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The Bare Bones of Figure Drawing

Heather Clements taught a 4-hour figure drawing workshop at Studio b. Saturday afternoon.  She used slides to show us where the underlying skeletal structure and muscular anatomy were evident in paintings and sculptures by such artists as Rubens, Michelangelo, daVinci, Philip Perlstein, Picasso, Egon Schiele, and others.  She also gave us  a packet of photos and drawings of the skeletal and muscular anatomy to study and use as a reference.

Our initial assignment was to try to imagine the skeleton underneath the model’s pose and to draw that skeletal pose.  It was a hard job.  When I attended the University of Northern Colorado, I studied anatomy, not for my Fine Arts major, but for my other major, Health, Physical Education and Recreation.  But that was many years ago, and I have forgotten most of it.  So I just copied what Heather had shown us, as best I could.  I was impressed with how quickly it began to make sense, and I began to feel very comfortable with it.  Below is the progression of some of my warm-up skeleton gestures, with the last one showing the fleshy form added during in the final 30 seconds of an 8-minute pose, after the imaginary skeleton was already drawn.

This turned out to be an immensely helpful exercise, as I found it much easier to locate the various parts of the figure in relation to each other later on in the session.  But rarely do things ever go quite the way I wish they would when I am developing a new awareness, and I complicated things further by trying out some colored conte that I had been carrying around for about half a year in my box of drawing media.  I’ll probably get up the nerve to try the conte again, but I know for sure that I will be getting out my anatomy books and studying the skeletal structure of various poses.  Below are my two final drawings from today’s workshop.

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Guest Artist at Studio b: Eileen West

Henri Matisse - Nude at the Mirrow - 1937
Henri Matisse - Nude at the Mirror 1937

Eileen West was the guest artist at Studio b this week, the first in a series.  She gave a presentation about her approach to the figure, and she referenced Henri Matisse, in particular his Nude at the Mirror (shown at right).  She pointed out how Matisse did not strive for accuracy or for tonal expression of the form in this drawing and yet it conveyed such emotion.  She quoted Picasso as saying that he spent 4 years learning to paint like Rafael, and the rest of his life learning to paint like a child.

She asked us to try to express emotion in our drawings and she asked us to look at the entire setting, not just figure and ground, and not to get stuck on absolute accuracy.  I thought it was easier to express emotion when we were warming up with 1-minute gestures, but more difficult when the model held sustained poses.  Eileen said to consider everything she said to be lies, but I knew she spoke her truth and I felt privileged that she shared it with us.

My first drawing here adds in some of the elements of the studio and makes almost no attempt at modeling, sort of Matisse-y, although any inaccuracy in the contours was unintentional.  In the second drawing, I just emptied my mind and went with the moment.

After Eileen's presentation 1
After Eileen's presentation 2
Eileen West, of Seagrove Beach, FL, was our guest artist at studio b this week.  She talked about being aware of the entire setting, and encouraged us to incorporate the setting into our drawings, as opposed to ordinary figure/ground drawings.  She showed us some slides of art by Henri Matisse, including this one pictured, Nude at the Mirror, to exemplify how he incorporated the surroundings and was not very worried about exact accuracy, and not at all worried about modeling of form.  She quoted Picasso as saying he spent 4 years learning to draw like Rafael, and the rest of his life learning to draw like a child.