Drawing the Nude Figure

The study of the nude human figure is the core of atelier training. When we draw the figure at the Golden Gate Atelier, our focus is on line quality, gesture, proportion, and structure. Students are taught how to take the complex form of the human body and break it down intellectually and visually into simple components. The first step is to create a linear block-in where the figure has been reduced to its essentials. A strong gesture is primary. Using both sight-size and comparative measurement, we strive for clarity of contour and correct proportions. Students ask themselves: have I captured the character, the exact body type of the model? Learning to see the big shape, the whole impression, is perhaps the most difficult thing in traditional art. It can only be learned under the guidance of an experienced draftsman.

Four hours of each school day are devoted to drawing or painting the human figure from life. Drawing is about learning to see, and you cannot see deeply by moving quickly. Degas said it best: “It is not hard to give life to a six hour study, the hard thing is to keep it there in a sixty.” So at the Golden Gate Atelier we use the academic long pose of four or five weeks. This gives students the opportunity to work until their drawing is true to nature. First, it makes it possible for them to better understand the structure of the human body. And it enables them to study values in order to render form through light and shade.

To balance our long poses in charcoal, we also work with shorter poses in pencil. Both media are important preparations for painting. Pencil drawing cultivates precision, while charcoal allows for a greater value range and a spontaneity of handling. Students learn to how hold their drawing tool like a brush and to make delicate lines. Sketching enables us to develop visual ideas and keep our work fresh.