Drawing the Nude – A Celebration of the Image of God

By August 8, 2016May 8th, 2020Art and Faith, Drawing, Figures

Drawing the Nude?

Drawing the nude celebrates the image of God. When people find out I participate in drawing the nude at a figure drawing group on Wednesday nights, they sometimes ask, “Isn’t that weird? I mean, you’re there drawing, and the model isn’t wearing clothes??” For me drawing is how I celebrate that we are created in the image of God. Michelangelo is famous for celebrating the world’s creation his beautiful, statuesque nudes… and Church leaders are famous for, years later, painting loincloths over them. There has been a tension between nudity in art and Christianity for along time.

I’m in an exhibit this month at Manifest Gallery in Cincinnati, Ohio entitled NUDE, so this is an appropriate moment to discuss how my faith informs my practice of drawing the un-draped figure.

In short: It is not weird. When I am before the un-draped model I feel blessed. The person modeling has given me the opportunity to capture their likeness. A child of God sits before me. They are like Adam and Eve before the Fall, in total simplicity, without the trappings of human shame.

Nude Figure Ink Drawing by Michelle Arnold Paine

“Looking into Shadows” ©Michelle Arnold Paine Click to Purchase

A child of God sits before me, like Adam and Eve before the Fall, in total simplicity, without any of the trappings of human shame.

In every model, old or young, large or small, male or female, I see one God’s amazing creations. In the process of drawing I try to capture just one small portion of the magnificence, delicacy, and beauty of what He made.

The human figure is the most beautiful, complex, and difficult subject there is. While everyone’s proportions are very nearly the same, yet every individual is unique. The human body’s proportions are so ingrained in our visual brain that even non-artists can easily say “that looks just like him” or “Not at all!”.

…the process of drawing is an act of love.

Engaging in the process of drawing is an act of love. The dedication one must have to spend hours drawing is humble at its core. Even for the most talented of draughtsmen, drawing is a process of creation and correction, establishing relationships and then refining them. Those corrections and refinements may involve erasing and re-drawing. Though beginners call them “mistakes”, they are really just part of a process. All drawings fall short of God’s original creation.

All drawings fall short of God’s original creation.

When I am drawing or painting the model, everyone is working very hard. The model is working very hard to maintain her balance and stability. Myself and the other artists are working hard to measure proportions and analyze light and dark falling on the figure’s form. We are trying unite elements of line, tone, proportion and structure in a way that also conveys an atmosphere of life and breath. If we succeed perhaps our viewer will perceive that we have drawn a living being, and not merely a statue at a museum.

A sense of life and breath in a drawing

It is that extra something – the sense of life and breath which makes it art. The mystery of a human being’s psychology, emotion, and intellect comes across in a true portrait. Rembrandt is remembered by the world as an artist because of the psychological presence of the sitter in his paintings.

Misfit Ink Female Nude Drawing by Michelle Arnold Paine

“Misfit”, Ink on Paper, 7″ x 10″ ©Michelle Arnold Paine CLICK TO PURCHASE

In the limited time frame of the pose, I am forced to move quickly to capture life and breath, tension and energy in two dimensions. As I sit in the presence of the model I grow in an awareness of vulnerability and humanity of this person over a period of time. The ink, just like the person before me, has a life of its own, an unpredictable quality which reveals an emotional dimension of the model’s pose I could not myself have foreseen. These drawings are not exploitative, they are reminders of vulnerability and simplicity.

You can view my figure drawings here. I invite you to spend some time with them, considering the miracle of the bodies we were given. I also invite you to consider purchasing a drawing (or two or three!) to take into your home, a reminder of our vulnerable simplicity and humanity.