Figure Drawing

FigureDrawingSo in Art School the second half of your drawing education, after they teach you how to see the contours, color, and shading, is the human form. In drawing 201 the emphasis is on capturing the human form. The first exercise you are likely to encounter is gesture sketching, the point of this exercise is to help you see that even with as little information as six or seven lines a person is capable of seeing the truth of the anatomy. We are all human beings, raised by humans and dealing with humans on a daily basis, as such getting the human form right is one of the most difficult tasks, not because we are too complicated to draw, but because we are so critical of a human form that is off in some subtle way.

This phenomenon is called The Uncanny Valley (feel free to skip the second half of that video, though it is very interesting.)this effect plagues any field that deals with the human form, and that includes artists. If you decide to go with a highly rendered representation of a person you have to get all the details right, but you can avoid the uncanny valley altogether by choosing a highly stylized method of drawing. Unfortunately this second strategy does not fly in most fountain figure drawing classes.

The real key to getting the human form right is to get it right  from the very start. That is to say, even at the preliminary stage where you are blocking out the basic shapes, whether you are drawing a full body pose or just a bust portrait, you should be able to tell that it is the same person from the beginning. As I said before  you can communicate the character of a figure with as little as a half dozen lines. In order to maintain this consistency of character it is extremely important that at every stage of your drawing that you get up stand back at least five feet and compare it to your subject.

Speaking of subjects, it is extremely important that, as you are developing your skills as far as representational pieces, that you work from life as much as possible. What I mean to say is that until you are confident in your ability to sculpt, draw, or paint the human form, you should always be using live models, this let you walk around and shift your view so that you can better understand how the form changes from one view to the next. This is how you start to develop a sense of anatomy, which is much more important than an in depth knowledge of the anatomic structures.

You will seldom find yourself memorizing the names of bones and muscles in the human body and working for scientific references. This is because knowledge of the the names and functions of the human system is extraneous information. Additionally the way in which scientific and medical textbooks present the human form is altered for clarity, where an artistic reference is shown in various positions that you would find in a living model. A great example of just such a difference is the medical skeleton, you know the one that’s at the back every science class in every movie so that you know that what is being studied is Science! These study aids are useful for seeing the bones and where they connect and I have spent probably over one hundred hours drawing and sketching these guys. However they are wired together so that the bones are relating to one  another in a way that is very similar to what a corpse.

This as you can image is a terrible way to learn proportion and movement. It is a great way to get familiar with the structure of the skull, the way that each bone is shaped and how many bones are in each limb. But because of its shortcoming there are many companies that make more life like skeletons available. Another, much cheaper, solution to studying the skeleton and how they move in a living human is to take a full body photo (preferably one you have taken, just in case you sell it or it is used in a portfolio) and use a medical reference to help you identify the skeletal structures and imposing them over the figure, doing your best to get your cues from the subjects features. The image for this post is an example of this exercise.

Drawing the figure can be a fun and useful skill and is an ability that sticks with you for your whole career as an artist. I know I said that you can avoid criticism of your technique by going in a more stylized direction, but the truth is that even this technique benefits greatly from a firm understanding of the human anatomy. After all how can you adequately exaggerate the human form if you don’t know what it should look like to begin with. Chances are that if you are pursuing a career, or even an interest for the matter, in art that you will have to represent a human being, and learning to draw the figure is one of the strongest ways to learn and become confidence in you ability to capture it.

And that’s my taking on figure drawing.


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