Figure drawing, the staple skill and practice of all the greats offers lessons to be learned that apply to so much more than rendering a figure on the page in front of you.
From 1995 through 2007 I had the privilege of learning those lessons with a group of fellow creatives, dreamers and ultimately friends. Led by Jeff Fisher, a 20 year independent Illustrator, we’d meet for 6 hour classes on Sundays in the Fall, Winter and Spring and 3 hours on Wednesday in the summer to make room for Location.
These classes could be amazing or grueling or both. 6 hours is a long time to draw one model. It forces you to learn patience while working through hours of failed starts and over worked images. You learn how to focus and dedicate your self to working though just plain bad days where it felt like you hand must be broken because you were drawing so bad. How you worked through these hours and days was where figure drawing offered valuable lessons beyond perspective, form and the success in failing.
Drawing with your non-dominant hand, your foot or a six foot stick with a pencil taped to the bottom taught you how to look beyond your preconceived notions of what a person looks. You have to focus and think about every mark you make, every connection. No longer can you just look at the page and draw what you think the models leg looks like. You learn to truly see what you’re looking at by moving around it. See what causes a leg to drop down into space. See the tension in the back created by a standing pose that you are drawing from the front. It teaches you that even in something as uniform as the human body, especially when you’ve drawn it for thousands of hours, there is always another, new way to see something.
Learning how to break through preconceived notions is one of the best lessons anyone can learn and definitely one of the best I learned from drawing the human figure. It’s not the most important though. Learning how put everything you have into each drawing you do and then remove that personal emotion when you work literally gets torn up in your face and take it professionally is. It’s a lesson that will always stay with me.