Drawing Nudes

The three figures in this painting were all drawn from photographed models. The girl was actually nude, skinny-dipping with friends.. The buck deer was photographed by a wildlife photographer with a telephoto lens. The warrior was drawn from a photo in National Geographic. They were put together to create meaning in this picture. It is a spirit-animal encounter in a lightning dream as talked about in the novel Hanta Yo by Ruth Bebe Hill. It depicts a spiritual experience. But it depends on my ability to draw figures anatomically correctly. And to accomplish surrealism with any realism requires practice drawing actual nude figures.

I was an English Major in college at Iowa State from 1975 to 1979. And during that time I took a lot of art classes. Every drawing class they had I took and excelled in most of them. But art was a part of the Home Economics curriculum at the time and you couldn’t actually take a minor in Art. So, when I was a junior, I became eligible to take the Anatomy Drawing course based on my success in all the other drawing courses. And, of course, I was the only student artist in the class who was not an Art Major. So, it was a class where the other 25 ladies and 3 guys in the class were all Art Majors and all resented my presence.

Of course, a fact of my life was that at the point when I entered that class with its nude models and highly demanding, anal-retentive art professor, I was still repressing my own memory of being a sexual assault victim. Dr. Lou Bro demanded that we all were very aware that we were doing art and not porn. She made eye contact with each of the four males in the class as she said it. It was all a matter of point of view, what you focused your drawing on, and what you emphasized, consciously or not. Porn drawings could fail you. And you had to know the difference.

It was explained to us that the nude models would come from among the art students. We could earn ten dollars for posing for an hour, and though she planned on using mostly senior art students from outside the class, she needed some of us to sign up to fill in some slots, especially if we were male, and especially if we were willing to pose for the whole two hours on a Tuesday or a Thursday during winter quarter. And the intention was to have the model pose completely nude.

.Pressure was put on each of the four males in the class. I was not really expected to volunteer since I was not an Art Major, but the ladies were bullying each of us to take the plunge. The girl who was nicest to me warned that Dr. Bro only gave about three or four A’s in any of her classes and lots of students who didn’t make A’s didn’t pass. She also encouraged me by telling me that volunteer models got points added to their grade as well as the monetary reward. So, being nagged and, in one case, sweetly encouraged, I made the mistake of putting my name on the list. Two of the other guys got bullied into it as well. I found myself shivering a lot that December, and not all of it was from the cold.

There comes a time with every repressed memory when it suddenly all comes rushing back. It happened to me during the course of this nude drawing class. I fell victim to the flu virus running around campus, and I ended up reliving the entire horrible event on my dorm-room bed. And, my turn as a nude model happened to come up on the Thursday after I got sick, and so, it was my good fortune to acquire a note from Student Health Services signed by a doctor that said I was excused from classes for a week, and longer if my fever stayed high.

And so, I did not have to get naked in front of 25 females plus Dr. Bro. She graciously accepted my doctor’s note. I eventually got a C in the class. So, I don’t know for sure that I didn’t get a grade penalty, but she was nicer to me than the other two guys who didn’t show up for their turns either. Neither of them were sick. And when we did finally get a nude male model, he was a senior Art Major who had also been ill a couple weeks before he posed, so he was actually wearing a long-underwear shirt and bluejeans.

So, I learned to draw nudes in that somewhat traumatic but also humorous situation in college. I learned that it had nothing to do with sexuality, and everything to do with seeing how light and shadow plays across the surfaces, and how that gives depth and a sense of form to the body you are drawing. And the genitals do not have to be depicted, but if they are they are not the focus of the work of art. And clothing is a whole other layer of complexity that you can’t possibly get right if you don’t know how everything underneath fits together. I also learned that Dr. Bro was stern and demanding because getting it right matters. Some of the Pre-Med students took that class (though none during the quarter I took it) because they needed to develop their hands and fingers to become surgeons, and you also don’t want surgeons who don’t know how it all fits together.

All of today’s artworks were chosen because they were drawn from real models. The third one, Her #2, is the only one where the model posed for me in person. Her boyfriend was my roommate in an efficiency apartment that had separate bedrooms and studies. She posed in his bedroom while he was also there. The one I have posted here is the copy of the pencil drawing, Her #1. I gave the original to her personally. She loved it.

The rest of these nudes were from photos of the model. The seventh and eighth pictures weren’t completely nude in the picture. The boy was wearing a very brief swimsuit, and the girl was wearing the bottom part of a bikini. I enjoy drawing nudes. And some of my nudist friends know that and appreciate it. But I am always careful about drawing from real people. Privacy issues and propriety issues make things complicated.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, humor, nudes, Paffooney

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