Pencils at the ready

Pencils at the ready

As soon as I saw it advertised, I signed up for the second Royal Academy Live session last evening. I’d enjoyed the last one very much indeed and looked forward to another evening of life drawing.

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This one was to focus on anatomy, to link with the exhibition about to open at the Royal Academy: The Renaissance Nude and along with several of my friends, I sat ready with pencils and paper as the class began. The presenter and tutor introduced themselves; RA Artistic Director Tim Marlow and artist, writer and broadcaster Dr Sarah Simblet, a specialist tutor of anatomy who regularly teaches at the Academy, who would lead the class. I immediately recognised the model as Andrew, from last year’s live drawing event.

After that short introduction, we were in - two three minute warm up exercises, with Andrew creating some interesting challenges to draw right from the very start!

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With only three minutes each, there’s no time to worry too much and it’s just enough to capture the basic shapes.


In many ways, I find these quick drawings easier to manage than the longer poses which require more close observation.

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There’s no time to fiddle about or to think - and in my case, that’s a Good Thing.


For the second of these quick poses, we were encouraged to spend a minute just looking and working out what we were seeing, considering how we might place the figure on the paper most effectively.

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The third pose to round off the first section of the class was to present a different challenge: draw with the sub-dominant hand! I put my pencil firmly in my left hand and did my best!


I discovered that drawing with my left hand brought the drawing too far to the left, resulting in the exact situation we’d been advised to avoid in the previous pose - I ran out of space and yes, out of time too and Andrew’s head and arms became a scribble. But three minutes, left handed? I was ok about that.

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Whilst Andrew went off for a rest, Sarah reminded everyone of how far we have to progress by showing a series of anatomical studies by Leonardo da Vinci. There was a short discussion about the quality of the drawn lines and the importance of direction and weight, all of which was easy to see and understand in Leonardo’s work but oh so difficult to bring into my own.

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When Andrew returned, Sarah pointed out the construction and muscle system of the shoulder, pointing out how the muscles are shaped and how they connect to perform particular movements.

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Having a basic understanding of anatomy was key to accurate drawing and we were now to focus on the muscular structure for the next few drawings.

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Whilst listening to this interesting discussion, we were encouraged to draw a variety of shoulder structures, creating a page of study sketches in the same style as Leonardo had done.


I found it tricky to listen and look and think and draw at the same time, although I seemed to overcome my usual urge to keep it all neat and tidy! I was happy to sit and create these quick drawings, though actually, on this occasion, a little longer would have proved useful.

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As Andrew went off for a short break, we were introduced to this ecorche figure with a rather gruesome history. Putting all of that to one side, I could see how effective it was in allowing a student to study anatomy and as the discussion progressed, I couldn’t resist making a quick sketch, finding it so much easier now I could see the muscle arrangement.

But just one minute later, Andrew was back to recreate the pose for us, this time for a longer study of, maybe 8 minutes, I think?

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The discussion this time centred on the subject of foreshortening and a couple of strategies were shared to help with the dilemma of capturing a pose like this one, though ultimately, it was agreed that the best approach was probably “draw what you see”.


Even so, it’s really challenging to get things correct in such a short time, without putting in the shading and some kind of reference point.

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No sooner had I began to look more closely at putting in a little light and shade than the pose was reversed and we were challenged to draw the same structure from the other side.


Whilst drawing this same pose from another direction, it would be good to reference the alternative view, we were told. So why didn’t I have the brilliant idea that was captured in one of the samples shown, of drawing both poses together in different colours?

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As the time approached for the final section of the class, perhaps the next discussion was a clue to the identity of the “special guest” we were to encounter. Sarah spent some time talking about how George Stubbs studied the anatomy in preparation for his paintings and referred to another ecorche figure on stage; that of a horse.

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As she talked, there was a bit of off-screen clattering and the camera panned around to our next model: Romeo, the Welsh Mountain Pony.


Except, I seem to have been drawing the Pantomime Horse that was in another place somewhere!


My Hero tells me that I did quite a good job on the fetlock. Hmmm.

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It was a fun way to round off another excellent session as once again, those who were participating offered many thanks and wishes for more - myself included. Because these skills are definitely much improved by regular practice. Next time, I should try a different medium - a pen, maybe, or a brush?

I might be tempted to give this another run through and try something different - the recording (and last year’s) is available on YouTube so you could even draw along too. Let me know how you get on!

(and you can see the amazing work that others did on Instagram #lifedrawinglive )

Life, recorded

Life, recorded