“To me, being a man just means being yourself”: five creatives share their thoughts on masculinity
It’s Nice That and Harry’s are partnering to challenge what being “a man” actually means. Last week, we hosted a life drawing event and exhibition that celebrates the diversity of the male form. Makings of a Man saw us bring together top creative talent and the It’s Nice That audience, to champion the qualities that make every man unique.
Last Tuesday, we held our life drawing event, Makings of a Man at Protein studios. Our life models were cast directly through the It’s Nice That website and the day aimed to challenge traditional and outdated views of masculinity. As part of the day, we asked five illustrators to celebrate our ten life models and capture their uniqueness on paper, which led to an evolving exhibition throughout the day. Below Fredrick Andersson, Juliana Futter, Alec Doherty, Cynthia Kittler and Josh McKenna tell us why they wanted to take part, how they approached drawing our models and what they learned.
Nude drawing has become my niche in some ways, so to get an offer to draw models all day was just heaven sent. I liked the idea that the models were not the typical ones you might encounter at a regular life drawing class. I’ve been to plenty in the past, but this class was less uptight and strict from the ones I had in college, where the tutor could creep up behind you only to hold up your drawing in front of the entire class to tell everybody what you had been doing was wrong.
During the sessions I started just doing sketching and drawing, but halfway through I felt a bit strange as I don’t really draw like that. So I asked for a pair of scissors and a pritt stick and started cutting shapes out of paper as I studied the models, making collages with blocks of colour that I then drew on top of. I tend to go in closer, and instead of drawing the full subject I focus on a cropped version putting focus on a particular part of the body, like the nipples, folds of a belly or butt cheek.
I really liked drawing Ant – he had a top hat and and I have an obsession with drawing body hair. I like a lot of the compositions I made during the event and it was fun to see the work of everybody else, it made me feel like I was in school again. I feel that after you graduate you run a risk of painting yourself into a corner as a lot of people might work on their own without input or opinion from other creatives.
In terms of what being a “man” means to me – honestly I am very split by it. I feel a disconnect with most things that mainstream media relates to being a man. I also come from a cold town in the north of Sweden where I got fed this view on what a man should be. So I wake up every day hoping to prove to people that you can be any kind of man you want, because I do not think there should be a set of rules that defines a person however much conservative society might want to.
Every now and again an advertisement pops up that reminds me that there is still a lot of work to be done. Especially with beauty standards needing to move away from putting white beauty above all others – people of colour and non binary males need their time in the spotlight, and not to be used as jokes but treated with respect.
I concentrated my last year of my masters at the Royal College of Art on exploring women’s bodies in particular, so this event was a nice chance for me to flip it around and concentrate on the varieties of the male form instead. The day was really fun and allowed me to just make a series of quick drawings which captured the models personality as there was no pressure to be technically accurate. I found myself focusing on the details of their facial expressions and bodies. Little quirks such as elements of their pose or tattoos help get across a bit more than a standard full body drawing.
Some faces and bodies are automatically easier to draw than others, but I particularly enjoyed drawing the heavily tattooed Nick and tried to get his body art across just as much as the figure of his body, it was like an illustration in an illustration. I especially enjoyed the PAJS 4 EVA tattoo on his bum; I just worked around that for the rest of the drawing.
It was great to meet a diverse group of artists and models making really great work and from the experience I will take a new confidence in drawing in front of strangers rather than hidden away in my studio. Taking part made me think that there shouldn’t be a prescribed notion of what a “man” is and people shouldn’t feel pressure to be or feel a certain way just because of their gender. Showing more diverse representations of men would be very useful to remove traditional stereotypes.
Similarly with portrayals of women in the media, with men, it’s all very fake and idealistic. A full range of body types, ethnicities and personalities need to be represented to show an accurate cross section of society. I think it’s starting to change though, slowly, but projects like this are a good starting point.
There’s a lot of ideas of what a man should or shouldn’t be, everyone has their own take, but being a man to me I guess just means being yourself. And being a man in an unbalanced society obviously affords you a lot of privilege, maybe part of that privilege is I don’t really think about it much – I just try and do my own thing. I think there’s a lot of stereotyping on the TV and in magazines about what it is to be a man, and it makes people feel they need to conform. I think there needs to be a much more diverse range of “men” represented in the mainstream that reflects reality.
This is why I wanted to get involved in Makings of a Man because it sounded like a fun project to be involved with and all the models were different – you could see a bit of their personalities in the way they chose to pose and the way they held themselves. Most of them had never done it before but they were all super chill, which created a really nice atmosphere and I think it shows in the the work everyone produced. The classes I can remember would always be quite formal and all the drawings would end up being quite similar in style. With this one I think everyone took a lead from the sitters and did their own thing which made for a really diverse range of work at the end of the day.
I tried to focus on that and bring out a little of that personality in my drawings and getting work down in a short time frame was a little bit challenging, but actually it was really good to make some marks and because of the time you’ve got to go with the mistakes.
Being a man or any other sex can be pretty much anything – I hope that gender stereotypes become less and less important. You see it in the media still in Germany whether it’s sleek male models in perfume ads or beer belly men for adverts about sausage. For this project, which celebrated the diversity of men, flying to London to draw naked men sounded great.
The last class I attended was years ago during my design studies. Makings of a Man was certainly different, as it wasn’t about learning how to draw a life model but more about playing with this very traditional practice. In my images I wanted to show personalities instead of bodies. As I didn’t know any of the men I just invented stuff based on what I read about them and perceived at that moment. Some of them brought accessories which made it fun to think of ideas. Also when I felt a pose was a bit difficult to draw I tried to distract from mistakes by drawing stuff around them!
Each of the models were great to draw and I really liked Martin who held a book in one pose and knitting needles in the next. They all did great poses, and were very bold in their choices. It was great to meet other artists that I already knew through their work in person and actually I would like to pursue life drawing again when I can – I fell in love with oil pastels.
The male form features quite heavily in my work so I thought taking part would be a great opportunity to draw from real life, I don’t normally have access to many naked bums. I’m also mostly a digital artist so I wanted to push myself to draw from eye and to show people that I am capable of more than vector work.
It took a couple of poses to get into but once I’d found my feet I was really enjoying filling the paper with close crops of the models’ body. I focussed on drawing parts of the men, rather than capturing the whole figure, I wanted to celebrate and capture each models’ most unique feature, whether it’s a rotund belly, a fold in a bum or the solid pecks and added a limited colour palette for shading and highlights.
Carl was the best model for me as he had an air of confidence and I really enjoyed his poses which was quite nice to capture. I learnt that each model had very different attributes and I found myself not just wanting to draw their bums but to capture what was best about them individually. The day has opened my eyes to how much you can capture cropping into an image.
I feel there’s a lot less pressure for a guy to be a “man” these days. The idea of gender stereotyping is quickly becoming a thing of the past, both for men and women, with figures like Grayson Perry in the public limelight, and the idea that kids are being taught early on that they can be anything they want to be. As we fight for equality and teach women the same, the role for a man to be a man is, I think, no longer a thing and this is starting to be reflected a lot in the media.
I class myself a “man” in most respects. I think I am fairly masculine (at least to look at), I’m big and I’m hairy and I like cars and beer, yet I’m a giant softy who enjoys watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race and listens to disco music. So for me, being comfortable in who you are is more important than being labelled “man”.
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About the Author
Rebecca became staff writer at It’s Nice That in March 2016 before leaving the company at the end of 2017. Before joining the company full time she worked with us on a freelance basis many times, as well as stints at Macmillan Publishers, D&AD, Dazed and frieze.