I have been teaching a lot of art classes lately and have started a series of tutorials. This one is about Drawing the Figure.
To see the entire tutorial click on the title below.
In my teens I left home to attend an art college. Not very worldly or experiences, I was pretty shocked at my first figure drawing class. I noticed that many of the students tried to be casual but I think we were all pretty embarrassed by the nude male model. I tried to be mature and understand that throughout history figure drawing has been an essential part of an artist's training. I am glad that I was able to overcome my initial reaction because the hours I spent in that class where invaluable. Drawing gestures, comparing proportions and improving my observational skills all contributed to my growth as an artist.Comment on or Share this Article →
"This was to emphasize, again, the fact that it is the composition, the design, the creation of the artist's mind, which is important, not the representation of objects with paint."
I am currently teaching an online class, Composition: The Foundation of Your Art, and just finished reviewing the submissions from the students first lesson. Very impressive. As I wrote the critiques, I realized that several ideas were worth repeating regardless of subject or style. A great composition does not just happen; the artist creates it. There are some rules that trenscend the medium or content.
The Rule of Thirds
I am not sure who first figured this out but when you divide your canvas (paper) by thirds the intersecting lines are where the focal point of your painting should land. Whether portrait or landscape, square or rectangle, pick one of those four points and you're on the right track. Some can make the case for the Golden Mean Rule which is a slightly different measurement but the same idea. I just think the Rule of Thirds is a lot easier for everyone to remember and to do.
In previous posts, I have talked about the importance of drawing to improve your painting and thought that I would again mention how wonderful it its to go to a life figure drawing group. This exercise is invaluable in teaching proportion, improving observation, handling perspective and understanding shape relationships. I have been absent for a while from my Tuesday group but recently decided to make an attempt. I struggled until the final pose. I realized that I was not drawing with straight lines but instead was attempting to render the curves, well, with curves. I know it sounds counter intuitive but as soon as I switched my thinking to straight lines, my drawing improved dramatically.
Here is a closeup of the head and shoulders where you can easily see the angles I used to draw this figure. I don't understand the science behind this but I think that the eye exaggerates the curves and softens the sharp edges. Even when a point is apparent where the angles meet, the eye still rounds that point into a curve. The figure looks a lot better and more accurate with these angles than with curved lines. The use of straight lines to make curves is one of the principles of academic art and should be taught in every first year art class. This method is also transferable to your painting as well. The use of angles and straight lines will always render the subject more accurately than the use of curved lines. Try it and see what you think.Comment on or Share this Article →
A search on Amazon found a used updated version for very cheap and the original for a little more. The best thing about this book is the practical comparisons that are throughout the text. How many eye widths across is the face; wonderful information on drawing the hand; great perspective tips and lots more.
Enter a comment and let me know if you like the book or have a favorite figure drawing book of your own.
The sketch above shows how less is really more. With only line and a few shadows I have captured the strength of the model and the twist of the torso. I especially like the feet with the flexed right foot and the half hidden left foot. I think the minimal lines for the bent head are also very effective.
To the left in sepia, is a sketch from this week, the charcoal sketch with the same pose is from my first figure drawing session. Note on the earlier sketch how the shadows don't have purpose and the lines are undefined. By comparison, the sepia sketch uses a wide variety of line to define details. Compare the head, hands and knees of the two sketches. In addition, the shadows are not random but enhance the pose in the newer sketch.
The lesson; every line, every brush stroke, every shadow should have a purpose.
Compare the sketch above to the male pose below which was done on my first figure drawing class months ago. Both are five minute poses. Note the difference in the treatment of shadow. Less in the top sketch is actually much more effective. Also the bottom sketch has a consistently heavy line, with little variety. The pose is defined but not directed.
Look again at the drawing above. The figures head directs your eye to follow the arm down to the leg. Then the dark line of the calf leads the eye back up, around the bent arm, up again to the face. So why is this important? Because....
the principles that make a good drawing also make a good painting. Leading the eye where you want is an essential element when composing a successful painting. To engage the casual observer and pull them into the painting, is the effect every painter wants to achieve. Orchestrating that in your painting with varied lines, shapes and colors begins with a conceptual understanding of how to draw.
Male Figure Sketch
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The mastery of Rembrandt is apparent in all his works, but the exhibit Drawings by Rembrandt and his Pupils at the Getty Museum, is an insiders look into how he thinks. It is only there until the end of February so if you haven't gone, you must.
Drawings by Rembrandt
In this exhibit the master shows his pupils how to draw. Rembrandt is known for his portraits using dramatic lighting (see above Rembrandt painting); a face appears from the dark depths of the canvas but in his sketches, he uses the opposite effect. I was struck by how little Rembrandt used shadow to convey the form. His drawings are a study in restraint with the light area dominating. It is not so much what he draws but what he leaves out. His line is expressive, varied, and kept to a minimum. The shadows are rendered only where needed, with little excess and no confusion.
Look at the sketches of the old man. Both leave his forehead light with only a thin line to separate it from the paper. The beard is defined, not by shadow but by subtle lines. The darkest area is where the neck meets the head, but it is restrained and minimal. With only a few lines, Rembrandt captures the expression of the old man.
The angel is another amazing drawing. The movement is achieved with line alone and the skill of the perspective is effortless. In the wash drawing of the woman, note the successful drapery. It is rendered with just a few key strokes.
I can only marvel at the amazing skill and talent. Practice is the only way to achieve this freedom of application. In my Tuesday sketching class, I will attempt to apply the lessons of Rembrandt.