The Human Figure
One of the greatest challenges to confront an artist is drawing the human figure. Our bodies are infinitely complex yet intimately familiar, giving rise to a subject that is difficult to depict accurately yet judged incessantly
The human figure is almost overwhelmingly complex for the artist to draw The human figure is an organic structure that defies geometric simplification. It is composed of bones, muscles, and organs, all of which are covered by a flexible layer of skin. The body has many moving parts that make it almost impossible to define as a shape. Within its skeleton are more than 200 individual bones. Attached to the skeleton and throughout the body are more than 650 muscles.
Figure drawings are held to the highest standards. Because the body is very familiar to us—we each have one of our own—we generally know a lot about it. We admire its beauty and we recognize its flaws. Physical perfection is sought by many, giving rise to such industries as cosmetics, plastic surgery, and a plethora of diet programs. This basic familiarity can often become the bane of the figure artist because his artwork is judged by a higher standard than almost any other art form.
Any artist desiring to learn how to draw the figure needs all the help he can get. Fortunately, in addition to books and other forms of instruction, a new way to help artists with their figurative work is becoming available through technology. This new technology gives the artist access to virtual figure models to use as references for figure drawing. Figure Artist, a new software program, now brings the power of virtual models to everyone with access to a computer. Figure 1.1 shows a screen shot of Figure Artist.
Although virtual models should not take the place of human models, they do add a valuable resource for the artist when real models are unavailable or the pose is unattainable. Often artists are faced with needing to draw a figure with no time, money, or availability of a model. Sometimes the pose needed for a drawing is something that can't be held by a model, such as in the case of something requiring dynamic motion in sports or other extreme physical activity. In these situations, artists in the past had to rely on their own visualization abilities. Now, however, artists can set up models in Figure Artist and use them as reference for their figure work. This book will help to explain how virtual models can be used to help artists improve their figure drawing.
I find drawing people both fascinating and challenging. People are fascinating because we come in so many shapes and sizes and have so many different characteristics, such as ethnic and cultural differences. Yet with all the differences, we are still very much alike. Most people have two eyes, walk on two legs, and talk with one mouth. It is difficult to imagine any subject so similar yet so individual.
There is a rich history of art centered on the human figure. The human form transcends the history of art from the earliest cave paintings to the present time. Great masters such as Rembrandt, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Velasquez, Rubens, David, Picasso, and more have all focused on the human figure in their work. One can scarcely walk through a major art museum without finding an abundance of work depicting the figure. The range is enormous, from breathtaking realism to thought-provoking abstraction and everything in between.
One of the reasons for the abundance of figure art is the amazing range of emotional potential with humans as subjects. Although other animals may have emotion, no creature has the immediate emotional impact that a person does. In fact, we judge all emotion based on our own human experience. We cry. We smile. We laugh. We cheer. We quietly wait out our days. No other subject has the potential for emotional diversity that comes packaged in one person.
Drawing the human form is exciting and rewarding. Although the task might seem daunting, the rewards are great. Not only does the study of figure drawing strengthen all of your art skills, it also enables you to express yourself in ways that would be difficult with any other subject. The very fact that we ourselves are human allows us to appreciate the inspired work of a figure artist.
Drawing the human form is a challenge that requires extensive study. Any artist who wishes to master the drawing of the human form needs to spend extended time studying the anatomy that makes up the human body. Although some artists might gain the ability to construct a believable figure from experience and knowledge without visual reference, this usually doesn't happen until considerable time has already been spent drawing from reference. The best reference, of course, is to draw from life. This means that the artist either hires a model or attends a life-drawing class.
A life-drawing class allows the artist to study the human form from a live model. There is no substitute for being able to see and draw an actual person. In a life-drawing class, the artist is confronted with the reality of a living human being in actual 3D space with specific lighting. Some life-drawing classes have clothed models, but more often than not the model is nude.
Some artists might feel uncomfortable drawing from a nude model. Often there are personal, social, and even religious pressures that can cause an artist to feel this way. I can understand these feelings. I had to deal with many of them myself over the years as I have worked to become an artist. Let me share some observations that might help you.
^ It is impossible for an artist to accurately draw something that is unknown or that he is unfamiliar with. Like a doctor who has to know the human body to practice his profession, the artist has to understand anatomy, proportions, and muscle locomotion to depict believable human forms in his work.
^ The study and drawing of the human form should always be kept professional and respectful. The model is a person, not an object, and should be accorded the utmost respect. Anything that would demean, degrade, or offend the dignity of the model has no place in a life-drawing class. Any person who would say, act, or draw anything that would demean, degrade, or offend the dignity of the model has no place in a life-drawing class.
^ The human form has a divine, inherent beauty that goes beyond almost anything else in the human experience. As figure artists, it is our job to capture and express that beauty in our work.
^ Artists who are professional and dedicated to their craft treat the study of the human form as an essential step in depicting the power, beauty, and grace of the physical body. They are serious and focused about their work. They are not gawkers at a peep show; rather, they are students trying to comprehend an immensely complicated subject.
In a perfect world, an artist would always have a live model for reference. In the reality of life, however, it is rare that the artist can always have a live model to work from. Often the artist will need to work from other resources. These resources might include plaster casts, mannequins, books, online courses, and other forms of art instruction. Added to this list of resources is Figure Artist. Figure Artist might be as close as an artist can get to a live model without actually having a live model.
Sometimes drawing from life is impractical or impossible. A camera can be a great friend to the artist. A photograph is only a single view of the world, but a single view is much better than no view. Many artists keep files, either on hard copies, such as prints or slides, or digitally on computer files, a morgue. I don't know where the term "morgue" for reference photographs came from, but it is often used to describe a box of pictures used by an artist for reference. A large and well-organized morgue can be an invaluable tool for an artist. I started collecting photographs for my morgue when I first was studying art in college. My collection of pictures is a real timesaver.
Figure Artist works much like a camera for taking pictures of your digital models. In fact, the software has several cameras. You can use Figure Artist to pose your models, and then render the images to a digital file that can be printed or viewed on a computer screen. One of the nice things about Figure Artist is that you don't have to worry about copyright laws when using images from it for your work.
When you draw a picture, you automatically own that picture. Your ownership is called a copyright. You can even register your picture with the government. In the US, copyright registration is with the Library of Congress. You can download a copyright form from http://www.copyright.gov.
Regardless of registration, you own your own work. So does the photographer who takes a picture.
When collecting pictures for your own morgue, you should be very careful of copyright laws. The law states that every image has an owner. You should not use someone else's photograph in your work without getting permission from the owner first. If you don't get permission, you are in violation of copyright laws. Remember that the laws that give you ownership of your art are the same laws that prohibit you from using someone else's property for your art reference. It is important for artists to respect each other's work.
I feel it important to touch briefly on the subject of art and pornography. Pornography is often in the eye of the viewer. What may be pornographic to one individual may not be to another. Regardless, the intent and purpose of pornography are often very different from that of art. While the artist is trying to express the qualities and wonder of the human form, the pornogra-pher exploits the sexual aspects of the body. The use of pornographic images for artistic reference is a moral decision that every artist should understand before they make that decision.
Sometimes it is difficult for the artist who must study the human form to avoid the temptation to use pornographic images for reference. Unfortunately, I have seen the addictive nature of pornography adversely affect many artists. If you want to learn more about the destructive nature of pornography addictions, you can read more about it at these Web sites:
1 recommend that you not include any pornographic images in your morgue for four basic reasons.
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