I vividly remember my first life drawing session in my last year of school, just under 6 years ago. The friend I went with actually knew the model through a mutual friend, so the expected anonymous relationship between model and artist was immediately shattered and the sitting was therefore rife with awkward glances and moments of stifled giggles at the naked person in front of us. However, the experience was definitely memorable both as a life experience and as an artist, and I’ve always made sure to attend every life drawing experience that crossed my path since that day.
Six years on, I’ve drawn a whole host of naked people of all shapes and sizes, and the novelty of the unabashed naked body has mostly worn worn off. I recently attended my first life drawing session for a while, and it got me to thinking all about bodies. What is it about a body that makes it attractive, and does it change from person to person? The best pieces I’ve ever made during a life drawing class have been from the poses awkwardly bent over or slouched uncomfortably and from the models who didn’t look conventionally perfect – whether it’s saggy bits, scars, cellulite or wrinkles, they all make for great drawings and tell the life story of the person in front of me. These are the kind of features that are generally considered undesirable, but I think they look great; they tell a story, they paint a picture, they make you who you are, and drawing naked bodies has made me appreciate this more than ever.
Bodies are beautiful, and should be celebrated as such. The naked body has become so exclusively associated with sexuality that we shield children from images of nudity unless they’re on huge billboards and airbrushed to perfection. A more realistic portrayal in the media of the naked bodies underneath everybody’s clothes would boost everyone’s confidence – hey, who knew that we are all basically the same when we strip off? Even now, after many years of drawing naked people, I have that moment of ingrained British awkwardness when the life drawing model takes off their dressing gown. It’s something I doubt I’ll ever lose, but that’s a good thing - it keeps me aware of how silly it is to feel that way. I read somewhere that it’s the second thing that you think in any given situation that counts; your first reaction tends to be what you’ve been taught to think, whereas what you think afterwards is what really matters; and in my case, it’s reminding myself that this naked person has a great body and I’m gonna have a great time drawing it. Bodies are amazing, and should be drawn, painted and sculpted in all their varying glory. Beauty isn’t just what you see in a magazine or on a billboard, it’s in everyone – you just have to want to see it.