How to Practice Drawing: Do you need a live model to practice life drawing?

That’s the question on every beginner’s mind. Should a student use a Life model or photograph? What is the best way to learn to draw human figures and portraits?

I posed this question in different online forums and social media groups. And here are some of the answers

  1. Pick inanimate subjects: buildings, furniture, cars or sculptures
  2. Ask friends and family to pose for you
  3. Draw your own figure and portrait using a full-length mirror.
  4. Host a drawing party where everybody agrees to model for each other
  5. Pitch in with other people for a model
  6. Draw people at the store or on the street.

I dove into the wonderful world of portrait and human figure drawing during the lock down. I scoured the Internet and watched YouTube art tutorials until my eyes fell out. A lot of those artists used photo references to draw from and it seemed like a good way to learn. After all where is a beginner going to find a life model during the quarantine? And how are they going to practice drawing?.

This article will address the advantages and disadvantages of using photo references vs. life models and why using a life model is the ONLY way to learn. Keep in mind “life models” don’t mean living and breathing people. Life models also includes still life such as buildings, and fruit.

How to practice life drawing without a model

I brought many books on drawing and developed some portrait and human figure drawing skills. But,  I still couldn’t draw on my own and needed to refer to the tutorial for step-by-step instruction. I also discovered that using the techniques covered in that tutorial didn’t apply to other subjects such as landscapes, cartoons, and illustrations. And my other portraits didn’t come out …great at all.

I started thinking what is the point of drawing from a photograph? You are just making a copy. Where’s the originality or the art? I can achieve the same result by taking a picture with a camera.

Then I came across a website that offered to teach art and drawing in the comfort of your own home. The program was taught by classically trained art tutors, that were educated in European art schools.

A Unique Way To Learn How to Draw:

What intrigued me was their philosophy of teaching. Most online videos drew from photographs using the grid method, proportional dividers and site measurement. The life drawing academy didn’t use any of those methods. In fact, they spoke out against those methods stating that it would stunt the artistic growth. Instead, they emphasized drawing from knowledge of the subject and using comparative measurement to draw realistic pictures of human figures and portraits. once the student develops intricate knowledge of human anatomy then they can draw accurate images of the human form.

But what if you do not have access to a life model or you can’t afford one?

Most Life drawing classes are on hold throughout the USA because of the pandemic. And life models charge $200.00/hr to pose.

So is it possible to learn to draw human figures without a model?

The short answer is yes.

However, There is so much to learn about drawing before delving into the subject of human figure and portrait drawing. Any kind of drawing requires mastery of basic concepts such as perspective, overlapping, shadow, etc. And some concepts are covered on this site. These topics are certainly not exhaustive but are applicable to advance work.

And even then….. Portrait and figure drawing has its own special challenges that must be mastered to render realistic images based on knowledge of the subject. Once armed with this knowledge then the student can draw from life and imagination without relying on copying or using measuring instruments.

The “Bowl of Fruit”: An alternative to live models

Why do artists draw bowls of fruit?

Still life such as a bowl of fruit is a great learning tool to draw anything. Fruit such as oranges, grapes, bananas, etc. represent the basic shapes and forms that will be used in figure and portrait drawing. Also, bowls of fruit are patient models and don’t need breaks from posing.

In fact any inanimate object is fair game to study drawing. Don’t limit yourself to fruit and vegetables. Consider kitchen items, trees, bushes and objects in a park are great subjects to draw

But what about using a life model vs. a photograph?

Well here’s the longer answer..

Photographs offer a limited view of the subject. They don’t show the real rendering of the person only a two dimensional view. Drawing from the live model shows the actual shapes of the arms, legs, feet, and  toes, etc  Plus, what is the point of copying a picture? You are basically drawing a picture of a picture.

Live model offers more nuances than a photograph or a piece of sculpture. Most schools of art argue that drawing from photographs limits your skill development in fine art.

According to Life Drawing Academy, “When it comes to drawing from photos the artist limits his learning opportunities. The student learns how to copy instead of learning how to draw from imagination or life. In fact, the student may never develop these skills and will be limited to restoring or copying pictures. A photo or painting restorer is a fine profession but if you want to produced original works of art then drawing from life subjects is the way to go.



We covered the advantages and disadvantages to drawing from life and photos.

The question was ‘Do you need a life model to learn how to draw? Yes you do,  if you want to learn to draw from the imagination or life. But if you want to restore old paintings and pictures then copying is fine.

The advantages:

  • Live models offers a realistic 3 dimensional view of the subject
  • Using life models helps the beginner to develop drawing skills to be used later for advance topics

The disadvantages:

  • Live models cost money
  • May be hard to find due to the lockdown

Here are the alternatives to professional life models

  • Use still life or other inanimate objects
  • Ask friends and family to pose for you
  • Offer to pose for fellow artists in exchange for posing for them.

Where to find fellow beginning artists?

  • Try searching for local forums on line and seek others that live near you
  • Start a group of your own using the MeetUp app. Great way to start any group and a great way to find fellow artists just like you
  • Check out local community centers that offer art classes and see if anybody is interested in meeting at your home for life drawing sessions.

Remember there are other ways to find life subjects to draw. Don’t let the excuse of lack of money or resources to resort using photo references or pictures. Seek out the life subjects now! Bowls of fruit, kitchen appliances, cars, street scenes etc. And don’t forget about asking family, friends and fellow artists. Also, consider starting your own ART group on social medial such as facebook, and Pintrest.

Wait for a future article on sketching!!

Let me know in the comments some of your ways of finding life models or other subjects to draw.


