THERE seems to be a general desire on the part of art students to hurry on through all the preliminary work of practice strokes and tone building, and object drawing and cast drawing to the subject which is now before us, - life drawing. When one starts to draw from real living people he feels that he is about to get somewhere, that he is really on the road to becoming an artist. And the importance of drawing from the living model cannot be denied. So large a percentage of all of the drawings and paintings which we see about us every day make some use of the human figure, - (many of them, and especially the work of an illustrative nature such as we find in our books and magazines, giving figures the position of primary importance), it seems plainly evident that unless the art student learns to draw them well his place in the art world will be considerably restricted.
So the students of sculpture, mural painting, portrait painting, illustration and commercial art need no urging to study life drawing, as they realize fully to what extent their success will depend upon it. The architect, or more especially the beginner in architecture, is often slow, however, in perceiving the advantages to be gained from pursuing such a course, especially those of that profession who lean towards the practical rather than the aesthetic. And it is not our contention that life drawing is the one thing of primary importance to the architect. What we do wish to point out is that it offers enough of advantage to make its study well worth the while, and we can give no stronger proof that this opinion is quite general than by stating that in nearly all of our larger architectural schools the students are given life work as a regular part of their prescribed courses of study. It is not merely that the architect is sometimes called upon to draw a few figures to add interest or give scale to a drawing of some proposed building, (for such work can be done well enough to serve the purposes without particular skill) - neither is it because he may find it necessary to draw sculptured figures as a part of his design, as in a pediment, for instance, or flanking a doorway, for though this second reason is more important than the first, sculptors or trained modellers are usually called in to actually execute such work on the building itself, and they are capable of correcting errors and going ahead with the whole thing sympathetically once the architect has given them his general idea. The study of life drawing is important more because it gives such excellent training in light and shade and proportion, and an appreciation and understanding of design than for these other reasons. For if one acquires the fine perception which will enable him to note and analyze and understand the subtle variations between one tone and another which one finds, especially when working from the nude, his architecture will be the better for it; and if one assimilates, as he should, a feeling for rhythm and balance and symmetry and other characteristics of good composition, it may be applied advantageously to his daily work; - more than this, his improved skill in draftsmanship will be always worth the effort expended to obtain it, for if one acquires such dexterity as enables him to draw figures in correct proportion he will have no great trouble sketching the most complicated architecture.
So the architect should be encouraged to take up life work and the art student's enthusiasm should not be curbed. Both should be cautioned, nevertheless, that it should not be attempted until proper preparation has been made for it, and it is for this reason that we have given so much space to urging thoroughness in the preliminary work in object drawing, still life, perspective, cast drawing, etc. And both should be cautioned, too, against the folly of attempting to do life drawing without proper instruction and criticism. Fortunately, there are evening courses in most of the larger cities which give the students who lack the time or means of taking day courses the opportunity of learning at night. To supplement such training there are many excellent books on all branches of the subject which can be studied as time permits.
Because there are so many books available and so many classes open to students, it seems scarcely necessary for us to go into the matter at any length here, - in fact, we could hardly do so without going beyond the scope of our subject, for whereas the pencil is used frequently for figure work it is perhaps more often employed in preliminary sketches and studies than for the final execution. Then, too, there are so many kinds of life drawings that to describe them all would require a good-size volume.
Whenever we start to erect any sort of a building it is essential to have a firm foundation and framework on which to build the superstructure. In the same way in studying the human figure it is necessary to have our framework; in this case the human skeleton. So the student should learn about the skeleton first; he should study anatomy until he becomes familiar with the different bones, individually and in their relation one to another. He should learn the names by which they are known. He should know the different positions which they assume when one walks or runs or sits or reclines, and the acquisition of such familiarity with them will require conscientious study, and practice with the pencil. In fact, there is no part of life drawing which should be carelessly done; too much emphasis cannot be given to this point.