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.




How To Overcome Artistic Block


Has that nasty artistic block reared its ugly head and drained your creative juices?

Don’t worry this article will show you how to crush that artist’s block for good.!!!!

You ve drawn some quality drawings and you’ve taken some art courses. The skills are improving and the excitement to learn is growing. You can’t wait to tackle advanced topics like human figure drawing and portrait work.

But lately, you’ve noticed something. The quality of the work is declining and the passion is diminishing.

You wonder what’s going on.

Drawing and painting has lost its appeal and has become a difficult chore.

There isn’t enough time in the day to do everything you have to do to maintain your practice.

In fact, you wonder if creating quality art are within reach.

Self-doubt takes over …then you give up blaming lack of time for the reason.

But … Something deep inside of you wants to create beautiful artwork for all the world to see.

You have to continue on your artistic journey. That little voice inside of you says : “ I was born to create and nothing is going to stop me from showing the world my vision.”

Here are 3 steps to get back into drawing

1. Go back to your reasons for drawing in the first place.

What got you excited? Was it your first awesome drawing? An inspirational art instructor? A beginning art book? Just go back to Whatever it was that got you drawing in the first place and begin again. See if you can reignite the passion.

2. Get social

Form an artistic group either on social media or in your local community. Share your interests with like-minded people and offer to critique other’s work. Often creative work can be isolating endeavors and it doesn’t have to be. You are not alone, Just reach out to others who are feeling the same. Sometimes just connecting with people can help with burnout.

3. Try drawing simple objects.

Basic shapes: cones, squares, cubes, circles, spheres, and organic shapes,  are great for drawing more complex objects. Remember human figures, animals and buildings are just made up of basic shapes. Keep a journal and see if you can root out that negative self talk out of your head.


There are many reasons why you’ve stopped and some reasons are legitimate such as illness, money or other family obligations.

But…I suspect the main reason is … artistic block

Three main reasons why people give up on any creative endeavor

1. The lack of quality results. your artistic growth plateaus and the skill sets are not increasing. In fact, the skill sets may be diminishing. You ve forgotten how to draw those other drawings and now your drawings look like crap.

Self doubt happens to everyone. Go back and review your awesome drawings and believe you have the ability to learn. Artistic growth comes and goes in spurts. Even the experts feel like a complete beginner at times. Remember quality artwork takes time to develop

We all have our “bad drawing days”. Don’t equate bad drawings with lack of skill. We are not going for exhibition quality work. Art and drawing is supposed to be fun…right? Shut down the internal critic and remember you are learning.

Don’t give up!!

2. Others who started out the same time are doing better than you and some are selling their work

Yep… I’ve experienced this myself.

How to deal with it: Don’t compare yourself with others. Everybody was born with certain set of talents including you. Just pick up on where you left off with your lessons and continue on. If you feel feel really burned out take a break

3. Suffering from Burn out.

Can’t draw or even think about drawing anymore?

Try a different art form

Maybe pottery, maybe music

Or writing poetry or some other creative outlet.


Your brain like a computer needs to defrag and get rid of at the useless information stored up there.

You are not losing your skills you just need to reboot. Try hiking, exercising or another hobby such as photography or playing a musical instrument.

Just like working out if you focus on one muscle group the muscles will burn out. You have to vary the drawing exercises. For example, integrate drawing head lay ins with basic sketching or some other simple drawing exercise. Head work should not be followed up with drawing human figures for over 2 hours.

Once you’ve taken a break, the brain/body/emotion continuum will look at the problem in a different way. And, the brain will come up with a different solution to the problem.

“Creativity blocks” happens to everyone. Even the pros suffer from this

Steven King

Bob Ross

Agatha Christie

How to get those creative juices flowing.

First decide where the block stems from

1.  Limiting belief: We all have them find what yours are. A common belief among beginners is that you need to talent to create quality pieces of art. Not true.

2. Boredom: Get involved with a group or organize one and share your passions.

3. Lack of confidence: Practice, practice and practice some more. Focus on the process and not the result. Be sure to chart your progress. You are better than you think.

Reignite the Passion

Remember drawing is HARD to master. Art forms like Human figure and portrait work require lots of concentration and attention to detail. Even the expert artists take breaks every 20 minutes.

Michelangelo suffered from burnout. However, he painted and sculpted all the way up into his nineties.

Check out how famous artists kept their passions alive. 

“You would think that my work was not that wonderful once you know how much work went into creating it.”


Burn out happens to everyone. Remember why you started drawing in the first place and continue on with the journey!!!

Please share some of your ways of dealing with burn out in the comments below. What are some of your favorite activities to do outside of art and drawing?


Recommended reading

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

By Mason Currey

A great book that covers some daily habits of famous artists, writers and musicians. The book includes pictures of their work spaces and how they spent their days creating masterworks.

How long should you practice?

Here’s the simple answer…





Unfortunately….There is no set formula or amount of time to practice.  Depends on a number of factors.

  1. Your daily schedule. Are you a busy parent with lots of family commitments? Or a busy professional with little time for anything else?
  2. Your goals. Is drawing/art a hobby or a career pursuit?
  3. Your level of passion. Do you really like to draw? And willing to do what it takes to get good at it? Or do you think it will be a passing interest like your other endeavors/hobbies?

