Long-Pose Drawing Basics: How to Keep It Energetic and Alive

19 Jan 2008

A more finished drawing is possible when a model poses for an extended amount of time, but this luxury comes with particular challenges. Identifying and preparing for the potential pitfalls will improve your figure drawing.

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by Dan Gheno

Academic Drawing Standing Female Drawing Leaning Figure
Academic Drawing of a Standing Female, Frontal View
by Taylor, charcoal, 24 x 18½. Collection The Art Students League of New York, New York, New York.

Although a highly finished académie, this image still gives much emphasis to the model’s underlying gesture. Notice how the artist tested and developed his understanding of the gesture in the loosely rendered torso on the left side of the drawing.
Leaning Figure (Claudia)
by Dan Gheno, 2007, graphite, 24 x 18. Collection the artist.

For some artists who like to draw the figure from life, a one-hour pose can seem like an eternity, while for others, a four-week pose can feel like four blinks of an eye. No matter how you define a “long pose,” it only takes a couple of seconds to ruin a promising or nearly finished drawing. It’s like a kick in your gut when you realize you’ve gone beyond the point of no return, where the paper is falling apart and no erasing, extra rendering, or added lines will save it.

So how do you save yourself from this terrible destiny? In this article, I will outline the many pitfalls that you are likely to face whenever you work on a drawing for an hour or more. More important, I will describe a few of the many strategies you can use to avoid these land mines and keep your drawings fresh and alive. All the tactics on this list are equally essential and are presented in no particular order of importance. You should try to keep them in mind simultaneously when you draw a long pose, except for the transcendent, all-important first point that you should consider even before you begin your drawing: Define your goals!

Goals

Are you sketching an exploratory study for a painting, drawing an academic study, or producing a composition for its own sake as an art object? For instance, the Renaissance and Baroque Old Masters did many highly polished figure drawings as studies for their paintings. It may look as though they labored a long time, but, for the most part, they worked rather quickly, trying to anticipate and correct issues of anatomy and proportion they might encounter on their finished canvases—they got a lot down on their paper because they didn’t hesitate. These artists had a firm goal in mind, and they stopped when they accomplished their objective, creating forceful, life-filled drawings that incidentally succeed as independent, finished art.

On the other hand, you want to take your time when drawing an academic study (or académie), building up slowly to the finished product. Taking shortcuts reduces the educational value of these exercises, which, if done in the traditional manner, can take an average of five continuous days to complete. Try to be clear about your intentions when doing an académie. Are you trying to learn something about values and proportions? If so, once you fulfill that goal, should you spend your time trying to feather and fill in every grain of the paper? Or, at your current level of competence, is it a better use of your time to start another drawing to further your abilities of visual perception?

Study of a Galley Slave
by Annibale Carracci, ca. 1585, red chalk, 10¼ x 10?.

The Carracci family of artists was a powerful force in the world of figure drawing. As the Renaissance faded into what they considered the undisciplined excesses of the Mannerist age, they became fearful that their new generation had forgotten how to draw the human form. They created the first “academy” devoted to the study and drawing of the figure from life, in an attempt to pass along this revived, artistic knowledge to fellow artists of the “reformed” Baroque era.
Portrait of Marie-Gabrielle Capet, Half-length, Holding a Glass and Leaning on a Table
by François-André Vincent, 1790, black and white
chalk with touches of red chalk, 18? x 17¼. Collection The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.

There is great gesture in this model’s pose. Many early artists used braces to help the model maintain such difficult poses, or drew the pose in parts, gradually assembling the body segments into a finished whole.

Then there is the type of long-term drawing that’s solely done for art’s sake. Sometimes it’s deliberate and studied, sometimes it’s impulsive and expressive. Frequently, it’s realistic, and occasionally, it’s nonobjective, but it’s almost always created with ardent passion. Artists such as Alberto Giacometti and Rico Lebrun often repeatedly reworked their images, putting in and taking out lines and value shapes. They would sometimes let the image appear, disappear, and then reappear over time until they felt comfortable with the results. There are many reasons to spend a long time on a drawing. If you want to imbue your drawing with force and conviction, pick a reason and stick to it.

Gesture

No matter what your goals are, it is imperative to start your drawing with a firm understanding of the figure’s underlying gesture. It is equally crucial to maintain that gestural look as you advance deeper into the drawing, rendering values and complicated details. Notice how Seurat began his académie in a relaxed, improvisational manner, loosely establishing the figure’s silhouette in Study for Man Standing, Palms Out. He made some minor adjustments to the gesture when he rendered the finished drawing, but he held onto the big rhythms that ran through the figure, eloquently capturing the way the individual body parts tend to angle in opposition to one another. Remember, though, that you are working from a living, breathing human being. As models tire, they sometimes subconsciously shift their weight from one leg to the other in a standing pose, altering the underlying gesture.

