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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An homage to teachers…

(Please forgive me for being long-winded, but this is one post where I can’t  be brief!) TL;DR, I am very grateful to all my teachers, they changed my life and I can’t thank them enough.

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for some time now, probably at least a year. Now it’s a lazy Saturday and I guess it’s time!

I think most artists, whether we are formally trained or not, are inevitably influenced by other artists, either through direct instruction, or books, or some other means. I don’t think any artist lives in a vacuum, where they never are impacted by the creative works of those around them, or from artists in the past. I don’t believe such a thing is possible.

In my case, I’ve had many influences, and most notably have been my teachers. They’ve come from different sources—art school, community college, workshop, private lessons… all were vitally important. And all have my eternal gratitude.

I thought I’d mention several of them here. There are some who have made a tremendous difference in my life, and others who were important and memorable. I wouldn’t say that the teachers who were the most profound to me, were “better” teachers—it’s just that sometimes someone comes along at the right time, and gives you something when you need it most. So, to you, what they did was immensely profound.

So, here’s my list of thanks to a few of these teachers, going back from the start.

Shirlee Prescott Morgan

(Known as simply “Shirlee” to me!)

Shirlee Prescott Morgan, my first art teacher.

I started getting serious about art when I was about 13 years old. I drew, mostly, and struggled with painting and color.

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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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