This is what it’s like to attend nude drawing classes as an art student in a S’pore university
Curious things about the human anatomy.
I drew a lot in university.
I wasn’t the best at it, but it was a necessary skill I had to constantly work on as an art student.
I drew people on the trains, people at the coffee shop, trees, skulls, buildings. and almost anything that I could see and observe.
But perhaps one of the more interesting subjects was — no surprises here — naked people.
In our classes for Foundation Drawing, a nude model would come in every Friday morning, striking various poses for short time intervals of about five minutes each.
The same few models took turns to show up every week, a robe draped over them. They took the flimsy apparel off once they reached the makeshift platform in the middle of the classroom.
I felt extremely uncomfortable in the first session, almost as if I shouldn’t be there.
It was my first time seeing a woman naked in person, and I never thought it would take place in a drawing studio.
I could see everything all at once, except I didn’t know where to look.
Avoiding eye contact with the nude model seemed the most obvious thing to do, and so my eyes moved down to trace her silhouette, forming a mental imprint of her pose.
I then attempted to outline it on paper, which took way longer than expected after having to look up about 50 times.
My drawings turned out looking more like a bad rendition of the monster from Stranger Things, and I rolled the paper up before any of my classmates could look at it.
On the train home, I wondered why the model had to be completely naked.
Couldn’t I just draw their clothes as well? I could clearly make out their pose without them having to strip.
Or they could just wear full body tights, which I’m sure can be found on Taobao.
The answers soon became evident after attending more nude drawing sessions, and with the guidance of my lecturer.
He would often chuckle while walking past my drawing stand, before proceeding to list out all the ways I had mangled the model’s body.
“How come her feet so small?” and “You drew her torso way too long la!” were some of the things he would say.
He told me to pay attention to the important parts in the model’s pose, such as the gesture of his/her body, which way the head tilts, and which leg they rested their weight on.
I started to see what emotions he/she was trying to communicate. Was the pose completely still, or was it dynamic and energetic? Was he/she lying down, or in the middle of a jump?
I studied the shadows intently, observing how it demarcated the various muscle groups in the body, before proceeding to represent it on paper as best as I could.
I also studied the human anatomy by routinely drawing the figure below, which lists out how various parts of the body are measured in reference to the head.
Here are some things I’ve learnt about the human anatomy:
- The ideal person’s height should be eight times the height of their head, but realistically it is only about seven times for the average person. This gave me a rough guideline of how tall I should draw the model’s body and where their hips should go.
- The height of a person’s head is the same distance between their nipples, which also happens to be vertically aligned to their ears (you can take a picture and draw lines if you don’t believe me).
- A person’s hand is about the same length as their face when measured from the chin to the forehead, and the length of their foot is almost the same as the length of their forearm (elbow to wrist).
- This took me awhile to realise, but a person’s eyes draws a horizontal line approximately in the middle of the head
- And lastly, the knees of women tend to point inward, accentuating their figure, whereas a man’s knees tend to point outward.
The figures I drew soon began resembling the model itself, rather than a misshapen alien.
Understanding the human anatomy is the first step to drawing humans well, and I believe that once you’ve mastered that you can draw anything.
I did eventually move on to drawing other subjects on a bigger scale, but my biggest takeaway from spending every Friday morning drawing nude strangers was a deep appreciation for the human anatomy.
I started to see beauty in the human body, especially in areas we tend to overlook like the hands and feet. Conventional notions of beauty tend to focus on parts like the hips and eyes, but I was more fascinated when learning about the how various parts of the body were related to each other.
Each time I left the classroom with a deeper knowledge about that which I possess and see every day but still know so little about: The human body.
Top image from Raychan/Unsplash and Andrew Wong