Measurement

Many artists face a great deal of difficulty trying to fit the entire figure on their papers or canvases. There is no rule that says you must draw the entire figure, but this is a particularly terrifying issue for those artists drawing an académie or trying to fit several figures within a complicated perspective layout. In both cases, I find it very helpful to mark on my paper the top, middle, and bottom of the figure. Finding the midpoint of the figure, one can draw back and forth from the top to the bottom, working back toward its center. Many artists subconsciously shorten their figures as they move perilously close to the bottom of the paper. If you don’t have time to restart the drawing and you have no other choice, it is better to let the feet run off the page, with all the other body parts correctly proportioned, than to turn your model into a modern-day version of the short-legged Toulouse-Lautrec. I try to trust my gut as much as possible during this early stage. Only when I’m satisfied with the general placement and action of the figure do I begin to zero in on individual forms and details, and only then do I begin to optically measure the proportions of the model. Most often, I use the head size as my unit of measurement for the rest of the figure. It’s a good idea to repeat each of your measurements at least twice to confirm accuracy. Then cross-check your head measurements by comparing large anatomical units such as legs against arms, the torso against leg units, and the overall figure length against its width.

In a seated pose, a model may begin with perfect posture, and then several minutes later end up slumped forward. You have several options: When working alone, ask the model to adjust the pose and/or take more breaks if the pose is difficult. Unfortunately, it’s more problematic if you are drawing in a group situation. Looking around the studio, you may notice that your fellow artists have drawn the model in different states of tiredness. The best solution is to wait until the model resumes the pose after a five-minute break. Refreshed, the model will likely return to the original gesture. You can also adjust your drawing to reflect the pose when the model gets tired. But stick to it! Whatever you do, never change your drawing back and forth, trying to chase the shifting movements of the model.

At all times, be sure to find the middle point of the figure—wherever that may be (usually near the crotch on the standing figure). And don’t forget to mark it lightly on your paper. That way, if the upper part of your figure begins to grow larger as you concentrate on the details there, you’ll catch your mistake before you run out of paper for the feet.

Study for a Man Standing, Palms Out
by Georges Seurat, 1877, 23½ x 15. Private collection.

Notice the simple, delicate manner in which Seurat set up the gesture of his figure. At the start, it is almost an empty silhouette.
Two Studies of a Nude Woman Reclining, Facing Right
by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, ca. 1813, graphite, 10 x 10½. Collection the Louvre, Paris, France.

Some artists purposely look for and impose distortions into their drawn figures. In an attempt to evoke an “idealization” that he considered classical, Ingres regularly added vertebrae and softened the joints of his human subjects to create an elegant elongation or smoothing out of their forms.

Some artists use a very strict approach, measuring everything on rigorously precise vertical and horizontal plumb lines. This can work flawlessly when drawing from a still life, plaster casts, or photographs. However, as we noted earlier regarding the model’s gesture, it can create a lot of confusion when applied to a human being, especially by a novice. At the beginning of the pose, whether seated or standing, the model might start in a very erect posture, with the length of the figure measuring a certain number of heads. By the end of the pose session, the areas between the neck and the collarbone and the space between the rib cage and the pelvis will have compressed greatly, perhaps subtracting as much as one or more heads from the total length of the figure.

You need to stay vigilant to this as you count heads. Don’t redraw everything toward the end of a pose, assuming that your initial measurements are off. I try to take into account the natural slumping that occurs within the torso as the model sinks into the pose, measuring the head against fixed bony parts, such as the sternum, pelvis, or the rigid long bones of the limbs. I measure along the long axis of each anatomical form, either in conjunction with or instead of the customary vertical and horizontal method, and I avoid the more flexible, collapsible areas of the body, relying on my gut for those local proportions. Usually, if you correctly estimate the rigid areas of the body, you will find it hard to go too wrong on the more collapsible areas.
Drapery and furniture can be the cause of much trouble and redrawing as well. When drawing a seated pose, you’ll notice that the chair will often push up against the model’s thigh, seemingly shortening the length of his or her torso. Try not to subconsciously extend the length of the torso in your drawing to compensate for this effect. However, the drawn torso will look too short to the viewer if you don’t at least draw some little suggestion of the chair cushion or the layer of drapery that might be sitting upon the chair, cropping the figure even more.

