A COURSE OUTLINE and MANUAL (free download)


These drawings are by high school kids.  One before any instruction, the other after about 15-20 classes.  Really. 
They are typical.  NOT the exception. The usual.  (student gallery for more evidence)  Intimidated by the scary reputation around learning or teaching life drawing?  These examples represent what routinely happens when perceptions and skills are built in small bites, in an orderly step-by-step process.  (buzz)  This manual gives you a detailed class-by-class guide of how to do this.  Learning and/or teaching this is much easier than you ever thought possible.  Go slowly.  Build a bit more each session.  You'll be amazed


Student Drawing
Ideally the instructor will have basic experience with life drawing. Because representing an image or idea about a living person at a given moment is a complex process, an instructor must organize the components and steps of this process to make them coherent and doable.  And each step must be presented succinctly. The students should be led from studying facts and observing accurately to developing personal imagery that generates expressive drawings. The objectives should be: to sharpen powers of observation; to understand anatomical structure; to use these skills to create a parallel image on paper; and to develop individual, expressive interpretations. The mark of each person’s hand will emerge as individuality and visual language combine, not from technique taught from the outside. Each person follows his own heart, mind and eye. As students explore principles, ideas and questions, they will discover their own powers and learn to trust their intuition. In a successful drawing every mark fits; the most beautifully drawn detail that doesn’t fit with the whole drawing is meaningless.

J. Gitlow
The processes and exercises outlined here evolved from my own art school training plus about 40 years of teaching, primarily high school students. But also  elementary, adults and art school grad students. Their achievements in this course (except for art school, they were a cross-section of the population) surprised colleagues, artists and art school admissions---and most of all, the students themselves. I attribute their success to student feed-back and to my own observations; I honed sequences, processes and exercises accordingly over the years---adding, eliminating and changing. Although a plan basically like the one outlined here will succeed, it should be adjusted and changed according to teacher preferences and to the characteristics of each group.
Almost all students attained enough mastery within 5-6 hours of work to proceed with confidence, able to produce convincing basic figures. Even though life drawing is considered to be extremely difficult, I found it to be easier for students than other art courses I've taught. It’s not hard to teach or learn, it just seems intimidating. With this guide, I hope that what I’ve learned might be useful in some way to other teachers, and to anyone who wants to learn about this on their own. I know this manual is too long and specifically detailed. Only because I think too much information from which to choose might be better than not enough. Skim, pick and choose.

Students quickly become keen observers and understand the fundamentals of human structural anatomy. This gives them a base from which to experiment and explore with confidence. Success comes from carefully sequenced small steps, each built on the previous one, and from initially focusing on only one aspect of this very complex task at a time: structure, line, mass, proportion, tone, movement, composition, mood and character. This way skills are built on a solid foundation that equips students to develop their own visual language.


J. Gitlow
We have an intuitive connection with any human model and drawing people is endlessly interesting. This engages the artist in ways that drawing objects doesn’t. We experience the same feelings, easily sense character and mood, and we each live in basically the same structure. The model sits, bends, leans, stretches and we know what that feels like. Although this knowledge is fundamental, it can’t automatically be used to describe a living person by making marks on a flat surface. Gradually the subject is seen in terms of a drawing. When we understand the STRUCTURE and HUMANITY of the figure, and we can synthesize visual, kinesthetic and emotional factors---we are free to interpret a living three-dimensional form through art. This becomes possible when all this experience evolves and imagery fragments become coherent, part-to-part and part-to-whole. Because this process is difficult, nothing can be guess-work, and the effort cannot be superficial or mechanical. There are no formulaic answers and the effort demands deep levels of concentration, engaging many levels of attention---visual, intellectual, intuitive. Success with this is a terrific confidence-builder. Also, I found consistently mature reactions to nude models; no giggling or squirming---ever. Many high schools use nude models; I have also had them wear leotards where required. (Less distracting than a bathing suit and best to avoid dark colors that obscure form.) A GOOD MODEL IS WORTH ANYTHING: more $$$, extra heaters. Dancers (usually not ballet) are excellent. “Good” does not depend on age, shape or size, or on the ability to “hold” a pose. A good model inspires good work. If stiff or artificial, work reflects that.


IT DESCRIBES A SEQUENTIAL SERIES OF STEPS THAT ENABLE PEOPLE TO DRAW. To be followed loosely or viewed as suggestions. The “DAY 1” format refers to a 4½ week course, 5 days a week, each class 1’15” or 1’30”. I’ve also adapted the same sequence to a one semester span, 5 days a week, 41” each class. And to 3-hour classes once a week.


The level of success will be raised as these are lowered.  Concentration should be as absolute as possible; this will occur naturally as students work; the only sound usually is charcoal on paper.  Any sound will distract---voices, doors and, yes, music.  The best work is always accomplished in an environment that will maximize the possibility to concentrate uninterrupted.

All students regularly feel great excitement and accomplishment quite quickly as they develop mastery of this complex process. They should be told that bad starts, mistakes and failed attempts are a necessary part of the process and are not important. Successful drawings are NEVER due to luck or accident. Note: of all the exercises here, these always produce the biggest jump ahead: big ENLARGEMENTS, drawing with all STRAIGHT LINES, and TONE-ONLY GESTURE.


Good ones avoid distracting energy and focus attention. Wasted time is reduced by posting a daily supply list (always in the same place where thereís easy access). In classes that have homework, ask students to always tack it up on entering, to be discussed when the model rests. This way, all will be quickly equipped and ready to work. For far better achievement, all must stand, with boards propped at a slant when using tables. Or they can straddle "drawing horses" (You'll need more 18 x 24 newsprint than seems possible. Students can put discarded used papers in a box labeled "one side used"; your daily supply list can specify when to use these for quick exercises.) Because you will never, ever draw on a studentís drawing, place  tracing paper over them and demonstrate corrections on that. For different exercises specify certain drawing tools, to be sure that everyone becomes familiar with them all.


Homework assignments (always in writing) are helpful as a kind of enforced sketchbook. They can reinforce concepts explored in class, serve to prepare for the next principle focus, or stimulate free experimentation. 

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