Something exciting happened during life drawing class last week. It was a tutored life drawing session, normally we just turn up and draw, but this time we had Ian Barlow run the session: offering us advice, tips and guidance as we drew. Ian is such a nice teacher, he will be totally honest with you, but in a very soft and gentle way.

Our model for the night was Elsie, a girl who always makes the poses her own. She has that essence I adore, where you can feel she’s in the moment, in the pose, not just posing if that makes sense. It’s hard to describe, but not all the models at life drawing have this essence. With Elsie now in various standing poses, Ian got us to do some quick sketches.

Life Drawing with Ian Barlow, Quick Sketches from 2015 by Artist Sophie Lawson

These were all two to five minutes long, and as we drew, Ian walked around giving advice. I was really enjoying it, I stuck to using pencils, but opted to use my Staedtler Mars clutch pencils instead of mechanical pencils. The thicker leads allowing for more gestural lines. I could have done these quick sketches all night, I find them really hard, but so rewarding, due to the time constraint. I’d love to go to a class where we do hours upon hours of them, but after about four fifth one, it was time to move onto the longer pose.

– Ian Barlow

I had a really nice moment during this longer pose, as I was drawing, Ian was standing behind me and said, “I’m liking that line you’ve got going on there. It was then that something cool happened. It made me feel like all those hours upon hours of gesture drawing were slowly beginning to pay off. Ian was referring to the line of Elsie’s left leg, which was wrapping around the top of the sofa.

Life Drawing with Ian Barlow, 2015 Drawing by Artist Sophie Lawson

The line is the one that flows from Elsie’s waist, curves up around her bum, over the top of the sofa before actually becoming part of the sofa itself. If you look at the negative space of the sofa, instead of Elsie, you can see this continuous line much better. I know it’s only one line, but it really made me realise for the first time, not just how important gesture drawing is, but also that daily practice is key; even when you feel like you’re not making progress.

I’ve had weeks/months where I’ve felt like my gesture drawings were just not evolving. I use the website QuickPoses and normally study with a thirty – sixty second time limit. Anything longer and I tend to start thinking too much, loosing some of that spontaneousness I enjoy in the quick gestures. Over fifty sketchbooks later, and I was still very rarely seeing any progress.

I kept at it though – practice, practice, practice! So to actually have this moment where Ian noticed and pointed out a gesture line in my drawing – it was very motivating. The goal now is to produce a drawing where all of the lines, not just one, flow effortlessly like this; best buy some more sketchbooks :)

Ian Barlow returned to run our class in November 2016.


Thomas Merton