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    Drawing Lesson of the Human Figure and the Correct Proportions : How to Draw People

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    To give the student some idea of the meaning of proportion should be the teacher's early aim, and it will entail endless teaching, for when proportion is felt, as well as measured, little more will be left to teach.

    The teachers of the humanities claim that their studies give a sense of proportion in human affairs. The art teacher may also contend that the practice of drawing, rightly pursued, leads to the same end, that a child who has made a well proportioned drawing has begun to develop the sense of proportion, a step towards the building up of the good citizen, who looks at affairs with a steady eye. Exercises which otherwise might develop the sense of proportion are often smothered by rules. Students are coached assiduously in the number of times the head measures into the body, or in constructions involving middle lines, or in blocking out details in squares or triangles, while traces of the once elaborate scaffoldings of verticals and horizontals with which students used to commence a drawing may yet be found.

    As Mr. Water Sickert once wrote, "There are too many props introduced to help the student, with the result that the edge of observation is somewhat blunted."

    The same may be said of perspective, the formal rules of which, hastily learned by rote, tend to atrophy the powers of observation. Students sometimes seem to think that so long as receding parallels are made to vanish somewhere, all is done that need be expected of them, with the result that on looking at the drawing we see it to be merely a travesty of the forms of what has been placed before the eye.

    The writer once visited a school with some students training to become teachers, to watch the drawing lesson. Some children were drawing a box placed before the class, and at the close of the lesson the students were asked to pick out the best drawing. Papers were handed in showing some knowledge of perspective rules, and there was a chorus of dissent when the writer showed the drawing he had chosen, for not a single line was in correct perspective. But it had the right proportions, it looked like the box, whereas the other drawings were too long or too high.

    Of course the student can always ascertain the proportions by measurement, but the appeal to be fruitful must be mainly to the eye. The living model, whether draped or nude, affords practice in proportion readily appreciated by students, for they know people best, and are familiar with their own build and proportions.

    What are known as common objects do not, to the same extent, develop in the student this. critical faculty. Most junior students calmly make extensive alterations in vases, etc., without any qualms of conscience, while, out of doors, such objects as trees make still less appeal to the sense of proportion, for they are assumed by the beginner to have no contour or shape, and are accordingly hacked and chopped about to fit them within the limits of the paper.

    With junior pupils drawing a middle line as a commencement causes disproportion, the drawing almost invariably being too wide.

    Sometimes bad proportions result from the anthropomorphic bias. Young students generally draw the hands and feet too small, because small hands and feet are thought to be becoming. On the other hand they make the face too large for the head because it occupies a corresponding share of their attention.

    But to a great extent this neglect of proportion arises from bad method, which goes along with confused vision. The 'drawing is often begun at the top and worked downwards, the student trusting to his luck to get the whole on the paper. Hence the legs get crowded into less than their share of the space, or the feet perhaps have to be omitted.

    Too often the student proceeds in a random way which positively stultifies feeling for proportion. One often sees drawings slipping off the paper, as it were, or pushed to right or left, without artistic reason for so doing.

    Right methods will do much towards securing proportion. No details should be drawn at first, but a line from head to foot establishing the whole form. Every figure, every object will furnish some such line. This line once found, the proportion of the parts can proceed steadily and safely.

    The preparation of "blocking out" is often strangely misunderstood by the student, who produces a mere scribble of the figure, full of badly scrawled detail, features, fingers and toes dashed in anyhow, and criticism is countered by the casual remark that the drawing is "only sketched in." Such method, or want of it, is vicious in every way. Every line from first to last should be well considered, so that at any stage the drawing may be workmanlike, in good proportion, and expressive of the model, so far as it has been taken.

    Bad proportion often results from looking along the contours rather than surveying, taking in the mass of the object. An early attempt should be made to see all the figure from head to foot.
    One may put it in this way, that so long as beginners are pre-occupied with detail in contour, that is, with the forms, without making the necessary preparation of noting their directions, failure to secure good proportion is inevitable.

