Illustration by Amber Li

Before coming to university, my only experience of life drawing was a few odd portraits that I did during my GCSEs, and they certainly weren’t of anyone in the nude. As a big art lover, I decided that second year was the time to return to one of my old hobbies.

I started asking around to see if anyone knew of any drawing classes or art societies, and I was surprised to discover that there’s actually a real buzz for life drawing in Cambridge. Lots of different groups across the city run all kinds of sessions, from formal classes to 12-week courses. There are even relaxed unsupervised sessions, like those run by the Architecture Society (ARCSOC). As a complete novice, I decided to give it a go and ended up absolutely loving it. It’s now something I’d recommend everyone try, regardless of artistic ability.

I absolutely loved the freedom that the session provided

With two friends, I went along to one of ARCSOC’s very relaxed Friday night life drawing classes, which run regularly throughout term in the architecture department. I absolutely loved the freedom that the session provided. There wasn’t anyone coming around to tell you that you were holding your charcoal wrong, or that your drawing was wildly out of proportion. Trust me, it doesn’t take an instructor to point out that my drawing skills are awful, or that in my sketch the arms looked a lot like legs. But regardless, I was able to get on with my own piece and take a nosey look at those around me, which was a really insightful way to catch a glimpse of other people’s drawing styles. Some were hatching away with very detailed pencil sketches made of fine lines, while others were working with large squares of charcoal in a very Matisse-esque fashion. Either way, there was no judgemental vibe – it was a very positive space to experiment with half-minute sketches, followed by progressively longer ones as the session went on and culminating in a half-hour detailed piece.

Illustration by Sapphire Demirsoz

While the drawing side of it was great fun, I wouldn’t just recommend life drawing in Cambridge as a way of trying out new sketching techniques or watching those of others. I genuinely think that it’s a great edition to any student’s week – after leaving the class, I felt so stress-free. In the pub after, my friends and I were discussing just how refreshing it was to see a nude body in a non-sexualised way and, moreover, to see the model holding normal, everyday positions. We’re so used to seeing stick-thin women sucking their bellies in and pulling their body into contorted angles to get the perfect magazine cover or Instagram shot, so to see a girl just move around and hold comfortable positions for the class was really refreshing.

Sure, the model for that session had an incredible figure, but the exercise demonstrated that we come in all shapes and sizes, and that taking the time to appreciate the human form is actually quite a necessary activity. We often chuck clothes on or off without really looking at our own bodies, let alone appreciating somebody else’s. The model in the session we went to had lovely hair, for example, but it’s the kind of thing you wouldn’t notice if she walked past in the street.

The experience also made me think about the meaning we attach to clothers – I found it hard to develop an idea of the model’s personality when she was naked, yet when she put her clothes back on, I soon generated a first impression based on style alone. All round, it was an eye-opening experience – even someone who doesn’t like art could gain a lot from trying it.


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With so many classes across Cambridge during the week, life drawing is the kind of activity that could fit into almost any schedule. Some classes, like the ARCSOC one I went to, are dominated by students, which is of course expected, but other slightly more expensive ones are perfect for more experienced artists and are attended by a greater mix of people. Whatever your preference, there’s lots of options to choose from in Cambridge, which is something we should really take advantage of.

After experimenting with life drawing once, it’s now part of my weekly schedule, so friends visiting my room had better get used to nude murals littering the walls. An evolving hallway of naked portraits is just the distraction I needed to space out a busy term. I’m sure it could do wonders for us all.

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