11. Strategies to Get You There

Originally published November 25, 2010, this is the eleventh article in a series.

In the last column, I demonstrated a way of looking at the figure and seeing the energy that moves from part to part. This makes it possible for us to draw the figure and express its liveliness and psychology, as well as to engage an effective route toward seeing proportion.

Once we tune into these cooperative forces that animate the body, they seem obvious; yet opening up the kind of intuitive intelligence we need in order to see these forces is difficult when we are so used to relying mainly on the simple scanning operations of our eyes. As we draw, we need to record pressures and not just edges, and we need to see relationships between parts rather than just pieces of the body.

James McMullan

The exercises and ideas in this week's column are designed to move you toward the goal of seeing the energy chain in the body by practicing drawing large forms, and getting used to the idea of moving out in your drawing and not worrying about attaching one thing to another or enclosing the whole shape of the figure. Once you have gotten over your fear of making a mark out in the white space of the paper and a distance away from the last mark you made, it will free your mind to see that significant energy relationships in the body are often not right next to one another.

The first exercise in the video below uses patches of lines to describe the large forms of the pose and the pressures that move throughout the body.

The second drawing in the video shows that, as an artist, you have to be alive to the possibilities of each pose as you encounter it, and be willing to be surprised and to surprise yourself. This also involves seeing the beautiful relationship that often exists between the model's gaze and his or her hands.

The third drawing in the video demonstrates that sometimes, when your reaction to the model's gesture is particularly strong, an urgent, rougher drawing will help you to feed back to yourself the character of the pose. This kind of experience with drawing - overstating what you see - will give you a taste of how the spirit of caricature is an important element of a lot of interesting art.

The fourth drawing in the video shows how important it is to identify the central aspects of a pose in order to give yourself a theme that helps you to organize your thoughts and the order in which you tackle the different parts of the body.

All of these practices will lead you to empathic thinking. What do I imagine the thigh feels like? What do I sense coming from the model's face and gesture? Where does holding that pose probably hurt? What do I find most beautiful? When you can reach out mentally toward the model in this way, your drawing hand will become much more able to mimic the qualities of the forms that you see - you will be able to make the stroke saying to yourself, "It FEELS like THIS!" - rather than simply noting that the stroke is in the correct place. The best drawings of the human figure seize on its life force.

James McMullan

James McMullan

James McMullan

James McMullan

I have been mostly dealing with active poses in this discussion of drawing the figure, so I am including this drawing of a sitting figure, since many of you will want to draw your friends posing in a more comfortable position.

To help you find the vitality in a typical sitting pose, I have diagrammed the energy chain in this example. Because the young woman is supported by the chair she sits on, the strength in her body is used mainly to hold up and balance the elements of the head, the spinal column and the pelvis. The legs are relatively passive but they contribute a bracing element to the overall stability of her body.

It's important when drawing a pose like this to find a clue in the area of the abdomen that implies the support of the chair seat and gives you a sense of how the pelvis is tilted (in a clothed figure the clue is often the ellipse of the belt or the waistband). Those of you who practice yoga or any of the allied exercise disciplines know about the optimal alignment of the head, spine and pelvis. As artists drawing the figure, we are recording all the different ways that individuals meet that standard or deviate from it.

Finally, as an end note to my discussion of drawing the figure, I feel that confidence in being able to evoke the figure realistically gives you the platform for playing aesthetic games that are not so rigorously correct. Your opinions about the body and the model, whether emotional, skeptical, lustful or witty, will finally be the elements that bring meaning to your drawing.

In the two color examples included here, I have drawn the same model quickly and enthusiastically in order to register my strong response to his skinny body and his theatrical sense of movement. He reminded me of a flamenco dancer or a naked Don Quixote.

James McMullan

James McMullan

Next: The Road to Ten Unknowns


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