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.


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