Gesture Drawings from Life


I’m trying something new with my RISD Project Open Door students this year.  The program provides a sketchbook for every student, so I thought it would be nice to check in with the students on a more formal basis about what they’re doing in their sketchbooks. I don’t give assignments, as I want their sketchbooks to be a personal space where they can do what they want, but I’m talking to each student individually every week to see what they are up to.


Looking at someone’s sketchbook is always an eye opening experience.  I’ve only had these students for a few weeks, so I don’t know them that well yet, but seeing their sketchbooks definitely gave me insight into their interests and who they are as artists.

However, across the board, I didn’t see a single drawing that was drawn from life.  Everything was either drawn from imagination or drawn from a photograph. Even after all of these years of teaching,  it still surprises me that at the high school level, it never occurs to students to draw what’s right in front of them.

One of my students did these hand drawings, and when I asked them what their reference was for the hands, he said he drew them from another artist’s drawings off YouTube. In my eyes it seems crazy that you have an a hand attached to your body that you have 24-7 access to, and yet upon deciding that you want to draw a hand, you wouldn’t even consider drawing your own hand.

I realized after telling every student that I wanted to see them do at least a few drawings from life every week, that I better practice what I preach. So I’m trying to make a much more concerted effort to sneak in a few minutes of life drawing every day, even if it’s just 5 minutes at breakfast. is a free website for learning visual arts which features video tutorials, art critiques, and more.

4 thoughts on “Gesture Drawings from Life

  1. Yes!!!

    I am a high school art teacher in CA, and I have learned that I have to specifically tell students to work from life. Nevertheless, it also continues to surprise me. I even have had to remind my more advanced students to get out the still life objects they were looking at yesterday in order to finish their paintings, and not just paint the vase they remember.

    Thank you for your newsletters and videos. They are so helpful and insightful!


    Katy Bernheim

    cell: 415.505.4468

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