Upright posture is maintained by the sacrospinalis muscles in the back, which bind the spine tightly to the pelvis and hold the torso erect, and by the gluteus maximus muscle of the buttock, which holds the trunk upright on the legs. As we noted in Chapter 2, strong ligaments at the front of the groin prevent backward articulation of the thigh, while others at the back of the knee prevent forward articulation of the knee joint. In a normal standing posture, the hip is slightly forward of the body's centre of gravity and the knee is slightly behind. These two joints are locked in opposition to each other, providing a perfect supporting structure.
To remain upright, the body must maintain balance at all times - whether standing, bending, twisting or stretching - or it will topple over. This means that in any standing figure the body's centre of gravity must be directly over the supporting foot or feet, and this you should always bear in mind when drawing a balanced pose.
Balance is of paramount importance in all physical activity: every movement of one limb requires opposite and complementary movement of other parts if the body is to retain that equilibrium. In the elementary example shown below, the figure on the left is standing upright on both legs, and the line of the shoulders, seen from the front, roughly parallels a line drawn through the hips. If the figure adopts a relaxed stance (below right), in which most of the body's weight is supported by one leg, the hip on that side will be higher than the other. The line of the shoulders automatically adopts a complementary slope in the opposite direction so that the body remains upright and stable.
Readjustments of this kind take place every time we change our posture. We retain our equilibrium by constantly redistributing our body-weight. This is not a conscious process, of course - it is something we never really think about. If you do plenty of sketches from observation of people standing chatting in city streets or waiting for buses, your understanding and perception of such things will soon become just as automatic, and the benefits will be evident in your drawings.
Above: Two illustrations from Gumboot Practice, written by John Francis. [Copyright© Smith Settle Ltd.] Below: Sketchbook jotting of a group in conversation.
Individuals stand in diverse ways as a consequence of subtle differences in body-structure, limb-length and spinal flexibility. Age, too, has an influence on normal body stance, as may clothing. Physical tiredness will show, and so to some extent will the person's mental and emotional state. The way individuals stand can say a very great deal about them.
Looking at the group illustrations reproduced on this page, you should be able to deduce something about each of the individuals portrayed from their posture - something about their character and also a little about their feelings.
The quick sketch of a small group of raincoated figures was drawn at a racecourse. When people relate to each other in this way, they quite naturally adopt similar postures, so it is easy to tell from posture alone which of the men here was not really involved in the conversation.
If you've ever tried making an articulated doll or lay figure stand upright and discovered what a delicate and careful operation this needs to be, you'll know what a remarkable feat of balance the same task is for a living, moving organism. Each time a person moves a limb, bends the back, or lifts a weight, adjustments and compensations have to be made with other parts of the body to maintain that fine balance and avoid falling over.
Take the simple example shown at left. The act of picking something up from the ground appears to be a simple matter of bending at the hip and extending the arm downwards in order to grasp the object. However, for the person to remain standing, the position of the pelvis relative to the supporting feet has to be changed to counterbalance the weight of the torso leaning forward. Of course, normal individuals are doing this all the time. We are all permanently in the process of making compensatory movements to counterbalance every weight we lift and counteract the effect of every movement of a limb, every bend and twist of our body.
This is clearly a relatively simple process when we are bending to pick something up, but in a high-speed activity such as disco dancing such adjustments may need to be made a hundred times in a few seconds. Despite the fact that we never really think about them, any drawing of a figure will look odd if it doesn't show these compensatory movements taking place and balance being maintained.
During physical activities like walking and running and kicking, the body is in a state of controlled imbalance and the centre of gravity is only rarely vertically over the supporting foot, as it must be when we are standing still. The act of walking is an example of an action in which a rhythmic sequence of limb movements is repeated again and again. And it doesn't involve only the legs. The need constantly to restore and adjust equilibrium involves the arms and torso in a series of compensating movements in which most of the voluntary muscles of the body are involved.
The series of drawings along the top of these two pages shows the complete sequence of limb movements involved in two strides. The sequence begins with the body being impelled forward by the left leg as the right leg is lifted and brought forward so that it can receive the weight of the body in its turn. When the right foot is firmly in contact with the ground, it begins to take over the weight-bearing role and, as forward movement continues, the left leg is lifted and brought past the right until at last it is placed in front to take over support once again.
These leg movements are in themselves fairly simple but, because the body is continually moving forward, the arms and torso must perpetually be making a number of fine adjustments to retain stability. The left arm swings forward with the right leg and the right arm with the left leg, so that the figure does not have to take on a rolling motion as the weight shifts alternately from one leg to the other. Hip and shoulder movements likewise take place, and the upper body may lean slightly ahead to aid forward movement.
As each leg comes forward the hip on that side likewise swings forward slightly. This is counterbalanced by a backward swing of the shoulder on the same side. The net result is that the body twists at the waist, adding the strength of the abdominal and oblique muscles to the movement of the legs.
We can see that in this way the whole body is involved in the action, maintaining balance and the control of the forward movement. The rhythmic movements, as well as the additional rocking motion of the pelvis, are shown in the other drawings on this page.
These adjusting and compensating actions are a very important consideration when you are drawing moving figures. They become more pronounced in speedy or violent action. In the drawing of the race-walker on this page, the hip and shoulder movements and the forward lean of the body are very much more evident, and the swing of the arms is more vigorous. It is these differences, rather than the length of stride, that show us that this is a much more energetic activity than ordinary walking.
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