Workshop: David Briggs – Anatomy for Life Drawing

The first large chunk of this post was drafted a month ago, before all sorts of events in family and work. It feels distant and strange now, as I try to pick up and regroup. Still, no point throwing things away, so my chatty intro remains…

This week-long class was part of summer school at the National Art School. It was absorbing – both the focus on the work which was intense, and also soaking up every skerrick, every shred of strength of mind and body. At the end of each day I knew I had learnt, but pretty much all I felt was exhausted.

A little scene-setting. NAS is housed in what was once the Darlinghurst Goal, a complex of buildings built in the 1800s using huge blocks of sandstone cut using convict labour. Two years ago I went to the second week of summer school, attempting Welded Sculptures with Paul Hopmeier (22-Jan-2017). Week 2 was small and quiet then. The welding area was in a newish block, tucked into a corner. I went back and forward, focused on the class, not the place.

NAS ex-chapel

The drawing class was in the centre of the complex, in the old goal chapel. It’s a barrel-shaped building, with the drawing studio a large room taking up the top two thirds.

There were lunchtime talks in the Cell Block theatre, once the women’s wing of the goal. Another talk and exhibition was in the NAS Gallery, the old “A” wing completed in 1841. I borrowed from the library, formerly I believe the goal hospital.

With all that, by my calculations the site has been used for education, particularly art education, for longer than as a prison. Although the site was pegged out in 1821, delays in work meant the first prisoners were marched in in 1841. Over time other goals were built, prisoners moved, the goal closed in 1914 and the site became an internment camp during World War I. So about 80 years confining people. In 1921 the buildings were converted into the East Sydney Technical College, and in 1922 the Department of Art was moved in. The specifics of institution and courses have changed over time, but it’s getting close to 100 years of expanding and enriching people.

My view of the world

While conscious of a sense of history and of all the other activities of summer school. my major focus for the week was this little slice of the world. We moved around a bit, but basically this was it.

chapel ceiling

The roof, and ceiling, of the studio is a cone ending in a cupola and the many high windows create an even light, but unfortunately are fixed closed reducing air flow.

The even light would have been a problem if wanting to explore shadows and shading in our drawings. We didn’t. We focused on the first minute, then two minutes, of a drawing. Get the overall shape, claim the space on your page. Look to get particular information – a flat shape, alignments, proportion, line of action. Use an alternate three dimensional view – a series of masses, related, overlapping. Find lines; rehearse; keep light; adjust. Research the shape. Explain as an arrangement of the masses of the body – head, ribcage, pelvis.

Over the week David gradually introduced more signposts to help us. Using a skeleton David showed the structure of the body, then pointed to the indications of those bones on the body of the live model. The thoracic arch was an early, easy example. Use those signposts to explain, to check, to adjust, your drawing. For instance the position of heel bone and ankle bone gives you more information about the direction of the leg, where weight is held.

By the end of the week I had over 150 different full body poses sketched to varying levels of detail, plus sketches of hands, feet, eyes, face… All were graphite, lightly drawn on white cartridge paper. Hard to photograph and quite boring. While trying to improve contrast I got some wilder results. Here are a few pages.




One afternoon we had two models. The main purpose was to let us break into two groups and get close for some detail drawings, but we also had a few poses with the two working together. So much fun!

Click for a larger view


The final image above shows three attempts at a single pose. On the far left, my very stiff and awkward first attempt. To its right, David’s demonstration – so much more movement and grace! Next my second attempt, which shows some improvement and scope for so much more. The figure on the right doesn’t seem impressed.

I certainly improved over the week. The big thing would be regular practice to consolidate and improve further, but I can’t see a way to fit that in at the moment. Working from a photo in a book or on the internet isn’t the same. There’s the size in the eyes, but I think binocular vision – a single three dimensional image – is critical.

4 Responses to “Workshop: David Briggs – Anatomy for Life Drawing”


  1. 1 kath February 16, 2019 at 12:51 pm

    wow great work. David teaches at Julian Ashtons too – I’d moved to his life drawing sat class but had to drop out when I started travelling/commuting o/s each week. would love to do this NAS class or return to JA when things settle. he’s an expert on colour too if there’s any colour workshops with him, I’m sure they’d be great. I used to be exhausted after just a morning class – well done for doing a full time week! jealous!! 🙂

    • 2 fibresofbeing February 16, 2019 at 12:58 pm

      I’d happily do another class with David. A great teacher, and a dry wit which I enjoyed. Shame this earning a living thing gets in the way.

      • 3 kath February 16, 2019 at 1:00 pm

        yes, I know what you mean! if you sign up for another of his classes let me know. I enjoyed his teaching also (though he’ll tsk tsk me for dropping out ha)


  1. 1 Mono printing and text | Fibres of Being Trackback on January 22, 2020 at 4:31 pm

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