Here are some examples of practice sessions of other famous artists and musicians

  1. Jimi Hendrix practiced all the time. There was never a time he was without his guitar. He even slept with it.
  2. Mozart has been composing music since the age of 12. The length of practice sessions, unknown
  3. Da Vinci had no formal education beyond math reading and writing but his father appreciated his artistic talent and let him apprentice with the Italian Master Andrea del Verrocchio.
  4. Somerset Maugham: “I practice when only inspired. So I make sure that I am inspired every morning at 8 AM

These experts honed their craft on a daily basis either by working on commissioned pieces or just drawing on their own.  When they were students they copied their instructors and traced master collections. You should strive to do the same.

What to do when you have so much to do?

Ideally, Start off with a half-hour to an hour each day and focus on what to practice.

For example,  plan on practicing 20 minutes on simple geometric forms: circles, ellipses, cones and cubes. Then  practice figure and head drawing exercises. As a beginner look for simple objects to draw around the house: desks, chairs, tables and appliances.

On the Next day,  focus on speed. Practice drawing those common objects  at various angles and levels. Then gradually shave that down to 20 minutes, 15, 10, 5, etc. Don’t worry about the quality at this point just the process of practicing.

There are plenty of beginning art books that can give you ideas on what to practice.

Believe me the quality will be probably better than you think. Gradually you’ll see some improvement.

Remember we are striving for improvement not exhibition quality work.  Focus on the little wins and forget about the failures. Learn from them. But don’t dwell on them.

What Does the early days of Space Exporation have to do with art?

Failure Is Part of the Journey!!

Don’t fear it embrace it.


This was a bad launch day!!

Look up those videos on Youtube and watch the disasters the engineers faced with those early launches. Keep in mind each disaster was a step closer to space.

Same with drawing or any other endeavor each mistake is closer to quality work. It just takes time.  Even if you lack the talent the brain will find “workarounds” and soon you’ll be drawing quality pieces of art.

Ok… Now that you have an idea on how to practice

Set up a practice schedule

1. Go get a calendar and mark down the times when you are going to practice and stick to it.

Obviously, you’ll have to workout a schedule based on you other responsibilities.

But…If you can dedicate a 30 minutes per day that’s a great start. Carry a little sketch book around with you on those extra busy days. You can practice sketching basic objects cubes, spheres and cylinders while waiting in line at the grocery store or an appointment. Practice sketching basic objects around you trees, cars, buildings and even people. Or just draw cubes and cylinders in different positions.

2. Set-up your drawing space

A lot of creative types use a starting ritual. I start off with a, cup of coffee, a quick workout, and  a cold shower. Some creatives wear a favorite article of clothing or  use incense etc. Do something  that gets the mind focused on the task.

Make sure loved ones, room mates and pets etc. understand that once you are in your drawing space you are not to be disturbed:

From the hours of 9-1 1 am or from – 4p to 8p is your practice session and make sure you stick to it. At the end of the session practice is over … period. Put away the supplies clean up the space open the door, anything that indicates that the session is over.

Bonus tip: at the end of the session you set up more goals for the next session. That way you can just jump right in without thinking about what you are going to. Remember you are on a tight schedule. 

Hey I am a Creative type and I don’t like regimentation


If this is too regimented and you are not the regimented type then try to practice a little each day fifteen minutes or so.  Whenever you can find the time. Even a few minutes  a day is better than nothing.

Honestly,  to see real progress you are going to have to set up a practice schedule.  Without some kind of structure it’s really going to be hard to stick to your goals and monitor your progress. Be sure to date your work so that you can see the progress.

3. Develop an accountability group

Find a group of like minded people that are on the same path you are on. It would be nice to find a leader that is further along but if this is not possible consider developing your own group. You should be encouraging other and holding each other accountable; what did you practice this week? Or what did you do?  You could do it online or meet in a library anywhere really a park bench could do the trick. Nothing fancy. If you cannot find a space then do it on zoom or FaceTime.


Make sure you take some breaks.

Neuroscientists state that most people can only focus a 1/2 hour on an complex activity after that the mind begins to wander.

When that happens take a break. There is no sense in fighting it. Your mind will wonder even more. As your skills increase the ability to concentrate for longer periods will increase as well.

Some people can focus for longer periods and some shorter. The bottom line is to stick to the plan and implement it. Remember…I am going to drill this into your head

Don’t neglect your health!! 

Be sure to exercise, stretch, do some core exercises, sit ups, planks etc. Check out some Yoga videos or sign up for personal training sessions. I’m being serious have to maintain a healthy lifestyle if you really want to progress in your training.  Sitting for long periods of time, (over an hour),  hunched over a desk or easel is hard on the posture and bad for your back. It’s very easy to get caught up in the practice and spending over 2 hours in the same position. Time does fly when you are having fun.

But…your back will not forgive you.


There are some ergonomic desks and chairs that can help with posture issues on Amazon. Lot’s of artists and writers use standing desks to vary the positions.





You’ll hear me say over and over again.

Make this your mantra. Pin over your desk. Some days the drawings will look great and others well you get the idea.

Believe with practice the skills will improve along with the quality of the art.

Think of it like exercising or training for a marathon art training is no different. The quality will improve over time. Maybe you can only run 2 miles or even less. But with practice you’ll build up the endurance and soon you be doing 10 miles, 15 20 miles etc.

I know that some of the instruction and training can be repetitive and boring but believe me  this is how the masters did it. Developing muscle memory is KEY to mastering any activity including art.

Here’s to happy drawing

Be sure to share some of your practice rituals and what has worked for you and how long it took.


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