Glossary of life model terms

This page provides a handy list of terms commonly used in relation to figure drawing and life modeling.

For any art terms not listed here, see ArtLex Art Dictionary or Art In Canada: Art Terms and Definitions.

Poseur standing, front view, study for "Les poseuses" (1887) by Georges Seurat. Public domain.

Poseur standing, front view, study for “Les poseuses” (1887) by Georges Seurat. Public domain.

Anatomical drawings – Drawings showing the some aspect of the “inside” of the human body, such as the musculature, that are presented for educational purposes. An understanding of human anatomy is integral to serious life drawing.

Art model – Models who pose for artists, to aid in the creation of a work of art. See Artist model, Figure model, Life model. See Wikipedia: Model (Art).

Artist model – Another name for an Art model.

Asymmetry – Poses where the body is not symmetrical. Artists generally find asymmetrical poses more aesthetically pleasing to draw.

Atelier – French for “workshop.” Refers to a fine art workshop where a professional artist trains a small number of students. See Wikipedia: Atelier.

Body casting – The process of wrapping a model in plaster bandages, which are then used to create a three-dimensional, life-sized copy of the model.

Cast shadow – A Shadow created when an object blocks a light source. What non-artists think of by the word shadow. See Shadow, Form shadow. Cast shadows have hard edges and are well defined, in contrast to form shadows, which are soft and less defined.

Charcoal stick – A porous stick made from uncompressed charcoal, used for preliminary sketches. Vine charcoal is dark gray, and willow charcoal is black. Available in a range of widths, such as thinmediumthick, and jumbo, ranging from about 0.11 to 0.94 inches (3 to 24 mm).

Chiaroscuro – The effect of contrasted light and shadow created by light falling unevenly or from a particular direction on an object or person. See Wikipedia: Chiaroscuro.

Composition – The ordered relationship of elements in a work of art. The arrangement of shapes and and spaces within the drawing surface.

Contrapposto – An Italian term that means counterpose. It is used in the visual arts to describe a human figure standing with most of its weight on one foot so that its shoulders and arms twist off-axis from the hips and legs, designed to give the figure a more dynamic, or alternatively relaxed appearance. Contrapposto is less dramatic than the S curve. See S curve.

To generate a contrapposto stance, put all your weight on one leg and slightly bend your other leg, causing your pelvis and shoulders to tilt, so they are not parallel to the floor.

For examples of Contrapposto, see Wikipedia: Contrapposto.

Conté crayon – A hard drawing pencil made from an admixture of graphite and clay. Available in black, red, and brown. Named after Nicolas-Jacques Conté, the French scientist who invented it in the late 1800s.

Contrast – Applying opposites beside one another, such as a light color next to a dark color or a rough texture next to a smooth texture.

Costume Drawing – Drawing a model who is wearing a distinctive costume, such as one characteristic of a particular country, ethnic group or historical period.

Croquis – A quick sketch drawing of a life model. See Wikipedia: Croquis.

Cross hatching – A series of intersecting parallel lines designed give a figure drawing a sense of shadow and depth.

Dais – A model stand.

Draped figure – A clothed art model.

Mary Magdalene In A Grotto by Jules-Joseph LeFebvre. Public domain.

Mary Magdalene In A Grotto by Jules-Joseph LeFebvre. Public domain.

Drawing from life – Drawing a live model.

Dry media – Media that are dry on contact with the drawing surface. Includes pencil and crayon. See Media. Compare Wet media.

Facilitator – The person who organizes an unstructured figure drawing session. The term facilitator is distinguished from instructor, because a facilitator’s role is limited to running the drawing session, not providing formal instruction to the other artists that attend. See Open session, Unstructured session.

Figurative artist – An artist that draws people.

Figure drawing – Drawing the human body, usually but not always nude. Compare Life drawing.

Figure model – A human model used for figure drawing, usually, but not always, nude. Compare Life model.

Foreshortening – Drawing a subject when one part of the model’s body is closer to the artist than the rest of the model’s body, such as if the model stretches his or her hand directly toward the artist. This requires extra skill from the artist to capture, because portions of the model closer to the artist will appear much larger than those farther away.

Form shadow – The partial Shadow created on the side of the subject not directly illuminated by a light source. See Cast shadow, Shadow. Form shadows are soft and less defined, in contract to cast shadows, which have hard edges and are well defined.

Format – The shape of the drawing surface. For rectangular drawing surfaces, the relative length to the width of the drawing surface.

Gesture drawing – The act of drawing a series of quick gesture poses, usually at the beginning of an drawing session. Comic illustrators sometimes attend drawing sessions composed entirely of gesture poses. See Gesture poses.

