Mini life drawing symposium

The Life Drawing Symposium is an annual workshop run by Veronica Lawlor and Melanie Reim. The 2020 workshop was originally scheduled to run in New York between the 4th and 7th June, but this was cancelled because of the Covid-19 situation.

It was replaced by a Mini Symposium on 6th June run completely remotely using Zoom. Just under 90-people attended the workshop that was split into two sessions:

  1. Morning session – Picture design and composition
  2. Afternoon session – Hands and portraits with expression

More information about the Life Drawing Symposium events can be found here: 

Morning session – Picture design and composition

The purpose of the morning session was to get participants to think about the importance of designing a picture before drawing.

For me this was a reminder of some of the content from the Urban Sketching Bootcamp in Prague. This felt like a more concentrated version and was a brilliant reminder of the tools and techniques.

Rapid thumbnailing is a way to explore a subject and let the story reveal itself. Doing rapid thumbnailing (2-minutes maximum per thumbnail), requires conscious or unconscious editing and focusing in what is of importance (to you as the artist).

The first exercise involved creating 10 x thumbnails in 20-minutes from a room in your house. I chose my bedroom/studio.

Exercise 1 – 10 x thumbnails (20-minutes)

Some quotes from Veronica and Melanie related to the design of drawings and this method that resonated with me:

  • “What drives your drawings? Style goes beyond your hand. It’s the way you approach and think about a solution”.
  • “Your style emerges, you can’t chase it. It’s all there in you, you just need to let it come out”.

The second exercise was about using composition to organise the different components in an image to most effectively tell the story.

The exercise involved selecting three objects. Each object would represent either the foreground, midground or background in a composition. So with three objects there was the possibility of reorganising the visual hierarchy nine different ways.

The exercise involved thumbnailing these nine different combinations in 15-minutes.

Exercise 2 – Exploring different compositions with three objects (15-minutes)

This is quote from Melanie or Veronica in relation to this editing process:

  • “I’m the artist, I’m in charge, I make the difference”.

The final part of the exercise involved choosing and developing the most successful thumbnail into a 10-minute drawing.

Exercise 3 – Drawing development from thumbnail (10-minutes)


Afternoon session – Hand and portraits with expression

The afternoon session was focused on drawing hands and portraits with expression. Fluid figure drawing with expression is a core requirement for reportage drawing where the purpose is to record the impression of an event through a particular opinion or point of view. People and how they express themselves is a powerful storytelling tool that creates narrative.


The first demonstration involved breaking down the drawing if hands into geometric shapes. Starting with the palm, adding thumb and fingers. Thinking in terms of volumes.

Quotes from Melanie and Veronica that I found interesting:

  • “Trust your observation”.
  • “What is accuracy? Accuracy is putting down the feeling of what someone is doing”.
  • In relation to breaking down the hand into component geometric shapes: “The cake and the icing on the cake. The structure can guide you in that regard”.
Afternoon_02 INSTAGRAM
Exercise 4 – Hand poses (3-minutes each)


The last section of the day looked at drawing expressive portraits.

The session started with Melanie explaining the basic structure of a head in both full-frontal and three quarter profile. There was then a discussion about adding expression  illustrated through an examination of Disney character sketches. These clearly demonstrated use of exaggeration and how mood or feeling is expressed, not only in a character’s facial features but in the entire body language. What interested me was way lines of expressive/dynamic movement mapped through the whole body into the facial expression.

The final set of exercises involved drawing a series of 3-minute portraits of actor Lori Hammel.

An interesting quote from Veronica:

“Drawing fast lets go of preconceived ideas of what something should look like”.

In the final drawing was the model was moving as if having an animated conversation with someone. At certain points she was asked to stop for 20-seconds. In this exercise I seemed to concentrate on capturing the different positions and expressions of the hands.

The drawing took 10-minutes.

Afternoon_03 INSTAGRAM
Dynamic portrait – 10-minutes

At the end of both the morning and afternoon sessions there was a brief show-and-tell where everyone got a few seconds to show their work.


  • How do I take the extremely rapid/creative/productive thumbnailing/composition learning into my own practice?
  • What theoretical knowledge would help my dynamic figure drawing? The afternoon demonstrations touched on anatomy and cartoon character drawing as areas that could add value.
  • It’s possible to generate a lot of valuable drawing really quickly.
  • The comment about style is really interesting: “What drives your drawings? Style goes beyond your hand. It’s the way you approach and think about a solution. Your style emerges, you can’t chase it. It’s all there in you, you just need to let it come out”. This adds another dimension to the Visual exploration unit that is exploring creative processes and techniques as a way to extend creative thinking. This quote is saying it’s not what you do but how you do it that’s important. This is going on my wall in big letters so I don’t forget it as the context for my work.


Mini Life Drawing Symposium A one-day workshop led by Veronica Lawlor and Melanie Reim (06/06/20). Information about the event is At: (Accessed: 07.06.20).


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