. Get your model to sprawl out on a settee, perhaps with one arm behind the head, and legs splayed. You should draw the whole figure, using all the paper, right up to the edges.
Paying no attention at all to the colours, textures or patterns on clothes or soft furnishings, use your charcoal to draw negative shapes – the spaces between. Let the point of the charcoal examine carefully all the small shifts and changes in the outlines, as they cross and recross forms. Explore edges and junctions, again carefully, without trying to make a portrait. If you go wrong, just use the edge of your hand to smudge out your mistakes, and reassess and redraw the edges.
Don't worry too much about getting the whole figure on the page – with this exercise it is permissible to let your lines wander over the edge of the paper. Don't worry too much about tone, either, except possibly in terms of shapes – the dark shape of a cast shadow can be outlined in the same way that a leg or the side of a hand can. You will finish with a drawing that is almost map-like.

Exercise three

Do this exercise in the evening; start an hour before the sun goes down and aim to end when it is too dark to see. You need to be in a room where the model can sit in the light from a window, you should be between the window and the model. You may need to sit quite low.
Fix a light on the other side of the model, nothing very strong, even a torch might be good enough. When you start there should be a strong light from the window, which will probably be quite cold, and a weak light behind the model, which will be warm and will pick out the edges, the silhouette of the model's form.
Start drawing, using pencil, loosely getting in the large areas, and then start to describe the details. The light will gradually fade, and you'll find the details harder and harder to see, but you will also find the masses, the larger areas, easier. You must not be distracted by details. Keep drawing, but only draw what you can see. Draw the tones. Where you see dark, shade in dark, and where you see light, draw it light, using your rubber to keep the paper clean. As the light fades, the light from the reading lamp will appear stronger, and gradually the silhouette will emerge. Only stop drawing when it is no longer possible to see. When you turn the light on you will be amazed.

Bambi, charcoal on paper, 22x15in (56x38cm)

The full article by Charles Williams can be found in the December 2011 issue of The Artist, and covers many aspects of life drawing including proportion and anatomy

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