    Obviously one corrective is to draw the whole figure every time. The art teacher is familiar with the lying excuse of the student who for want of room omits the legs, that he did not intend to draw them. Such scraps of figures defeat one of the great aims of the study.

    The figure prepared or indicated, the student can then concentrate on a passage that appeals specially to him, but set out from head to foot it must be, if the exercise is to be of any value as a study in proportion, or of the action of the figure.

    This method gives the clue to the treatment of the vexed question of erasure. One sometimes sees a student rubbing out, or trying to do so, a large portion of a drawing at a comparatively late stage. Such alteration is mere vexation of spirit, and an acknowledgment of a bad beginning. With a student-like and artistic commencement little or no erasure is necessary, for the proportions should be fixed by the first strokes planted upon the paper. This requires a certain firmness and patience on the part of the teacher, and a self-denial and inhibitive power not always readily at the command of the student, who comes to the study of the model with the notion that it is possible and commendable to transfer that figure bodily to the paper. For has he not seen this done in the work of the artists he most admires?

    Generally the procedure is this. The beginner commences to draw the figure in a "blocking out" of his own fashion. Horrified at the starkness of his effort, he hurriedly covers over the first lines with detail, hoping thus to secure likeness, with the result that a figure appears represented by contour lines and looking boneless and sawdust stuffed. Hence the necessity of the student learning what is at first alien from his thought, (preoccupied as he is with realizing the object or figure before him), that there is a stage which comes before drawing, namely preparation, in which the placing on the paper, the proportions, and the directions of the forms have to be studied or analyzed without reference to naturalistic treatment. It may be safely said that many students leave art study without having secured the discipline and training which rigorous search after a good preparation alone can give.

    To some students it is an objection that these first strokes get in the way of the drawing, have to be rubbed out, spoil the paper, etc. To this one may reply that neatness is but a minor virtue in drawing study. Cleanliness has been said to come next to godliness, but it certainly lags a long way behind.

    As a matter of fact the first strokes disappear under the later work, and if rightly placed are astonishingly useful as part of the completed study. The form comes perhaps just outside or inside the first line. In the work of the genius who draws his line and his detail all "at one go," the result is seen in knotty swollen contours, mere exaggerations of the form.

    Students often use a sheet of paper upon which to rest their hands in order to avoid soiling their drawing. They thus compel themselves to draw piecemeal, stultifying their feeling for proportion, and losing the inestimable advantage of seeing the whole of their work all the time.

    Many poses, especially where the figure is seated or reclining, suggest a simple pyramidal or triangular construction such as shown in FIG. i. If the sides of the triangle are right in direction, which is easily ascertained by holding the pencil against the model and comparing with the lines on the paper, then the triangle is similar to that formed by the pose, and the proportions therefore are correct. This enables the student to proceed with the drawing without hesitation and embarrassment ; the mind being at rest as regards the first lines undivided attention can be given to construction and artistic expression.

    Fig 1—Sketches of seated or reclining figures whose proportions are easily ascertained by assuming them contained in triangles.

    Fig. 2—Sketches of recumbent figures which depend for their correct foreshortening on a horizontal receding line, which is present in the edge of the bench.

    As far as possible drawings should be made sight size, that is the size of a tracing on a pane of glass held before the model. Faults in proportion often occur in drawings commenced somewhat larger than sight size, for as the student works, he forgets the scale with which he started, with the result that the proportions of his extremities and details tend towards sight size, that is too small for the general proportions of the drawing.

    The text above is made up of images, so, if you need to copy any of the text for a school assignment, please copy some of the text below.


