Life Drawing – we like it!

Life drawing by Jennifer Bristow; Year 1
Here on the Animation and Visual FX course we run regular Wednesday evening life drawing classes, taught by Kathy Nicholls, down in the life drawing room at Woodlane.

We try to make sure that everybody attends, including the students whose main interest is in CG and VFX, because our philosophy is that; "we don't teach drawing, we teach looking". What we are not doing is trying to create works of art, nice looking drawings that can sit on a wall; instead we want to inculcate a habit of really looking at things and analysing what is going on.

When we have to draw something we are forced to look intently at it and work out how it is put together in space. It is sometimes useful to draw from photographs, but there is something missing when we try to do that; the third dimension. Photographs can flatten out a form whereas a thing that is there in front of you is there in all its solid, three dimensional form with planes receding and coming towards you and the lighting conditions acting directly on it. Analysing all these things teaches the artist how to look.

We tend to do a mixture of poses, but none are longer than 20 minutes, and most are quite short. This is to stop the students worrying over the detail of a pose and to get them to concentrate on things like weight, balance and line of action; all things that are important in animation, and we often have the model move slowly around, pausing only for a few seconds every so often, so that what is recorded is a sense of the movement. The drawings that result are definitely not something you would put up on the wall!

Movement study

Jordan Allnut Year 2
Harry Bayfield Year 2

For some people this is the first time that they have done life drawing and they often lack confidence. Joseph, below, is new to life drawing and is more interested in the computer side of things but, with that can-do spirit that comes with being American, he has leapt right in and given it a go. We'll see how he gets on in the weeks to come.

Joseph Stout Year 1

Geoffrey Pasong Year 2
Geoffrey has a very accomplished drawing style, and it is apparent in these quick, 30 second poses, that he is already good at capturing the pose of the model.

Senior Lecturer Derek Hayes
And this is one of my 30 second pose drawings, to show that we lecturers try to keep up with practice too.

Some students are still not convinced that this is useful, so I am always happy to go to festivals and hear speakers from Pixar or Disney, when they are asked what those organisations look for in a portfolio,  invariably answer, 'life drawings'. It is one thing to create a style of drawing and make your drawings look good but we all know what a body looks like and life drawing in one of the hardest things to fake; if you can do that, you can do anything.



  1. I'm the mother of a 17 year old who is considering a career in the Arts. I'm also a primary school teacher.  

    Last night my son and I were looking at various blogs and universities to see what courses are available, and, we came across your blog.  Whilst this is an excellent, well written explanation, of why Life Drawing is an essential part of animation, the blog, however, was subsequently spoiled by the use of stereotyping.



    A fixed notion or conception of people based on their group identity. Stereotyping often leads to prejudice and discrimination.


    I would assume that the writer of this article knows that stereotypical comments are not acceptable, especially when included in a public blog that is representing a professional organisation?.

  2. Hi Anonymous,

    I've re-read what I wrote and can only assume that you are referring to the comment about the American 'can-do' attitude. OK, fair enough, in the strict definition of the term, I acknowledge that this is a stereotype and I am not going to defend it by saying that it was meant in the spirit of good humour, since that is the get out clause for much abusive stereotyping.
    However, given that this is a positive stereotype (and a bit of a wink to Joseph at the same time) I didn't see your comment coming, so, looking back, I think I could have been called out for lazy writing rather than a desire to stereotype an entire nation. But, obviously your intervention is evidence that the can-do spirit is alive and well elsewhere, since you decided to write and let me know you didn't approve.

    I would assume that your definition of stereotyping, and link, weren't meant to be condescending since you assume that I already know that such comments are not acceptable, and were aimed at those who don't understand the word.

    Rest assured, I'll be more careful next time.


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