Drapery and furniture can be the cause of much trouble and redrawing as well. When drawing a seated pose, you’ll notice that the chair will often push up against the model’s thigh, seemingly shortening the length of his or her torso. Try not to subconsciously extend the length of the torso in your drawing to compensate for this effect. However, the drawn torso will look too short to the viewer if you don’t at least draw some little suggestion of the chair cushion or the layer of drapery that might be sitting upon the chair, cropping the figure even more.

Objectivity

The longer you work, the harder it is to maintain your objectivity. You will find that there are times when nothing looks correct and no revisions seem to work. First the head looks too big, then after changing it, the head looks too small. Simply put, you feel blinded. Even if you are not physically fatigued, you need to pace yourself and take breaks from the drawing process before this occurs. The model is not the only one who needs a rest—so do you! Time your breaks to the model’s, usually taking five minutes after every 20 minutes of work and a long break at some point during a three-hour session. Also, it helps to look at your drawing with a mirror. This simple tool, in use since the Renaissance, reverses the image and allows you to view the proportions of your figure with some small bit of objectivity. Still, don’t overuse it, or you will lose your objectivity with the reverse image as well.

Revision Creep

“Revision creep” usually occurs when you’ve lost your objectivity and you refuse to take a break. Perhaps you know the feeling. It usually starts innocently enough. You decide some body part is a little too small, so you enlarge it. Then you realize you need to enlarge other body parts in compensation, and before you know it, you’ve rescaled your entire figure to a larger size and that first body part looks too small again. As you know, revision creep can occur even when you’re fully energized and wide-awake. It helps to take a break and then look at the image in the mirror before you make any major changes on a figure drawing that looked fine just a few minutes ago. If that doesn’t work, try staring at the area next to the supposed problem; surprisingly often, the real problem is located elsewhere. In the case of an eye that looks too big or seems planted too close to the nose, look at the adjacent features. Perhaps the nose is too wide, impinging on the eye; or maybe the ear is too large or too close to the eye, making it look as though the eye is overwhelming the rest of the face.

I often use a technique I call “tracking back” when trying to determine a problem area. For instance, if working on the face, I’ll start with one of the features on my drawing, placing my pencil at its corner. Then I’ll jump the pencil to the nearest, adjacent value shape, looking at the model to be sure the distance is accurate. Then I hop my pencil to the next value shape, looking at the model again and repeating the process until I either confirm the proportions or find the problem. Think of it like island-hopping or, as some artists have poetically phrased it, a fly jumping from one detail to the next.

You must be on your guard to revision creep in the face, particularly when you use the head as your unit of measurement. As you may recall from my article in the fall 2006 issue of Drawing [“How to Draw Dynamic Heads”], if the facial triangle of the eyes, nose, and lips is too large for the face, the head will look too large for the body. Even though the outside shape of the head is correctly proportioned, you may be tempted to enlarge the rest of the figure, which will then look too big. When in doubt about such prospective changes, it doesn’t hurt to try them out on your tracing paper first.

Standing Figure
by Philip Pearlstein, 1962, watercolor and wash, 14 x 11.

I’m not privy to his intentions, but as you look at the dotted contour lines curving across the widths of the model’s forms in this drawing, you can almost imagine Pearlstein “tracking back” with his eyes and pencil-jumping from one major shape or plane to another.
Study for the Figure of Christ on the Cross
by Peter Paul Rubens, charcoal and white chalk, 20¾ x 14½. Collection the British Museum, London, England.

This is a powerfully “abstract” drawing based on both a strong, explosive silhouette on the figure’s exterior and firm, elegant light and dark shapes within the interior. Despite all the value variations in this drawing, notice how Rubens expertly keeps all the light halftones bright enough as a unit so they are not confused with the shadows.

Perhaps you’re perfectly happy with relationships among the feature of the head, but it’s the body that’s giving you trouble. Even after measuring the length of the body against the head size several times, the overall figure still looks too big or too small. If the figure seems too big, but the lengths of the figure measure correctly, often you’ve drawn the torso and limbs too thick. Before you give in to revision creep and redraw the head to a larger size, consider this: Most artists don’t have a lot of difficulty judging their vertical measurements, but they regularly stumble when measuring across the widths of the model. Sometimes they make a width too wide, sometimes too thin. It happens to all of us. In these crazy moments, it feels as though you’ve fallen into a sort of optical Twilight Zone, where the figure you’ve drawn looks too short, when you’ve actually made it too wide; or a figure looks too long when, in fact, you’ve made it too thin. Before you automatically change your lengths, double check your widths to be sure that you’re not fooling yourself.

