I Draw Naked People

When I was 16 years old, I was accepted into a summer art program at the Cooper Union in NYC. I didn’t know it at the time, but the Cooper Union is a prestigious arts and engineering college and the chances of my acceptance were actually pretty slim considering the competition and being an out of state student (the program was geared for NYC kids). In any case, by some miracle I got in and this is where I was first exposed to “artists.” Before this, my only exposure to artists was my high school art teacher, but he didn’t seem to count. The instructors at the Cooper Union wore black jeans decorated with safety pins, had unkempt tie dyed hair, and just had something a bit “off” to their personality. They lived and breathed and died for their art. Me? I just came to draw pretty pictures.The curriculum of the program covered a variety of mediums: sculpture, graphic design, contemporary art appreciation, and my favorite, drawing. While the other mediums were new to me, I knew I could draw better than your above-average bear. My portfolio was full of portraits, landscapes, and other high school-safe topics. So imagine my surprise when on the first day of drawing class, I walked into the room to find not one, but two naked models. Completely. Naked. The rest of the class didn’t seem fazed by the day’s subjects, so I assumed they had experience drawing from live nude models. I tried not to gawk, but this was my first time seeing a living, breathing, adult-sized penis. That’s what they really look like?? Gross…

The instructor had us set up in a semi circle around the models. Were they going to pose frozen in lewd acts?? What the hell was going on here?! I scanned my fellow classmates again to see if anyone was as horrified as I was. They all looked like calm little cucumbers setting up their easels and newsprint pads. I tried harder to control my eyebrows.

The instructor explained that we would be working on gestures – drawing a series of poses done by the models in a short amount of time. Every minute a timer would set off, the models would change their pose, and we would have to start a new drawing. Gesture drawing is particularly useful for artists studying the human body since models can hold complex and strenuous poses (which express movement and emphasize the muscles) if it’s only for a short period of time.

While we were drawing, the instructor came around to each student, standing while giving his critique. When he got to me, he pulled up a chair. I guess he had a lot to say.

“Her legs are too stiff, and you gave her a pregnant belly. She’s not fat. And the proportion of his torso to his legs is off, see here? Focus on the line of the spine first, that will help you place the rest of the body. ”

Phew – at least he didn’t mention that I castrated my male model and just gave him a scribble of pubic hair.

By the end of the morning session, though, I was really starting to enjoy the gesture drawing. It was surprising how much information I could capture in just one minute and the more practice I got, the easier it was to render the shape and proportion of the models. I started to see the man and woman as a series of familiar shapes and lines, not just limbs and genitalia. My improvement was noticeable and my instructor praised my work. “Good job, you started out a little rough, but these last few ones are very good.”

Today, live nude models are my favorite subject to draw. There is certain fluidity and rhythm to drawing the human body that just doesn’t happen when drawing inanimate objects. My favorite studio in NYC is the Spring Street Studio, where you can draw or paint naked people three times a day, seven days a week. I’d still rather draw women than men – women have softer lines and make for prettier finished products. I mean, who wants to hang up a giant drawing of a dude’s wang on their wall? Although, I must say, I have gotten much better at capturing the male figure. (It took me a while to figure out that while a woman is shaped like an hour glass, a man is shaped like an upside down triangle.) I once showed Mr. S my drawing of a nude male model that I was particularly proud of, and his observation was, “Looks like you spent too much time on that penis…” I have to admit, it was a very good penis.

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