Gesture poses – A series of quick poses a model generates in a short amount of time, generally between thirty seconds and two minutes each. Gesture poses are generally intended to allow artists to warm up at the beginning of a life drawing session. Gesture poses are often dramatic poses that cannot easily be held for a longer period. See Wikipedia: Gesture Drawing.

Phryne Before the Areopagus by Jean-Léon Gérome. Public domain.

Phryne Before the Areopagus by Jean-Léon Gérome. Public domain.

Graphite – The drawing material contained in common pencils that is often described (incorrectly) as “lead”. See Graphite pencils.

Graphite pencils – Drawing pencils with a graphite core, graded by relative hardness, from 8b (the hardest) to 8b (the softest), with hb repesenting the middle grade. See Graphite. The common number 2 lead pencil is typically grade 2b.

Hen Party – British / Irish term for a “bachelorette party” or a “girls night out.” Sometimes this takes the form of a life modeling session where the artists are female and the life model is male. These sessions are foucsed more on being casual and fun, rather than serious and professional. Referred to as Hens party or Hens night in Australia and New Zealand.

Light source – Natural or artificial means to create light and shadow on the art subject. In figure drawing, figure models are often positioned under or next to positioned light sources, in order to create a desirable arrangement of light and shadow for drawing. See Shadow, Cast shadow, and Form shadow.

Life drawing – In Western countries, Life drawing specifically refers to drawing the nude human body. In some Eastern countries, like India, where drawing nudes is rare, the term Life drawing does not assume a nude model, and is instead synonymous with Figure drawing.

Life model – A nude model for a life drawing session. See Life drawingUndraped figure.

Line of action – A single curved line that defines the general shape of the model pose for the artist.

Media –  The means by which ink, pigment or color are delivered onto the drawing surface. See Dry media, Wet media.

Medium – A material used in a particular work of art. Examples include: charcoal, pencil, watercolor, and clay. The plural term media is used when describing art created from more than one medium.

Model coordinator – The staff person or professor assigned by a university or art school to schedule models for class sessions. Often these institutions assign a single person to schedule models for all classes and instructors.

Model stand – A raised platform where an art model stands during a modeling session. Can be from a few inches to a few feet high. Also called a Dais.

Musculature – The arrangement of muscles in the human body.

Muse – The source of inspiration for an artist. The role of an artist model in a figure drawing session.

Negative space – The open areas that the model creates by his or her extremities. For example, if a model puts his/her hand on his/her hip, the triangular area between the side of the body and the model’s elbow is negative space. The use of negative space is a key element of artistic composition. See Wikipedia: Negative Space.

Open session – A figure drawing session that allows any artist to “drop in” at any session without a prior appointment, as opposed to an art class that requires the artist to be enrolled.

Perspective – The technique of realistically representing three dimensional objects on a two dimensional drawing surface through the use of proportion. See Proportion.

Picture plane – An imaginary clear, flat surface perpendicular to the artist’s face. Capturing the proportions of the various elements seen in the picture plane results in a realistic drawing. See Proportion.

Pigment – The material used to create a particular color.

Plien air – French for “open air”. Refers to drawing sessions conducted outdoors in natural sunlight.

Portrait drawing – Depicting the visual appearance of a person, both their physical appearance and also something of their personality. In portrait modeling, the model is dressed.

Proportion – The relative size and scale of various elements in a work of art. The relative size of the various elements of the model’s body seen from the artist’s perspective. See Picture planePerspective.

Reference photo – A photograph that captures a model pose for future study. Reference photos are typically not allowed during life drawing sessions, unless the model specifically agrees to being photographed.

S curve – A stance where the human figure is curved like an S. This posture was first seen extensively in Greek and Roman sculpture. The S curve involves more of the body and is an extension of the less dramatic and more relaxed Contrappusto posture. Compare Contrappusto.

To generate an S curve stance, raise one of your hips up, together with your opposite shoulder.

For examples of S curve, see Wikipedia: S Curve (art).

Shade – Synonym for Tone or Value.

Shadow – Dark areas created by the absence of light. The two major types of shadows in drawings are cast shadows and form shadows. See Cast shadow, Form shadow, Light source.

Sighting – Measuring the relative proportions of the subject of art by means of a constant measure, such as a pencil held at arm’s length. Models will often notice artists engaged in sightings of them during modeling sessions.

Tone – Synonym for Shade or Value.

Undraped figure – A nude art model. Synonym for Life model.

Unstructured session – A session where there is no designated instructor for the artists and their resulting artwork is not formally appraised.

Value – The lightness or darkness of a color. The shade used to represent the color in a black and white drawing. Also known as Shade or Tone.

Wet media – Media that are not dry, such as oil paint, acrylics, and water color. See Media. Compare Dry Media.

Reclining Nude by Giovani Boldini. Public Domain.

Reclining Nude by Giovani Boldini. Public Domain.

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