Loving life

Pastel-nude©Ged Rumak

Woodford Arts Group member Ged Rumak explains his love of life drawing and why he thinks a good portrait is more than just a representation of the subject

The BBC is wrong to think it is bringing life drawing to the masses in Life Drawing Live! Life drawing is inherent in art education for the simple reason that working from a live model is a unique, complex experience.

A life study is a record of the relationship that exists between the artist and the sitter. To put out a programme of life drawing, even with expert tuition in the studio, ignores this relationship, looking at the image of the model on a flat screen as if it were a photograph. In drawing, the aim is to have no obstacles between the subject and the eye, the eye and hand, and the hand and paper.

Painting portraits expands this relationship between two individuals, one that unfolds as the two people involved get to know each other – through time. One of the strengths of a portrait is that all of us change all of the time – emotion, energy levels, responsiveness. This problem is felt by artist and sitter; we all feel different day to day.   

A good portrait wants to give you more than just a representation of someone. It wants to break the rules, to achieve the impossible by using such little means as a piece of carbon, charcoal or ground-up pigment to capture something of a living person, something hidden and unseen in a sitter, often giving the viewer the same jolt of recognition you get when spotting someone you know in the street. Nothing like photography, it still feels like the artist is presenting you with facts.

None of us knows what we look like. Of course, we see ourselves in the mirror every day, but that is a deceptive form that presents us reversed with our features carefully arranged in a way that pleases us. But, in the end, you are what you look like.

Painting from photographs is by far the most common form of figurative painting these days. In this time-short world, painting dogmatically from life is not always possible, and so, using photographs as an ‘aide memoir’ is a practical devise. But pure copying from a flat, two-dimensional image more than misses the point.

Nothing comes close to painting and drawing the figure from life in a studio.

Woodford Arts Group’s spring exhibition will take place at Packfords Hotel, 16 Snakes Lane West, Woodford Green, IG8 0BS from 29 to 31 May, open from 11.30am to 8pm daily. For more information on Woodford Arts Group and its members, visit woodfordartsgroup.org