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T&L review: Life drawing at LARA Art

T&L heads to LARA to try her hand at the creative craft of life drawing

Quietly situated on the humming Clapham Road, LARA (London Atelier of Representational Art) could easily remain unnoticed by hurried passers-by on a busy commute en route to the nearby Clapham North station, but step foot inside this unassuming arts studio and you enter a fascinating world with sketches and charcoal scribbles on every wall and a treasure trove of a stationary cupboard.

I’ve never attended a life drawing session before, but have always been intrigued by the study of figurative art as someone who used to be an active drawer (and remains an avid doodler). Upon entering the building I meet Charlie Pickford, who greets me enthusiastically and welcomes me to the school. I’m early for the class, but this gives me a great chance to have a nose around all the fascinating rooms. I examine paintings and drawings sellotaped to easels and the curious moulds of hands, arms and feet that help students practise their work. I also get a chance to have a candid conversation with Charlie about his journey into the art world.

Charlie has been drawing for years, with his main interest being the human form. He has gone on to receive tutoring from across the world and he excitedly shows me his work on his Instagram account. His enthusiasm for his craft is palpable, but he assures me that it’s all the product of hard work and dedication, something which comforts me greatly as I confess my worries about being a beginner life drawer.

Slowly, more students come through the doors and shake off the end of summer chill. It’s a friendly atmosphere here, and the course attracts a great array of people from all walks of life, all keen to learn from each other and practise their hobby together in a communal atmosphere.

It’s the second class in the programme and so everyone is already frequented with each other. This works in my favour as I get a lot of focus from Charlie who talks me through the very basics of life drawing and alludes to its rich heritage dating back to the 17th century. Charlies knowledge of figurative drawing and its history is important as I soon discover the type of art that is taught at LARA very much draws on traditional methods.

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He guides me to example drawings on the wall and presents me with a stick. I have seen artists playing around with these when drawing from a live model but until my class had no idea how to use the stick to achieve an accurate drawing. Charlie explains articulately how to deftly use the tool to measure body parts, transporting them onto the paper and mapping distances between the knee cap and the toe; the elbow and the fingertip. It’s this mathematical side of art that I’m always keen to skip, and hence why my own practice of art hasn’t developed to the next level, but, Charlie insists, this is the most crucial part – getting the accuracy correct before going on to the fun parts, like shading and detail.

We are introduced to our life model, who carefully places her feet on specific bits of tape on the floor so that when she takes a break she can resume the exact same pose. There are dramatic lights shining brightly onto her body, cleverly casting strong shadows that won’t move throughout the session. The class is three hours long and every 20 minute our life model has a break, giving the students time too to limber up or have a quick chat about how our work is progressing.

I was initially daunted by the idea of three hours, but the 20 minutes pass quickly and I find them to be incredibly mindful moments. I am so determined on measuring the model’s body with my newfound stick method – spending one particularly painstaking 20 minute session going over the exact curvature of the model’s head with my stick – that I am completely focused. All other thoughts – what I’m having for dinner, what I’ve got on the next day – completely dissipate from my mind.

Charlie floats his way through the class, weaving his way past his students and offering well-thought-out advice to all his pupils. In one of my breaks I have a wander around and look over the shoulders of the other members’ easels. All pieces are at various stages, some with elaborate shading and incredibly uncanny resemblance. I’m pleased with my final piece, although prior to the lesson if you’d have shown me the sketch I produced, I would have considered it extremely basic. But this is one of the valuable lessons I have taken away from the session.

Firstly, that getting accuracy and proportion is hugely important in the first stage of producing a drawing – something that can’t be rushed and something that you must dedicate time to. I am pleased with what I have produced from my first taste of life drawing because, looking closely at my own sketch, while it is basic, the proportions are relatively accurate (for a beginner at least).

Secondly, I have taken away the scientific side of art and learning about sketching from a logical perspective where you mathematically map your subject. As Charlie insisted at the start of the class, respect this process and anyone can master the craft.

I have also taken away the mindful aspect of life drawing. Emptying your mind and committing yourself to getting something exact is something extremely fulfilling and therapeutic. So much so that the next morning I’m inspired to look up a life drawing class local to me, and am considering swapping my weekly yoga for a dose of life drawing session instead.

Check out all the fantastic arts programmes offered at LARA Clapham here. The school offer full-time and part-time courses, masterclasses and all sorts of workshops to suit your ability and schedule.
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