The Drawing from Life Survival Guide

Armand Cabrera

I originally wrote this for the site, ConceptArt. The information applies to anyone though and I thought it worthwhile topic for the blog.

It seems like there are many artists who want to start drawing from life to help improve their skills. Having drawn from life for quite a few years now, I thought I would create this simple guide to help you survive the cruel world out there. These guidelines have helped me draw for many years hopefully they will help you too.
Before we start the list; here is a little tip you might not know about if you are starting out. Everyone is familiar with pens, pencils, erasers and sharpeners but keep a razor blade handy also. This little tool will allow you to go back and slice out any offending pages that the eraser just can’t get clean enough. Trust me there will come a time you will want it.

1 Be Discreet
Unless you are an A type extrovert that craves an audience look for places you can blend in and people might not notice you stealing their souls by making an image of them. I always try to find a place to draw from where people cannot sneak up on me from behind. When you first start out there is nothing worse than having a bunch of people commenting on your work and your ability while standing right behind you and acting like you can’t hear them.

2 Some places to draw
Public squares, parks, coffee shops, pubs, The bus station, the airport, the train station, just about any mass transit system. You can also stay home and draw using a wardrobe mirror or set up casts or a still life. Family and friends are usually good for poses especially on holidays or special occasions

3 Sketchbooks are not Aphrodisiacs
While there are men and women attracted to artistic types. Beware. We are artists for a reason and usually that reason is a lack of badassness in the Mixed Martial Arts sense of the word. Nothing will get you in more trouble than drawing the wrong person’s significant other as a naked forest elf. While artists are naturally attracted to beauty, drawing someone in public when their jealous spouse is near could get you a black eye. Be aware, and size up any potential threats before you start to draw that cute person you see across from you in a sexy come hither pose from your imagination.

4 Flattery is smarter than Caricature.
Resist the urge to make that person who looks like a character from the Narnia movies, a character from the Narnia movies. This could put you into the same situation as #3 you also don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings if they happen to see you’ve drawn them as Cthulu.

5 Draw in Groups.
If you can find a group of likeminded artists, it is allot more fun to draw in a crowd. This isolates you and people are more reluctant to disturb a group allowing you to focus and actually get some drawing done. Also in groups you can just draw the people you are with since you will all be holding the pose for roughly the same amount of time.

6 Don’t be a Statistic
If people aren’t your thing and you feel like drawing landscapes make sure you don’t sit on the side of the road. Doing so will possibly get you killed by someone who is driving and texting and didn’t notice you there. Seriously it could happen. If you must draw on the road at least put your car between you and any potential traffic and sit far enough ahead of it, that if an idiot does hit it they don’t push it on top of you.

7 Be Prepared
There is nothing worse than getting to your favorite drawing spot and realizing you left your sketchbook at home two hours away. Organize a setup that will allow you to carry everything you need in some sort of satchel or backpack all at once. Have extra pens pencils erasers and sketchpads. Before you leave check it to make sure you have everything you need. When you get home replenish your supplies so the next time you go out everything will be there for you to create your masterpiece.

8 Have Fun
Drawing is hard. Drawing in public from life is even harder. That being said, leave your bad attitude at home. If drawing is such a chore then find something else to do. People that are interested in art don’t need their head bitten off because you are having a bad day. Fall in love with the process and realize nobody draws as well as they want to. Set aside the time for drawing and make an effort to improve one thing about your work every time you practice.

9 Create a Legacy
Every time you start a sketchbook put the date in the front of it. This does two things it lets you look back a few years from now and see how you’ve improved and it will let you know if you’ve been slacking because there is nothing new in it for six months. It is good to have a record of your work.

10 Take the Money
Value what you do, if you draw outside long enough, eventually someone will ask you what you charge for your work. Have an answer! You never know if that person could potentially launch your career and how they dress is not a good indicator of how much they are worth. Decide before you go out what you would say to someone if they either ask to buy what you are doing or they want to commission you to do something for them. I don’t know is not an answer.

8 thoughts on “The Drawing from Life Survival Guide

  1. Excellent post!
    good advice here. Some folks ask me 'how much'
    I'll shrug and say,'I dunno' at that point they smile and move on.
    Thats where I do the Chris Farley thing and bang my head against the wall.
    Not that I'm looking to sell, It just make me feel amateurish.
    (and I want to be professional:)

  2. Good advice and good post…i do however have many friends who were boxers or martial artists in past lives…it has come in handy….me…I run fast!

  3. Thanks for the good advice Armand. Sketching for sketchings sake often gets lost behind all the other art stuff. Some of the sketching I do when working up to a painting is sometimes stronger than the painting. The old joke when asked how much is to reply, "Mmmm, how much ya got?" 😉

  4. Hey, Armand, I still remember a few fun evenings when you and I were out sketching in public and broke one or two or your rules!

  5. I like you! I think it is so sad that so many artists do not draw from life. (It shows that YOU do)–I find that many artists feel it is some sort of chore–(?) I can usually see at a glance the paintings that are painted by people who understand how light falls on an object. so important. Thanks for trying to inform people!

  6. Are there any ownership issues with sketching random people or buildings?

    If I sketch a person at a coffee shop and that person wants the picture claiming 'That's me and it belongs to me', who owns my picture?

    In the same vein, if I'm at Balboa Park in San Diego and do a painting of their architecture, does Balboa Park own my painting because they own the building I'm depicting or because I'm painting something on their property?

    Just curious,


  7. As I understand it, if the sketches or paintings are for private use its no problem. If you plan to sell or commercially market the work then usually a release is needed to keep people from claiming infringement. Public spaces can't be copyrighted so buildings are okay, private property out of the public view might be another matter.

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