TUTORIAL: Figure drawing, book recommendations, proportions

A break from my usual paintings of portraits and cat heads! There is a “tutorials” category in this blog, and today I am using it!

I have a painting student who is interested in working more with life drawing and figure drawing. I told her that I’d make a blog post with some book recommendations and other basic tips. This is that blog post! (Book recommendations are at the bottom of this page.)

A topic we’ve been discussing is that all-too-common bugaboo for many artists—getting basic figure proportions correct. Working from life or working from photos, it can get tricky.

It’s a common error for artists to make the head too big for the figure. I remember doing this when I took my first life drawing class. All my figures looked like horrible trolls with HUGE heads! It took a while to finally overcome this bad habit.

This is often happens because we emotionally “see” the head as the most important and unconsciously make it bigger. (We do the same when drawing faces, too. The features will be too big for the rest of the head, and new artists often make the forehead too short and the back of the head too shallow, because we focus so much on the features–eyes, nose, mouth—that the rest of the head is subconsciously viewed as “less important” and drawn smaller.)

To combat this common problem, and to aid all artists in getting the proportions correct, many art teachers have been teaching the “heads high” proportion standard.

From Loomis’s popular book, “Figure Drawing for all It’s Worth.” Click on image to see larger view.

The conventional wisdom is that most people are “7-1/2 heads” high.

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Recent sketches from life (NSFW, obviously)

Time again to post some latest Life Drawing efforts.

I had two evenings of figure drawing (each night at a different place) this week. Both nights, I sucked. Oh well, it’s been a while since I was able to attend figure drawing. And next week I hopefully will be able to attend a portrait drawing group, where artists meet to do portraits only from life! I am looking forward to that.

Drawing from life is an ongoing thing. For many artists it is. We keep coming back to do it again, and again, and again. We don’t outgrow it, and we shouldn’t! Without that regular drawing practice, we get rusty (like I’ve been getting lately) and that’s bad. Don’t ever believe that you’ve had “enough” life drawing because you took a semester or two of it in college.

Anyway, here’s what I’ve got to show this time.

Small portrait, drawn from life

The one above was done a few months ago. I never got around to posting it, until now. And the one below, same thing. Done a few months ago, didn’t get around to scanning it or posting it.

Figure drawn from life. On 8-1/2″x11″ sketch pad.

Below is the only sketch produced this week. I cropped the drawing to just show her head. The rest of the sketch didn’t turn out so great.

“Amy” (but it doesn’t look ANYTHING like her!). Sketch from life.

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More figure drawings! (Some nudity, may be NSFW)

Time for more figure drawings! For a very long time, ever since I took my first figure drawing class at age 18, I’ve kept returning to life drawing classes and sessions. This kind of drawing discipline helps keep skills sharp. You have to draw the model in front of you—no time for lots of erasing and fussing, as the model won’t stay still forever!

Portrait of Young Woman, from life. 8-1/2″x11″ graphite on sketch paper

And here are a few more sketches from a nude model. These sketches are usually done from 15-30-minute poses. Never longer than 30 minutes.

Approximately a 20-30 minute pose.

The above sketch is available for sale on DailyPaintworks.

Seated Nude, quick sketch, in pencil

And yet another!

 

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Burne Hogarth class notes

When I went to art school (Otis in Los Angeles) many moons ago, I knew I needed to get better at figure drawing. I had already taken several semesters at the local Community College (Glendale College, aka GCC) and had a wonderful teacher there. But after a while, I’d exhausted all my possible semesters of life drawing and it was time to move on.

I happened to see an ad in the L.A. Times for this art school, called Otis. I had never heard of it before, but I sent away for a catalog. And when I got the catalog, I knew that it was where I wanted to go. (I also considered Art Center in Pasadena, but it was a no-go, because it would have been too difficult to get there by bus. So, that’s how I made my decision for Otis. Bus routes.)

Anyway, I had some semesters of wonderful classes there, which showed me more about anatomy and figure drawing and I was doing okay, and improving. Then one semester, the new schedule came out and among the figure drawing classes listed, was one taught by  . . . Burne Hogarth.

No, that’s not good enough—just typing it out like that—that doesn’t have enough gravity. BURNE FRIGGING HOGARTH.

There.

Burne Hogarth class notes

Cropped page from my sketchbook. Class notes from Mr. Hogarth’s class. Click on image to see the full page.

Oh my goodness. I think I shrieked right there in class (wherever I was) and made a complete scene in front of everyone, pretty much babbling, “BURNE HOGARTH! BURNE HOGARTH!!!” over and over again. Several other students wondered what my problem was, and then I explained, between excited shrieks, that this guy has written one of the best instructional books on figure drawing and anatomy and I had studied his books from cover to cover and they rocked my world. And now he was going to teach there. At Otis! Sign me up!

Several of the other students who heard me shriek about Hogarth signed up for his class too, just based on my reaction. They later told me that they were soooo glad that they did.

Burne Hogarth class notes

Cropped page from my sketchbook. Class notes from Mr. Hogarth’s class. Click on image to see the full page.

Mr. Hogarth (as we all called him) was a wonderful teacher, very old school. Always full of information and ideas. He’d draw these biiig drawings on an easel at the front of the class and lecture on whatever part of the anatomy he was covering that week. It was amazing to watch him work.

He attracted some very advanced students. There was an art teacher from one of the Cal States (who was already a fantastic artist) who asked everyone to not mention to Mr. Hogarth that he was a teacher too; he was just there to learn from the Great Hogarth. There were some illustrators, comic book artists, and a guy from Disney as well. Some really amazing people. And some “regular” students, like me! It was such a fun class and I know it helped me improve my skills a lot. I was lucky to have a couple of semesters with him. I’ll never forget.

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Figure drawing resumes at GotART gallery! (Nudity)

Yay, GotART has resumed its figure drawing sessions, every other week. I’ve missed figure drawing so much. It’s my belief that every artist (especially figurative artists—but seriously, every artist) needs to return to the fundamentals, and one of those is figure drawing. It’s one of the hardest things to draw (so they say) and so it’s a wonderful way to keep on your toes.

We had a new artist join us last time. She said she hadn’t been doing any sort of art that long, and she was worried that her life drawing wasn’t good. She said it was the first time she’d ever attempted anything like it. Well, I thought she was awesome, especially considering her relative lack of experience. She knows she needs to practice (don’t we all) but I think she’s off to a great start.

That’s something I feel very (VERY) strongly about. That you get started and you don’t give up. Even if you don’t think you’re very good, you’ll never get any better if you don’t keep working at it. I hold great respect for anyone who plants their butt in a chair and struggles through something difficult like figure drawing. It doesn’t matter how well their drawings turn out, but that they’re THERE. Doing the work. Improvement will come in time. What matters is the commitment to doing the work. Without that, there’s no hope, is there? That’s true for everything.

Okay, here’s a few of my sketches from that session. Done in my 9×12 sketchbook, with one of those mechanical clickie pencils. Most of the poses were maybe 5-20 minutes, I think. I was not feeling very perky (it’s always hard coming back to figure drawing after an absence), but it’ll be better next time.

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Conte Crayon figure drawing (nudity)

I found this old newsprint sketchpad from a figure drawing class I’d attended years ago at Glendale College. The paper was in pretty bad shape, but I took photos and tried to Photoshop some of the sketches into something presentable. Here’s my favorite of the bunch:

figure sketch from life drawing class

I am a big believer that every artist, especially those who are going to draw and paint representationally (not abstracts) should take some figure drawing classes. There’s nothing quite so humbling and challenging as drawing the figure from life.

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