Rove shares his lifelong passion for the pencil, as he gets set to lead the nation in an ambitious life drawing class, live on TV (SBS, 4 July from 8.30pm).
Fiona Williams

25 Jun 2020 - 9:35 AM  UPDATED 25 Jun 2020 - 2:33 PM

SBS chats to the host of Life Drawing Live:

So how does it feel to essentially be hosting a big national art class?

Very exciting. I have been part of many an art class in my time when I was studying fine art. So yeah, it'll be interesting to bring out a bit of fun and exciting elements to it. Normally they're very quiet, serene, chilled spaces but we don't want that too much for a television program. So as much as I don't want to be the unruly child in class, I'm looking forward to having some fun with this and yeah, just seeing what elements come up for people. And seeing what skills are maybe hiding behind some faces that we know and see what's out there.

And it is Life Drawing Live, emphasis on the live. We want people to be drawing along from home and hope to find some artists out there watching. For the newbies who've never done any drawing, what do you suggest people do to get up to speed in the couple of weeks we've got until it all happens?

Well, the beauty of it is you can't go wrong. It's not really something you need to learn as far as having a skill. And it's not like, I don't know, trying to play a piano or something where the first time you do it, it's going to be terrible and will always be terrible until you are very, very good at it. It really is the beauty of art, of drawing in particular, but also with painting and sculpture to a certain extent, it's just an expression of your creativity. So, there is, I believe, no one way of doing it.

So between now and the show going to air, if anyone reading this was to just pick up a pencil or a pen and just scribble away at a piece of paper, you're already ready to go. That's really it... and then if you can advance to put in a little bowl of fruit, or something like that, or maybe you have a very generous member of the household who will happily go nude for you to get the practice; but just starting, just picking up that pen, that pencil.

And then by the time the show is on air, all you're going to be doing is getting some great, helpful hints and tools that if it's something you want to keep up, you can utilise.

We're baring all for the biggest live life drawing class in Australia, with Rove McManus
Sharpen those pencils and get set for 'Life Drawing Live.' Saturday 4 July on SBS and On Demand.

You mentioned your art history, but where did you start? What drew you – oh, no pun intended – what got you drawing in the first place?

Well, it was one of those things that I just have been able to do forever. Like any child will pick up a pencil and start drawing. And so I was like any other kid, I just drew. I scribbled and then as I got older, it was just one of those things that came naturally to me. I do have a grandmother who was a very gifted painter. Not that she really did anything with it. She was a generation that thought you couldn't necessarily make money out of it. And so she did it a little bit when she was younger, and then that was it. And through Who Do You Think You Are I discovered I have a grandfather who is an acclaimed artist out of South Australia.


Rove's episode of 'Who Do You Think You Are' is now streaming at SBS On Demand


So I guess it's been somewhere in my DNA, but yeah, when I was a kid long before you could record television programs, or there was big marketing campaigns for toys for the shows that I liked watching, I would watch a television program, especially because the cartoons were easy to replicate. I would look at them and I would take in the shapes and the structure and replicate them onto a piece of paper. I would cut that, colour it in, cut that piece of paper out. And then I would have a little figure of the characters that I liked off television. I called them my cutouts and had a little, old cigar box full of them. Long before I was a performer, I was a kid who was sitting in his room quietly drawing away.

I never really thought I'd get to do anything with my drawing. When I was in high school, and again, this was before... I was doing drama classes and acting at school, but what I wanted to do was get into animation. So when I was in high school you would get a big book that basically was, "Here's a list of all the potential vocations you could have. And for the job that you want, here are the subjects you need to take for Year 10, 11 and 12."

And I was looking for animation and it didn't exist as a potential job opportunity. Even in my high school yearbook in Year 12, when you say what your hopes and dreams are, and what future job would you like to have, I was still hedging my bets and I had actor/ cartoonist. And so now here I'm doing these drawings, but also I've been doing voice work in animation production. I've kind of ticked both those boxes, which is great.

You mentioned the generations of artists in your family. Is it going down the line again now, are you teaching your daughter to draw? Or is she showing some signs of being an artist?

Yeah, she likes to look over my shoulder, and see what I'm doing. I try to just let her do her thing. She was telling me the other day, she now, when she draws an eye, she's drawing the pigment and so she'll draw the pupil and the iris, so basically a round circle with a black dot. They're not just like black dots, like a Mr. Men character. Which she has realised gives her so much greater range of expression with what she's doing, because the character can be looking a certain way or it gives them a lot more of an expressive face. So she's quite excited by that.

She really loves to watch what I'm doing, and then she adopts some of those herself. I've even given her the same professional drawing program that I have on my iPad on hers. So she sits there and draws. She is very much into drawing dragons and unicorns at the moment. She's got a wonderful creative flair that's all her own and I love it.

