You may remember back in late 2014 we held a life drawing show with the lovely Mike Perry in which some of our more adventurous readers shed their clothes to be drawn by a panel of pro illustrators. Well the whole experience got us thinking about life drawing in general and its evolution in the art world. So we went about researching and interviewing people on both sides of the easel to find out why life drawing matters and what both camps get out of it.
The resulting essay needed images; a visual accompaniment that gave a sense of lightheartedness to the subject that was neither artful photography nor archetypal life drawing sketches. So we called on Dan Stafford to help us – a man with a wealth of experience in drawing the human form. Here’s how he went about it…
What was the brief for this piece?
I suppose it was to visualise some of the in-jokes of life drawing for people who’ve done it – perhaps at art school. Or at a hen night. The motifs that I chose to illustrate were based on particular quotes pulled from the accompanying article, mostly about body image or what parts of a person’s physicality they choose to fixate on. The common theme throughout all the images was one of objectification, literally turning the body into a thing or an image.
Did you read the article the whole way through before starting?
Gasp! Outrageous! Of course. I never start sketches until I’ve read the accompanying text a couple of times. I print it out and highlight and circle bits with pen and everything. I’m too scared of missing a good idea hidden in the text or saying something that contradicts the meaning of the text to not read it through first.
How do you normally start work on a commission?
Panic. Then after an hour or so looking at a blank page in my sketchbook with the text printed out next to it I start to draw things based on sentences I’ve pulled from the text. From these I get a better idea of what the core visual joke or metaphor is for the brief and I can expand and adjust this idea into more specific images that say something to the viewer immediately.
Talk us through your process, do you go straight to the computer or sketch by hand first?
I always start on paper with a pencil away from the screen. I find it hard to think of ideas with the monitor glowing in my face. I usually OK the ideas with the art director as a really, really bad pencil sketch that explains the idea. It’s only when I move into Adobe Illustrator that I start to gather images for references and actually figure out the specifics of the composition and pose etc.
"I really love life drawing. It’s great because it actually teaches you to observe the thing you’re trying to record rather than drawing what you *think* something looks like. It’s very honest and quite therapeutic."Dan Stafford
What are your own experiences of life drawing?
I really love life drawing. It’s great because it actually teaches you to observe the thing you’re trying to record rather than drawing what you think something looks like. It’s very honest and quite therapeutic. I had to do it in every year except the last of my degree at least twice a week. I miss it actually. If there was a place to do it in London that wasn’t filled with hen parties and posturing GCSE art teachers I’d totally go. Also, I’m really good at it; even better when I’m drunk or hungover, which I was 67% of the time I was at university.
Ever done any nude modelling?
I don’t know. Do dating apps count? If so then yes, and much like Jennifer Lawrence, the photographic evidence is probably being leaked from my iCloud as we speak.
You’ve recently launched your own magazine, what was the main difference between working for yourself and working for us?
Yeah I have, it’s an illustrated biannual about the surprising stories objects can tell us. The main difference about doing a brief for someone else is that the final decision about what ideas ultimately make it to the page aren’t up to me. This is both a blessing and a curse; most of the time my favourite ideas, or the ones I think I could execute best don’t get picked. Having said that, it’s great to have someone make those decisions so you have to improvise and make the best image you can. Often the final outcomes surprise me because they’re more successful than I thought they were going to be and ultimately work better than my initial favourite idea.