• Jean Burman

I have hundreds of life drawing stories. Each of them taught me something more about myself and the world around me. Like the time I was late for my very first life drawing class and scored the last place at the back of the room behind the male model who was posed in a full forward bend... (a baptism of fire I have no words for!)

Then there was the time I found myself in a class of about 35 men and it was just me and the model at tea break exchanging pleasantries in a show of feminine solidarity! I thought it was hilarious when, at the end of that session, the elderly patriarch of the group approached me and suggested I might be more comfortable in the Monday morning ladies class. Why hell no. Is there a problem? 

If ever there was a microcosm of everyday life, life drawing would be it. It brings out the nakedness and vulnerability in all of us. It also brings out the competitiveness, the bravado, the timidity, the self consciousness, the courage. You name it, if there is a human emotion just waiting there to be uncovered, life drawing will expose it. That's the beauty of it. It’s the perfect leveller.

I guess it’s understandable. We have a naked model (which, interestingly enough, you don’t even notice about them after the first 2 minutes!) 

But in life drawing their nakedness is also ours.

There is nothing more raw and vulnerable than an artist wielding a piece of charcoal. It plays into the ancient tradition of mark making on cave walls. It plays into our primal instinct to tell the story of what is there.

I have sometimes wondered what kind of person would be willing to be a life model. Considering most people’s worst nightmare is to be found wandering the streets in their pyjamas (or worse). But people model for all sorts of reasons. Most have a very well adjusted attitude to nudity. They love who they are!

As it turned out, the model (above) had never life modelled before. But her intuitive skill and her natural professionalism were astounding. She told me that since receiving one of those medical prognoses none of us ever want to hear, she had determined to travel the world and say ‘yes’ to every experience that came her way. I admired her for that. I admired her spirit... and her dogged determination to look life squarely in the face despite everything. She told me she felt great. And she certainly looked it. She had a spark. Her eyes were bright and alive, and she looked like whatever it was that had been ailing her ... she sure as heck was beating it!

Life drawing is important for artists. It teaches you how to see ... to really see. It teaches you to stand back and use your whole arm to bring the gestural shapes of a human person to life. I love charcoal on butchers paper. It’s black ... and messy... and tends to get all over absolutely everything. But it’s soft and lovely too and sometimes ... just sometimes ... you manage to capture a glimpse of the human spirit transcending the thickness of skin to reveal the whole person.

What are your thoughts on nudity? In an overtly over sexualised world, can there be a place for the beauty and wonder of natural nakedness? Or are we programmed to see it as shame? 



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  • Jean Burman

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