Have you been drawing more than usual through the pandemic?

Yeah. If anything, I suppose it reignited my passion for drawing, because I was dialling back on the performance side of things and quite clearly, the arts and entertainment industry was one of, if not the first to go, as soon as they put restrictions on crowds gathering, and we're still not really back at all. So we're the first out and the last back, it would seem. And so at that point, timing-wise, [I] was working on finishing up my two follow-up kids' books. And so I thought, "Well, what's something I can do?", as it seemed everyone was going into lockdown and looking for some form of content to help get them through it. Especially in the early stages, when we were getting told it was a bare minimum six months, but be prepared for it being 18.

So I came up with this idea of what was originally called 'Doodle A Day' (now Doodlemania), where people could give me an idea to draw something through social media, and I would do that. So I found that that really started working creative muscle that I probably hadn't really utilised that much. And I think there was a lot of people who, despite the fact that I do have my books out, I guess not many people are fully aware that I do the illustrations as well.

And maybe not everyone has seen my Who Do You Think You Are? episode where a lot of that has come up more. So for many, many people, this was probably the first instance that they were even aware that I could do any kind of drawing at all. So I found it was a really great thing to have, to find a creative outlet when there wasn't otherwise one for me. And I cannot recommend [highly enough] for your mental health, how great it can be just to sit and express yourself through drawing.

It's that, isn't it? There's a lot to be anxious about now. Any way we can encourage people to work through things, the better.

Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Even with my young nephews and nieces, it's something I've always urged them to get a book and just if you want to write something, write something, or sit and just draw a scribble, even if you're really angry, just take it and get it out on a page, can be really, really beneficial.

And are you going to be having a bit of a sketch during the show? Do you know that yet?

Yes. I will be. I'll be dipping in and out because I'll be the ring master, trying to keep everything moving along and connect with the people at home who can be taking part as well. Of course, that's a big aspect of the show. I think it will be hard for me not to pick up a pencil or a bit of charcoal and see what I can do. I haven't really drawn any life models since I was studying back in the late '90s. So after high school, I did three years of this fine arts degree. So, I've drawn a fair share of nude bodies. So it's nice to get back out there.

I'm no expert, I'm not perfect when it comes to this sort of stuff. So I think that's another important part of all of it. It doesn't matter what level you are at, you can input and participate in the show and still learn something as well, which I think is important.

Yeah. And I mean, it seems kind of cruel to speak to your art pedigree and then not have you do a little bit when surrounded by all the artists and models.

Yeah. Yeah, yeah. So I'll get that high school yearbook wish list done finally.

Ticking all the boxes. And have you ever sat for paintings? The models are an important part of this, too. Have you done it?

Oh, no.


I've been asked to do the Archibald Prize, but I have always said no. I don't know, I just, I don't know. There's just something about it that I just feel... it feels weird. The idea of having a huge portrait of yourself. I've been given fan art over the years and some things like that. And I've got a huge banner that was made for something a long, long time ago. They gave it to me after, it was just a big picture of my own face. I don't know what to do with it. You're not going to put it up anywhere, that would just be egotistical. No, I haven't.

When I was studying, we did have a day where the life models didn't turn up or had to cancel for whatever reason, right at the last minute. So one of my classmates just put up her hand and said, "Well, I'll do it," and stripped off and got up, and we all just drew her instead. So who knows? If something goes down on the night, maybe I'll have to put up my hand and volunteer my services. But I don't think anyone wants to see that.

But you're not ruling it out. Okay.

No, I'm not saying no. I'm not saying no.

Who knows? Magic of live TV.

We will see. We call that a hook.

Exactly. Sell the sizzle. And there's a sketch that I think SBS might be using in the promo of you reclining with a bit of a modesty drape across you [in an illustration by Chris Wahl - see below]. So, you didn't sit for that then?

No, no. I wish I looked like that at 46. If I could be looking as fit as that, yeah absolutely, I would be more than happy to put myself out there, but no. That was my head, but certainly not my body. But don't tell anyone I said that.

Okay. Your secret's safe.

If anyone asks, absolutely. It's photo realism.


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Life Drawing Live premieres Saturday 4 July, 8.30pm on SBS and SBS On Demand. It streams live across Australia on SBS On Demand and live on SBS at 8.30pm AEST with a delay in WA, NT and SA. A Pose Cam will be available as a separate stream, for those drawing along at home. Full details at

How to watch 'Life Drawing Live'
Everything you need to know about SBS's two-hour life drawing class on Saturday 4 July. Here's all the ways you can watch the live show, and draw along at home.
We're baring all for the biggest live life drawing class in Australia, with Rove McManus
Sharpen those pencils and get set for 'Life Drawing Live.' Saturday 4 July on SBS and On Demand.