Learning Anatomy from the Successor to Lucian Freud

How many times do we promise ourselves that we’ll do something “one day”, both in everyday life and our art, yet somehow never find the time? But if you make a list of these and pick one to do each month, and are willing to grab an opportunity to tick something off your list when it presents itself, then one day becomes someday becomes today.

 Artist Alan McGowan adding another layer of information on his diagrams created during his Anatomy for Artists workshop.
Artist Alan McGowan adding another layer of information on his diagrams
created during his Anatomy for Artists workshop.

Long on my list has been to learn the anatomy of the human body, to know more about what I’m looking at, and use it to take my life drawing and figure painting further. As I’ve dreamed of creating landscapes as much as I love Monet’s late waterlilies, so I’ve dreamed of painting figures as much as I love Lucian Freud’s work. (Nothing wrong with a little ambition now is there?)

Marina I by Alan McGowan, oil painting on board. How many anatomical landmarks can you identify in this painting?So one Wednesday morning I saw a note on Facebook that there were spaces on a three-day Anatomy for Artists Workshop in Edinburgh that weekend. Thursday I traveled down to the city. Friday I was learning anatomy from a figurative painter whom it could be argued is a successor to Freud, Edinburgh-based artist Alan McGowan.

Three intense days, several handouts, a sketchbook full of notes plus numerous anatomy drawings and I’ve the beginnings of an understanding of the underlying structure, a map around the landmarks of the body, and words for what before were lumps and bumps. Learning from an artist meant we learned the anatomy useful to artists rather than every single thing that has ever been labelled. The information was continually being related back into drawing human body parts, and theory interspersed with practice, working from a different model each day.

Later, looking at Alan’s paintings on his website and paging again through my copy of his book, Language of the Body, I found a new appreciation for his work. I was seeing and identifying things I hadn’t before, recognizing anatomical reason for the placement of small areas of color, beyond what I’d seen before only as shape and tone. How the swoop of a brushstroke echoes where a muscle travels, the underlying significance of directional mark making, the it’s-not-really-straight clavicle.

Driving home I found myself imagining the body as a road map. Heading up a road called Sartorius towards the Head of the Great Trochanter, rather than along the A82 through Glencoe. I’ve started on a new journey and there’s no turning back because “some day” did happen.

What’s on your artistic list to do “one day”? Which artist would you like to study under given the chance? Leave a comment and let me know.


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