Life Drawing: Wrestlers, Demonstrators & Charcoal

Life, in common with the season, has changed over the last three weeks and two days a week I’m back on the gravy-train: “demonstrating” drawing skills to animation and computer games students at the University of Portsmouth UK. Monday is my favourite day as I only have two sessions, one from 9-11 am and the other from 4-6 pm. It goes without saying that starting at 09.00 hours is a little bit of a culture shock – both for me and my students ! Thursday is back to back teaching from 9am – 6pm (with an hour off for lunch) and I’m fit to drop when I get home.

Whilst my job description is that of a “Demonstrator” the actual role is very similar to what I’m used to, which is managing a class and all that that entails: planning a scheme of work, individual sessions, delivering them and making sure all the students understand each task and produce work that fulfills the criteria of the unit that I’m delivering. I have six groups, 3 groups are following one unit and the other 3 groups are doing another very similar unit. The groups are BSc Computer Animation, BSc Computer Games Technology, BSc Computer Games Enterprise and BA Animation and each class is very different. Some of the students have come from creative backgrounds but the vast majority are programmers and or games enthusiasts and it is a very steep learning curve for them all. I have been teaching Life Drawing at an advanced level for nearly 20 years so I’m quite relaxed about having to demonstrate how to draw from a life model.

For the first four weeks we have a male, twenty something, European Wrestler as our model and he has been a brilliant, very patient and good humored model. He has muscles on his muscles and a large “tribal” tattoo – so great to draw ! Next we have a succession of other models, who have a lot to live up to, but I know the next one and she too will be great. Last year we were drawing naked models but this year we are spicing it up by drawing them with the addition of some clothing. This aids to the development of concept character building – which we will move into later.

The students are given their paper to draw on and they provide their own drawing materials. The paper is 750 x 582 mm sized sheets torn from a Flip Chart Pad. I’m not sure what these are called in the US but Flip Charts are used for demonstration purposes in schools, colleges and training establishments. The paper is very thin and smooth – similar to layout paper that graphic designers used before the advent of the Apple Mac computer ! The drawing studio itself is purpose built and equipped with robust easels which I make my students stand up and draw at so that they can make gestural movements with their whole body, rather than simply their wrists. We have been drawing with medium sized sticks of Willow Charcoal and or 6B Graphite Sticks but tomorrow we will venture into wet media and draw with Parkers Quink Ink and Bleach. Quink Ink is a lovely water soluble ink that when watered down it separates and breaks down into interesting blue and brown tones. We will lay down a wash of the ink, which will be allowed to dry – then using a dipping pen, students will draw over the black ink and the bleach will burn into the ink, leaving a golden/yellow ochre line. It works very quickly and with care you can get some very interesting results, particularly when used in combination with White and or Black Conte (which is compressed charcoal / chalk).


The above photo represents some of the range of drawing materials that the students will use this semester.

The first session ends at 11.00, when I pack up my folder of drawings and broken pieces of charcoal and wander off back to my studio which is only a 5 minute walk from the University.

Once safely back in the familiar territory that is my studio, I make a large cup of Lapsang Suchong tea and try to gather my thoughts. I might get out some of the mornings drawings and clean them up with a putty rubber before photographing them and finally storing them in amongst the unruly pile of drawings on my very cluttered desk! Then, once the restorative effects of the tea kicks in, I step back and get on with my “mega-project” which is a large oil painting depicting the last ten minutes of the “Battle of the Solent” in 1545. I spend the next couple of hours beavering away with tiny brushes and even smaller amounts of paint which gets applied either in thin transparent glazes or thicker very deliberate marks. The composition of the battle scene is painstakingly researched and has taken me nearly three years ! Of course I have done numerous smaller paintings and hundreds of drawings in between but the studio will seem very different without The Mary Rose crashing through the Solent !

At 1.30 I pack up and disappear home for a quick bite to eat before returning to the studio for another quick session. At 3.30pm I rush off the the University for round two with my new friend Chuck Cyrus the Wrestler !

More news and information about my Life Drawing Classes at the University of Portsmouth later
Cheerio 4 Now !

About chriswoodartist

painter, print-maker and illustrator


  1. An interesting process, Chris. Your model sounds wonderful! I havent done life drawing for ages, I really should get back to it.
    This time of year definately calls for Lapsang Suchong, i love that tea!

    • Cheers Karen! Cameras are great inventions and a love my battered Nikon to bits but you cant beat a lump of charcoal and a good life model – its a shame you are the other side of the pond, I think you would like my Experimental Life Drawing Sessions ! Console yourself with a cup of Lapsang !! Best Wishes. Chris 🙂 }

  2. Hi Chris. I’m more of an abstract bigger brushes kind of person. I think it is really interesting that you embrace the loose big expressive drawing as well as your precise detailed ship paintings. Have fun!

    • Hi Carla – it’s good to hear from you ! Big brushes are great but sadly prohibitively expensive – most of my large ones are decorators brushes, bought from large hardware outlets like B&Q rather than art shops. The life drawing sessions are keeping me busy as are the large marine paintings and prints. Best Wishes and have fun yourself !

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