Drawing and Painting from Life

William Cadenhead
Teaching Fellow, School of Fine Art
Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design

When Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design was first validated for a Degree Course in Fine Art, the Assessors concluded that our major strength was in Drawing. This applied mainly to Life Drawing, which fortunately Dundee has retained as a major study despite its demise in other UK colleges.

As a Drawing and Painting tutor in the School of Fine Art at DJCAD I have a passionate belief in Drawing from Life as a means of formal training in drawing, where the values can be taught which enable the student to more rapidly progress his or her experience in this area of study. Included in this would be: the opportunity to witness and study by analysis structures, one in articulation with another; the employment of formal values used in a graphic language; recreating what is three-dimensional in the subject (the figure) on a two-dimensional surface through illusionistic synthesis; balance and poise; tonal perspective; linear perspective; colour delineation; atmosphere; modelling and applied anatomy.

The subtlety and complexity of drawing from the human figure provides an experience which must enable the student to bring together many parts in forming a synthesised statement of forms. The overall integrity of this is always tantamount to the work and the study of parts should not diminish this but enrich the totality of form. The most meaningful experience stemming from this activity is a control and understanding of the abstract relationship of structures. Once control is gained in this area one can develop within these structures whatever content one requires. The more practical we can keep our study the more aesthetic it will be.

When I was a student at Dundee College of Art in Bell Street as it was then, Drawing from Life was a main subject. Complementary to drawing sessions in daytime we usually had two other compulsory evening classes. The keen student would also attend another two extramural classes in the later part of the evenings. So we did a lot of drawing and had an insatiable appetite for it. My first three months as a student at the Royal Academy Schools in Burlington House, London were devoted entirely to drawing.

The Nude continues as a timeless art form. In Art College practice, painting from the Life Figure also serves as a formal training in tone/colour relationships, overall atmospheric values, drawing with paint and resolved modelled form. In my time as a student, Figure Painting had more importance as an examinable subject and many hours of study were in that area. During the Scottish Diploma of Art in Painting examinations, an entire week was devoted to this study. At present the Fine Art student may paint only one image from Life during Second Year unless he or she elects to employ the Figure as their Specialised Subject for the Fine Art Degree. In Life Painting we are using the Human Figure as the subject matter. The convenience of this in Studio Practice with a group of students is that all the students work from the same Life Model and a common point of reference.

There is no form more subtle and varied in character than the Human Form. The experience gained in drawing or painting from the Life Figure is unparalleled in the rendering of its grace, beauty and complexity. As a form of study it should equip the student with an ability to define in graphic terms and paint any other subject encountered.


Copyright William Cadenhead 2003

William Cadenhead
Untitled Nude, 1956

This painting was the first done in the new Art College building on Perth Road. It was selected for the College Collection but has since disappeared. We would be grateful for any information on its whereabouts - please contact the Curator (click on the Contact Us link at the top for contact details).

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