And then there is that trickster of foreshortening, who often likes to throw a monkey wrench into everything. Artists usually don’t have a hard time determining the foreshortened lengths of the limbs, but they tend to draw the widths too small, as if proportioned for a shorter arm or leg. Foreshortening is, as its name suggests, a shortening of a form from fore to aft. In general (unless the limb you’re drawing is significantly closer to you), the width typically measures just as much as it would in a nonforeshortened position. Even though our eyes can see the truth, we have to get over our nervous denial before we can allow ourselves to draw it that way.

Visual Distortion

Although foreshortening may seem like a form of distortion, it’s not. A foreshortened limb is simply the visual shape that your eye sees. But visual distortion can become a real problem if you stand too close to the model while drawing. You can see only so much of the figure before you have to move your eyes up or down. Every time you move your eyes or head, you change your picture plane and your perspective relationship to the model: One moment you’re looking up at the underplane of the model’s nose, the next moment you’re looking down onto the top plane of the model’s shoes. Many photographers purposely use a wide-angle lens to get this kind of wraparound view, but this close-up fish-eye effect plays havoc with the artist’s normally reliable measurement systems. The exacting use of plumb lines and head units only work when viewing the model through one picture plane, and they are almost useless in this situation except as a general guide. Many of us choose to embrace this distortion effect on occasion. Some artists, such as the Cubists, exploit multiple picture planes to the extreme, while others such as Degas and Raphael Soyer take a more restrained approach. Should distortion interest you, you need to trust your gut as much as possible so you don’t bog down your drawing with stultifying revisions, or frustratingly heavy-handed, redrawn lines. When blocking in your drawing, compare adjacent body parts to one another so that, at the very least, their proportions appear logical for whatever level of distortion you are seeking.

Female Nude, Seen From the Back
by Jacob Jordaens, ca. 1640, black, red, and white chalk, 10? x 8. Collection National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Foreshortened limbs may seem impossible to our minds, but to our eyes, it is the simple optical truth. To successfully draw foreshortened forms, we must train our minds to get out of the way of our eyes.
Seated Old Woman, Her Hands Folded in Her Lap
by Käthe Kollwitz, 1905, charcoal, 27 x 15½. Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen, Dresden, Germany.

Kollwitz made good use of her materials, utilizing the bold, contrasty values of her charcoal to replicate the heavy, somber, but determined, quality of her subject.

If you want to avoid this kind of visual distortion, there are several simple ways to determine whether you are too close to the model. The landscape painter George Inness proposed a quick and effective solution. Pointing out that it is dangerous to put in more of the landscape than artists can humanly see without moving their eyes, he suggested that we should hold our thumb and forefinger in a circle and look through it while holding it at the end of our noses. That small view, he said, is what we can see without moving our eyes. Many academic figure drawers prefer a more exacting formula: the artist’s distance from the model should be about three times the height of the figure. It depends on how much of the figure you want to draw, but if you wish to render its entire length without this distortion, try to stand at least 14 feet away from the model.

Whether you’re drawing for realism or expression, it’s usually best to draw at an easel. It’s hard enough to keep your proportions under control with the paper straight, centered, and parallel to your line of sight. It’s almost impossible if the paper is on a slant to your eyes and your view of the drawing is distorted. You will notice that the legs in some of Prud’hon’s drawings look a bit short. It’s possible that he drew a lot of short-legged models, but since we know he liked to draw in sketch groups, he was likely drawing on a chair with the lower part of his board angled closer to his eyes. In that case the legs would look perfectly proportioned to him at that angle of distortion. Unfortunately, many of us have bad backs, so we’ve had to invent strategies that allow us to work sitting down with a drawing board in our lap or braced at an angle on another chair in front of us. I try to sit back as far as I can from my board to reduce distortions. You will especially see a great deal of vertical, fish-eye distortion when viewing your drawing from a seated position, but there is little visual warping when you view it from side to side. I encourage my seated students to turn their drawings sideways every now and then. With the drawing turned on its side, you can scrutinize your sketched figure at an even, distortion-free, constant angle from its head to its toe.

