What if You Have no Opportunity to Life Draw for Your Portfolio?


Life drawing is extremely desirable in an art college portfolio, but it is often not a requirement (check your individual application college guidelines).

This blog gives you solutions to not having access to a live model, as well as those needing to supplement having only limited time with a model.

In brief, you can’t just skip that part of the portfolio and hope it doesn’t matter.

You need to work extra hard to compensate for the lack of life drawing.

This blog shares how.

Life Drawing in Art School Portfolios

Access to life models is unequal throughout the UK education system (or the world).

First of all, don’t panic. Lot’s of other candidates also have no opportunity to life draw for their portfolio.  

UK Art Schools are increasingly aware that this relates to nationality, region, and financial background.

For example, here in Scotland, life drawing is a lot easier to find in cities than in rural areas.

It’s also expensive to access.

Art schools need to make their courses accessible to all – and insisting on life-drawing elements IS passive discrimination.

Legally, art schools can’t automatically exclude anyone who has grown up on a Scottish island, away from such classes (or nationalities in which it’s not part of the culture),

Life drawing really can show off what you CAN do.

Art school candidates, there are some workarounds if absolutely no life drawing is available in your area.

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I have no chance to life-draw with a model.
Can I life draw from photographs instead?

You cannot life-draw from photographs.

Life drawing is a live model-in-front-of-you situation. The challenge is to capture as much as you can: the forms of the body; the weight of the body; the attractiveness of the lines and shadows – even the story of this figure in a room (if you like), within a limited time.

Only by drawing a real figure live, will you capture this interest.

When you draw a live figure, things become compelling. You need to select and share what is of interest to you.

The point of drawing a figure is that YOU have to work out how to represent the foreshortening and the proportions by looking and measuring (and rough training your eye to make constant comparisons).

A camera will do this for you, but copying a picture will not train you to do it yourself.

Remember, it’s pretty obvious when someone has worked only from a source photo.

Life drawings ‘zing’ – even if there are flaws in proportions etc.

You can ‘life draw’ from clothed models! 

life drawing musicians
life drawing musicians

“Imagine life drawing like dressage for horses. 

Maybe you can’t get in the ring and show off, but you still can show that you know all the steps and moves – and demonstrate that you understand WHY they matter.

Ruth Pringle, 2023

I Cannot Access a Live Model, What Can I Do Instead?

Art school candidates: your portfolio should reflect drawings with the intensity, rhythm, and spontaneity that life drawing generates.

That’s quite hard to simulate just with a still life (imagine, a real figure can move any second – that adds drama)  – but it is possible with self-discipline.

Still Life Work

  • Ask a friend to call out short times for you to draw in.
  • Remember to move around the still life – or change it around.
  • Don’t lounge about with all the time in the world: Get intense. If you can, go to a new location to draw in, where you won’t be disturbed.
  • Add a poseable wooden drawing mannequin to your still-life – and move it into different positions.

    Bodies in Space

    • Draw your own hands and feet, often and in different positions.
    • Sketch real people in cafes and public transport.
    • Ask friends and family members to hold short poses for you.
    • Depending on where you are in the world, you could also go sketch on beaches and swimming pools for figure drawing practice
    • Where else are there bodies which you can stare at and draw? Local dance classes? Theatre and stage? Ice skating? Lap dancing clubs?

        Are You Nuts?
        I really am on a Scottish island!

        Lucky you! 

        Recording the life around you will give you a very unique portfolio.

        And drawing animals: living livestock, fish, birds will still give you the chance to demonstrate anatomy, and movement and your ability to capture a ‘figure’ in a few marks.

            “Drawing animals: living livestock, fish, birds will still give you the chance to demonstrate anatomy, and movement and your ability to capture a ‘figure’ in a few marks.”

            Ruth Pringle, 2023

            Art School Applicant Tip:

            Consider Your Plan B

            Always Consider Your Plan B

            Foundation courses exist all around the UK because art schools ARE very difficult to gain a place in.

            Often school leavers will need an extra year to develop their drawing competencies (I did).

            So-called ‘mature students’ (anyone going to university or college after a period of time out of full-time education) often need this time to build a portfolio of work (difficult to do with a full-time job or family life).

              Portfolio Coaching

              Every art school candidate needs someone overseeing the progression of their portfolio. Someone who can push you, encourage you and keep you accountable.

              For most, that’s an art teacher at high school.

              However, if you find yourself preparing your portfolio on your own – let us help you!


              Further Information

              Discover our Sketchbook Portfolio Tips for Art School Applicants. 

              Discover more about Life Drawing in Art School Portfolios.

              Or for your partner/friend, this blog explains Why People Life Draw.