The Foundation of Figurative Art Is…

In figure drawing and painting, knowing the ins and outs of the human body is essential. There’s no way around that fact, and honing our skills with anatomy drawing helps us understand and truly see the body more accurately than any other endeavor.

Drawing by Stephen Schultz.
Drawing by Stephen Schultz.

I was flipping through one of my eye-candy books, The Perception of Appearance: A Decade of Contemporary American Figure Drawing, trying to figure out a way to convey the importance of human anatomy for artists. As I thumbed through the book, I saw so many different interpretations of the body. Some sketches, such as those by Stephen Schultz and Don Southard, were crudely drawn; others, by such artists as Kent Bellows and Stephen Assael, were more fully realized.

Some sketches were developed solely with line and contour as in the work of Charles Cajori while others from Fred Dalkey were hewn with gradation and shading and seemed to be carved out of the very paper they were drawn upon. But each drawing, no matter how it was rendered, belonged in the book because they all exhibited a strong knowledge of how to draw a human body.

Model Looking at the Light by Fred Dalkey, 2011, silver point drawing with sgrafitto, 9 5/16 x 7.
Model Looking at the Light by Fred Dalkey,
2011, silver point drawing with sgrafitto,
9 5/16 x 7.

That kind of skill can, of course, be interpreted differently–which the book clearly demonstrated–but if you don’t have it, it shows. So as I sit here and wonder what I am gearing up for in the next few months of studio practice, know that learning more and more about drawing anatomy is foremost in my mind. There’s no substitute for it and after seeing many skilled drawings of the human body, I realize that anatomy isn’t just a linear subject to learn like a mathematical equation. It is a faceted key that fits many doors of artistic expression–and I want to walk through those doors with my own art and explore different ways of drawing and painting. We should never feel limited in terms of our creativity, and for an artist, knowing anatomy is a way of assuring that doesn’t happen.

A subscription to Drawing magazine is a great place to start your explorations of how to draw a human body or to brush up on your knowledge of human anatomy for artists. Almost every issue takes on an essential area of the body from the artist’s perspective and makes exploring anatomy drawing a focused, pinpointed endeavor as you strengthen your skills. Enjoy!

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

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