When used carefully and sparingly, your mirror can be a useful tool. Unfortunately, if you hold your mirror off to one side of the drawing, it will distort your optical perception of proportions. Don’t rely completely on the mirror or you may find yourself changing accurate shapes in the drawing to repair the false, distorted version of the sketch that you see in the mirror. I encourage my students to use this device only when they absolutely need to. I tell them to use it when they have a suspicion about the drawing—perhaps one eye is too low—and use the mirror to confirm or deny their worries. Hold your mirror absolutely parallel to your drawing when using it to question proportions. Sometimes you will see a problem in the mirror that you hadn’t noticed before. However, don’t change it unless you also see it as a problem when you look directly at the drawing with your naked eye.

For some artists who like to draw the figure from life, a one-hour pose can seem like an eternity, while for others, a four-week pose can feel like four blinks of an eye. No matter how you define a “long pose,” it only takes a couple of seconds to ruin a promising or nearly finished drawing. It’s like a kick in your gut when you realize you’ve gone beyond the point of no return, where the paper is falling apart and no erasing, extra rendering, or added lines will save it.

Reading the Will
by Charles Gibson, ink.

Sketching with thinly spaced ink lines, Gibson produced soft atmospheric tones that are normally more suited to a blendable medium, such as charcoal or graphite.
The Presentation of Jimmy’s White Suit
by Jerome Witkin, 1987, charcoal, 48 x 84.
Collection the artist.

Witkin makes good use of all his materials—his charcoal pencil, eraser, and paper—to create an intensely meticulous drawing filled with interesting textures; gesturally evocative marks, both stroked and smeared; dramatic values and abstract shapes; and an atmospheric sense of deep space.

So how do you save yourself from this terrible destiny? In this article, I will outline the many pitfalls that you are likely to face whenever you work on a drawing for an hour or more. More important, I will describe a few of the many strategies you can use to avoid these land mines and keep your drawings fresh and alive. All the tactics on this list are equally essential and are presented in no particular order of importance. You should try to keep them in mind simultaneously when you draw a long pose, except for the transcendent, all-important first point that you should consider even before you begin your drawing: Define your goals!

Value Rendering

Too many artists, novice realists in particular, can’t wait to get into rendering values. Some of them even begin modeling before they’re certain about the proportional relationships of their figure drawing. And once they start, many of these “realists” can’t seem to stop rendering, until the paper is covered several layers deep with dense tones and the drawing is long dead, dull, and muddily overmodulated beyond anything visible in the real world. Mark the warning words of the many skilled realists who’ve proceeded us: The full power of transmitted light cannot be captured on an opaque piece of paper, and even the darkest, blackest piece of charcoal can not even approximate the velvety depths of the model’s nostrils. Artists can’t exactly transcribe the tonalities of the real world, value for value. The most we can aspire to is to establish a proportional relationship of dark to light values on our paper. We can put in as many halftone shapes in the lights as we want, but we need to keep them light enough as a group so that they are not confused with our dark shadow shapes. We can likewise render as many shadow modulations as we want, but they also need to read dark enough as a value mass so that they’re not confused with the light shapes.

Try to stay open minded to all rendering methods. Many people like to stroke in their values with a light touch, letting the texture of the paper vibrate beneath. I like to do this as well, but sometimes I find this vibrating, pitted surface grating, like static on an old TV set. Many artists use a stump to rub their value masses into the valleys of the paper. I prefer to use my finger or a wadded tissue to rub in my masses. No doubt that thump you just heard was the sound of a monocled art professor fainting after reading the last sentence, but if you clean your fingers constantly, you’ll find that they are a much more sensitive and accurate blending tool than a stump—and once one finger is dirtied, you have nine more readily available points at hand. When you need to blend into a tight shape too small for your finger, you can also wrap your tissue around a sharpened pencil and use it as if it were an ultrasharp substitute stump.

For myself, I like to render a great deal. It can be like a form of meditation for me. But I try to work within the confines of believability while rendering; I try to keep my lights airy, not too dark and muddy. For inspiration, examine artists such as Cézanne and Degas, who actively drew the atmosphere around their models. They often let the outlines and brighter halftones of their figures melt into the whites of the paper and blur their shadow shapes into the darks of the surrounding environment, merging figure and ground into an atmospheric whole.

