The mobile studio's senior concept artist Nana Li explains why the London team employs this unusual training strategy

How life drawing classes are helping to improve Nordeus’ artists

Drawing from life, with a real model, is a great way to practice your art foundations. It’s also a fantastic tool to improve your artistic eye and develop your design sensibilities.

Whether you’re a games artist, concept artist, illustrator, graphic designer or just interested in art, the practice of life drawing can hold something new and exciting for you.

Since the dawn of Photoshop and its 3D counterparts, there’s been an explosion in the number of both amateur and professional digital artists. While this is great news for the industry, it’s easy for us artists born into the digital age to get side-tracked by these wonderful tools and all the tips and tricks they contain.

It’s easy to obsess over software wizardry, but these days knowing your way around a software package really isn’t enough. Without a solid artistic foundation you run the risk of becoming the slave instead of the master of your tools. In order to create work that’s convincing and really connects with the viewer you need to understand form, design, colour theory and storytelling. All of these you can practice through life drawing.

As a professional you need to continually push yourself, learn new skills and develop existing ones in order to keep growing as an artist. This is certainly true in the team at Nordeus London and Belgrade. Everyone’s always eager to improve their craft, so it was suggested that we introduce life drawing classes to the studio. Personally I’ve found life drawing incredibly helpful to my own artistic development so it’s been a pleasure to introduce new people to it.

In order to create work that’s convincing and really connects with the viewer you need to understand form, design, colour theory and storytelling. All of these you can practice through life drawing.

The disciplines present in the Nordeus art teams range from UI/UX to animation, 3D character, 3D environment and concept art. Although all quite different on first glance, each discipline can gain different things from life drawing. Animators might be interested in gesture and movement, 3D artists can look at construction and form, and everyone can learn about design, a skill that touches all artistic disciplines.

Life drawing is not necessarily about making a pretty picture – it’s about what you’re interested in as an artist. It’s about training, aspiring to improve and sometimes simply indulging in the act of drawing.

Since our group is quite small and intimate, the format of our sessions is something that we agree together. Some people might prefer shorter poses while others like them longer, and the class can be themed or free-form. I remember coming to life drawing for the first time and being rather overwhelmed. The information overload of a figure can cause you to desperately try and copy everything in front of you. But life drawing is not about copying, it’s about understanding.

We usually start our classes with a quick intro or demo where I go over some tips that have been helpful to me in the past. I tend to talk about the concepts of gesture, movement and construction as ways to interpret and break down the figure. The intro is meant to give people something to think about and investigate, although it’s not a rigid assignment. Artists are all different and can be interested in different things. I believe that you should allow everyone to approach a drawing in whatever way they’re most comfortable.

We tend to start out with short one-minute poses as a warm up, then stretching to three to five minutes and finally up to 10 to 15 minutes per pose. Some life drawing classes do even lengthier poses, but in our group we haven’t felt the need to spend much longer on a drawing.

The pose length depends on what you want to draw, of course. If you’re looking at gesture and construction, you don’t really need much more than a couple of minutes. If you’re more interested in painting and describing the form, or the intricacies of anatomy, you might want a pose of 45 mins to an hour.

We take a quick break halfway through and then at the end of the session we spread all our drawings out on the floor and look at them together. We chat about what went well, what we struggled with and we share tips. 

Life drawing is a great way to exercise those artistic muscles and it has a range of benefits, regardless of your discipline.

If you’re interested in setting up your own life drawing group, nothing could be easier. All you need is the space, the people and a model. The great thing about setting up your own group is that you’re able to choose the model and set the pose lengths yourself. If you’re interested in gesture and movement, you can look for dancers or performers who are expressive in their bodies. If you’re studying anatomy, you might want someone who has pronounced musculature. If you’re interested in character design you may want to look at a whole range of different shapes and sizes.

When it comes to the actual session, it’s important to be respectful and to make sure your model is comfortable. Ask them if they need anything and check that they’re happy with what you’re planning to do in the class. You want to create a safe and comfortable space for both the model and the attendees, so that everyone can focus.

Here are recommendations of things to think about before and during the class:

  1. Drawing space. You’ll want a nice open space with privacy. Any windows in the room should have blinds or drapes so that the view can be blocked. Generally you don’t want to crowd the model, so make sure they have plenty of space around them to strike different poses.
  2. Changing space. Make sure there’s somewhere private for the model to get changed. Models will generally bring a robe so it doesn’t necessarily need to be attached to the drawing space.
  3. Heating. Consider getting an electric heater to place near the model, especially if your space is on the chilly side.
  4. Props. Consider providing some props with which the model can work – stools, mattresses, beanbags, poles, ropes and so on. You can get a more interesting set of poses if you have some good props.
  5. Poses. Most experienced models should be able to come up with poses without direction but it’s often helpful to tell the model what types of poses you’re interested in seeing, if any. Also, have an idea of the length of poses you want to do and let the model know before you change the pose duration. The model will take poses which they know they can sustain for the set amount of time. It’s good practice to give them a heads up when that gets longer.
  6. Timer. Get a stopwatch of some sort so that you can focus on drawing. Currently I’m using a free app called Interval Timer but there are plenty of similar ones.
  7. Break. If your session runs longer than an hour then take a five to 10 minute break in the middle. This is so that the model can rest but it’s also good for the class to take a breather, stretch and refresh their eyes.

Best of luck. Life drawing is a great way to exercise those artistic muscles and it has a range of benefits, regardless of your discipline. It’s an exercise that has lifelong value and something that keeps giving the more you put into it.

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