The Secret To Drawing Portraits: The basic Loomis heads

Andrew Loomis was an illustrator and art instructor in the 1920s and 30s. He developed a system for drawing basic heads and figures for advertisements, magazines, and fashion illustrations. His system is still used today by art students, illustrators, and animators all over the world.



This system can help the budding portrait artist draw as well.

REMEMBER: Loomis Heads are just aids for drawing portraits

The previous lessons for portrait drawing are great ways to get STARTED but that’s all that those lessons are… a start. There’s a lot more to drawing realistic portraits than presented in that lesson and that’s what we are going to cover here.

We are adding another layer of practice to drawing heads and faces.

Remember I am a beginner like you … never drawn before in my life and I was able to achieve some decent results. Check out this portrait of Christopher Walken.


Graphite drawing of Christoper Walken

Yes, I know very smudgy…


Is it a great drawing? Or classically drawn?  Of course not but look at the likeness. What does this prove? That quality art is within reach for ANYBODY. The question is

“Are you willing to do what it takes to master the craft?”

These portraits were drawn by a beginner with nothing more than a graphite pencil in an ordinary sketchbook.

Do you want to know what the key ingredient is for drawing ANYTHING?

I will reveal the secret….later

But for now, get out your sketchbook pen or pencil, piece of paper, or whatever it is your draw with.

Caution: Use a light touch in all these drills

  1. Take the pencil and start drawing circles. Just plain simple circles. Draw about 20 of them or more. Feeling ambitious? draw a hundred more. Fill up the page with circles and draw them on the other side of the paper. Do the circles have to be perfect? Not really but try to make them as round as you can.
  2.  Next, draw some ellipses. Heck, draw one hundred of them as well. Different sizes until you fill-up the page. Do you remember how to draw an ellipse? Try drawing them in different positions for example laying on their sides at an angle etc.
  3. Finally, draw a bunch of cubes

“Circles, spheres, boxes, and cylinders are present in all portraits and figure drawings. Get comfortable drawing these shapes”

How are you doing? Is your hand getting cramped? Try drawing them with your whole arm from the shoulder. Or if you are feeling a little adventurous try drawing them with a non-dominate hand.

Use Large Format paper: 18 x 24 Smooth

Large format paper is ideal to practice with. It’s cheap and plentiful. Plus it helps with drawing bigger portraits and pictures. Commercial artists use it when they’re outlining a painting for Commission. Budding portrait artists will use it to develop their drawing skills.

I want you to get your whole body Into the drawing process. Put the pad in an easel and draw standing up. Or buy a drawing board such as this and lean it up against a chair or desk. You can purchase a drawing board from Amazon. Incidentally, this is what the Ateliers or drawing studios recommend drawing with.

Now stop and take a break.

Exercise, Exercise

Remember to take care of your back and do some exercises.


Do some Yoga or core exercises.

All done with the exercises?

Great, let’s continue on.

Now draw some more circles about ten of them.

The next thing we are going to draw is the cross of the face.

Like this




This is the best way to master drawing.

On the first circle draw a centerline down the middle then draw another line dividing the circle in half.

On the next circle draw the vertical line a little to the right of the center. Like this. Then draw a horizontal line across the circle like this.



Finally, draw a vertical line to the left of the center like this.

Now we will finish this drill by drawing the rest of the head in ¾ view.

Look at the Loomis Book for Heads and notice we drew the same heads look at the Loomis Book you’ll see we drew the same heads. Practice these heads over and over again until you can see the heads turning to the left and the right and looking down and up.

The Profile

Let’s draw some more circles

Next, quarter the circle

Then draw another line from the top of the circle out a 1/4 distance from the edge of the circle like this.



Finish drawing the rest of the head in profile.

That’s it for this drill.

Remember to do these drills over and over again.

Here’s the secret to drawing portraits as promised.

The secret is a DESIRE to learn. That’s it.

DESIRE is a pretty powerful ingredient. And can make up for lack of talent.

To master anything: music, sports, etc is to practice over and over again until these moves become ingrained. Natural. Like breathing. Do you think when you breathe? Of course not. you just do it. That’s how drawing these heads should be, automatic like tying your shoes.

Drawing Loomis Heads are Challenging..But don’t get discouraged!!

The plates from the book are difficult to draw so don’t feel bad if you can’t achieve a good likeness. In the above lessons, we did not draw in the features: nose, mouths, ears, and eyes. That’ll be done on another day. Right now get comfortable doing these drills.

  1. Draw the circle
  2. Find the cross of the face at different angles
  3. Finish off the head by including the jawline and hairline

But if you want to add the features, then go ahead.

Remember it’s all about the process, not the result. And I’ll bet your drawings look better than you think.

Don’t be discouraged if your drawings lack quality. The quality will come with practice. Just keep up the passion and the desire to learn.


I have another assignment for you. Look in the newspapers, magazines, or find some pictures of people’s heads and faces on Pinterest. Find the centerline and the cross of the face, and divide up the face into thirds.

Here’s to happy drawing and see you on the next drill.

How did this lesson go for you? I hope you found the secret to drawing portraits lesson helpful. Please share some of the drills that have worked for you. I am always looking for other ways to learn. What I am trying to do is to come up with lessons and drills that are beginner-friendly and effective for learning how to draw.




Are You a Beginner?

The term “beginner” is thrown around loosely on the internet and art books. The word seems to have different meanings for different people.

Here’s my definition of a “True Beginner”

  • You have no idea what art is in fact you can barely use a pencil or pen. ( Thank god for smartphones and text messaging.)
  • You might have some pictures hung on your wall.
  • You’ve been to an art museum once or twice in your life.
  • You think that it takes “talent” to learn how to draw.
  • You just want to learn how to draw.
  • If any of these conditions fit you then you are in the right place

Click here to begin your journey



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