Materials and Tools

Too many artists try to force their materials to accomplish a task that is against their nature, such as trying to draw a delicate rendering on rough laid paper or trying to create a graphic, high-contrast image with graphite, silverpoint, or colored pencil. Sure, you might succeed—but not without a struggle that will likely reflect itself in frustrated, heavy-handed lines or value masses. Think what the materials mean to you before you begin drawing. Once you pick the correct materials for your goals, you must treat them with respect. Carefully carry your paper purchases home from the store. Nothing ruins a drawing quicker than a piece of paper with a sharp ding in it, especially if the dent sits where you want to draw the features of the model. The natural greases of your hand pose another threat to your paper. Although grease spots tend to be invisible to the eye, they cause graphite pencils to skip, and create blotchy tonalities and smudges when you try to render over them with charcoal. You can use a mahlstick to keep your hand off the drawing surface, but this will slow you down when you are trying to lay in the initial sketch and even later on when you are trying to stroke in values masses. At the outset, it’s usually sufficient to simply wash your hands—try not to eat potato chips while laying in your drawing! After you’ve covered the paper with a beginning sketch, you should place a small, clean piece of bond paper under your hand as you draw, so that you don’t smudge your block-in. Don’t forget to put several pieces of paper underneath your drawing as well. This keeps the texture of the drawing board from rubbing through to the top surface of the drawing while you work.

Standing Male Nude
by Frederick Mac Monnies, 1885, charcoal and graphite, 24? x 14. Collection Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, New Jersey.
Figure Study, Damascus
by Deane G. Keller, 1998–1999, charcoal, 43½ x 29. Collection Dorothy Bosh Keller. Photo by John Kleinhans.

Although Keller created a sense of volume through delicate value rendering, the artist never lost sight of the essential abstract silhouette of the overall figure.

Many teachers tell their students to avoid erasers, as if they are a form of cheating. No, erasers are a tool like all your others. Among their many helpful applications, you can use them to clean up your initial construction lines, or use them as negative drawing tools, stroking erased lines into value masses. When the tonal structure or the linework of your drawing seems too heavy-handed or dark, you can take a flattened kneaded eraser and, by gently tapping the surface of your paper with it, lighten up the image with a few easy motions of the hand. You can even use a white plastic eraser as if it were a stump, gliding the flat side of the utensil over charcoal tones to even them out. These days, erasers are finding greater acceptance as tools, and many companies are producing them in the guise of mechanical pencils for handier use. Reach for one of them when you want to work particularly thin lines into a value shape or want to clean up a small delicate area that might be blurred or wiped out by a larger eraser.

Details

Just because you have more time to render, it doesn’t mean you must absolutely draw every toe and toenail. However, if that is your interest, do it with decisive gusto. Many artists have ruined an otherwise solid and energetic drawing by hesitantly drawing in a detail, erasing it, drawing it again, and then erasing it again. For most artists, the likely problem areas of the figure are the hands and the feet. (I covered the hand in the summer 2007 Drawing Highlights issue in an article titled “A Portrait of the Hand.”) The foot could use an article of its own as well, but most of my advice about the hand equally applies to the foot. It helps to visualize the hand in a mitten, to determine the big shape that contains all of the interior details.  Similarly, imagine the foot covered in a sock. As with the fingers, keep the individual digits simple at first, and envision the small toes as a large mass, enclosed by a rectangular subshape.

The Abstracts

You can lose your way by concentrating solely on the superficial realities of the model in front of you—especially in a long-pose drawing. You need to dig a little deeper to take yourself and your viewer to that next level of excitement. Consider the entire, abstract shape of the figure. If you are working alone, direct the model into a pose that produces an interesting silhouette. Perhaps you might build a pose out of dramatic contrasts, with limbs going in all directions like an explosion (as in Deane Keller’s Figure Study, Damascus), or maybe you’ll find a pose grounded in the subtle contrasting chest and pelvis tilts found in many Renaissance drawings and in the 19th-century drawing by Mac Monnies (Standing Male Nude). You don’t have much control when working in a group or class, so if you don’t find the entire pose inspiring, you may need to do a little cropping and draw a smaller area of the figure that does excite you on the abstract level.

And don’t just draw as if the model is an inanimate object. Try to consciously put some thought, emotion, or conceptual idea in the back of your mind as you’re analyzing the model’s head lengths and value relationships. Many artists manipulate their drawings into metaphors for some political, psychological, or sociological statement, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. For example, let’s say you’re worried or elated today about something completely unrelated to art. Channel that feeling into the drawing, and no matter how skilled or unskilled you are on the technical side, you will at least communicate a sense of energy that comes from your underlying emotions.


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many complex, natural shapes, including the human figure.

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Comments

Lucy Burns wrote
on 21 Jan 2008 1:14 PM
Figure Study, Damascus by Deane G. Keller, 1998...this study moved me...as i was looking at it ...I could feel pain and sorrow...my heart swelled as I continued to look...it is a beautiful work of art...