You hear a lot about mindfulness in the media. Lifestyle magazines articles, mindfulness TV programmes and even mindfulness apps are everywhere. For me, life drawing is the ultimate mindfulness activity – with no expensive apps or coffee table books required – just a sheet of paper, a pencil and a model are needed. Judging shape and size and trying to indicate light and shade take one hundred percent of my concentration and forces all the other worries and concerns out of my head.
Life drawing has always been part of an art education. For many years it was taught as part of a drawing course. First, students would be made to spend several months drawing from plaster casts of classical sculptures and only promoted to the life drawing room when they were deemed good enough. But life drawing fell out of fashion midway through the twentieth century, displaced by the completely different demands of abstraction. Now it’s back in fashion, not as part of an art education, but as a lifestyle choice. I see it advertised as a hen or stag night party option, trendy London media types.
People still raise their eyebrows when I tell them that I’m off to draw at a life class but anyone who’s ever been to a life class will know that there’s nothing remotely indecent or smutty about them. The models (male or female) are usually incredibly professional. Models of all ages and shapes are welcome. For me, real people will always be more interesting to draw than any model who is conventionally good looking. Sometimes the drawing flows, and the results are good. Sometimes every mark is a struggle where three-dimensional shapes are too hard to pin down to only two. In some ways, the shape or the sex of the model is irrelevant. The model is a starting point for the journey for which the destination is not important because there is just the journey.
Anyway, last Wednesday I was back in the peace and quiet of a life drawing class. The only sound was the scratch of pencil on paper, with perhaps the occasional cough from a fellow artist, and was very calming. The halftime break was a chance to talk with other artists about our shared difficulties and triumphs. Who needs anything more?