    Artistic Anatomy, so-called, like perspective, when ill-digested, often leads a student astray. Many drawings from the figure are mere anatomical diagrams, looking as if the model had been flayed. Fresh from their books of diagrams students search the figure for anatomical details. They even ask the model to tighten the knee or the armpit, so that they may mark more definitely the forms of those regions. This does not mean that anatomy should not be studied, but that it should be used as a key to the construction of the figure, rather than displayed for its own sake, Moody, in his "Lectures and Lessons on Art," a book now out of print, but one well worth the careful study of the art student, says :-

    "Intellectual work is the hardest work of all. . . . Just consider, for instance, the result of avoiding the effort necessary to master the position and details of the ankle. The want of that knowledge will probably plague you at least twice a week : it will delay your work, you will get into trouble every time you draw the figure, making altogether a sum total of annoyance, unsatisfactory work and feelings a hundred times greater than the expenditure of time and thought which would have been necessary to surmount the difficulty at first."

    First in importance is a clear knowledge of the bony framework and its articulations. It settles the movement and the proportions, and at the joints where the bone crops up and shows almost its actual build, it indicates the important accents of form by a square-ness and clear cut shape, which must be appreciated if the drawing is to avoid woolliness. On the other hand the muscular masses fill up the gaps and suggest the first great lines of the pose.

    All the parts of the skeleton which determine the surface forms should be carefully studied, and especially the shoulders and hips. The former may be described as a floating girdle, for they are attached only by the collar bones (to the notches in the breastbone), the remainder being free except for muscular and tendinous attachments. Hence the comparative freedom of action, while the complexity of structure, the combination of clavicle, humerus and scapula, add to the difficulty of expressing the forms. The hips, on the other hand, form a fixed girdle, firmly attached to the backbone. The two halves of the shoulder girdle can move independently, but the hip girdle moves only as a whole, like a basket tilted. When in a standing pose the hips are aslant, this means that the model is resting the weight on the leg to the side where the hip basket is higher, and therefore a vertical line `drawn, say, through the pit of the neck, will pass through the ankle of that leg, which slants inwards in order to support the weight. The other leg, which carries little or no weight, droops with the lower side of the hips, hence the knee of that leg is lower than that of the supporting leg. And by way of compensation the head and shoulders often slant in the opposite direction, forming a series of radiating lines which cross the long lines of the pose at right angles, and steady it.

    The main articulations may be reduced to their simplest terms by a diagram such as is shown in FIG. 16A, similar to FIG. 26. Something like this construction must form the commencement of every drawing of the figure which has any claim to movement and structure. All the articulations including the shoulders are represented by cross lines. It is for want of the study of these crossings or articulations that the drawings of beginners look boneless and yet wooden, for they appear to have no ankles, and wrists, to say nothing of hips. It should be noted especially, and the skeleton largely supplies the reason, that these crossings of the extremities are oblique. This is seen clearly in the elbow and ankle. In the latter the obliquity is caused by the fact that the inner ankle is higher than the outer, a matter of their bony construction.

    In the elbow the slant comes from the origin of the supinators being higher than those of the flexors.

    FIG. 26 shows these slanting crossings at an early stage in the drawing. The point to be borne in mind is that anatomical construction corroborates right procedure in drawing the figure.

    In poses with some degree of torsion as in FIG. 27, these cross lines, all marking the bony or muscular structure, radiate from a point at no great distance from the figure. The greater the movement the closer in is the point of radiation. The matter has an interest for students as showing a structural basis for the composition of line which sometimes mystifies them. They are apt to think that these rhythmical lines, whether in the direction of or across the figure, are imagined by the teacher, and a real service is rendered by showing them. cause and effect.

    The old fashion of learning the muscles singly and detached is answerable for much of the wrongly applied anatomical drawing mentioned above. Usually they are seen in groups, and should be studied as such.

    Too often the only glimpse students have of the nude figure in action is when the model walks to and from the throne. A regular exercise should consist in the model moving freely at will, the students marking the changes of form which take place.

    This is not a book on artistic anatomy, for which students should study the regular manuals.

    An anatomical detail often misinterpreted is the function of the neck muscle (sternocleido mastoid) in turning the head. When the neck muscle on the right contracts, the skull rotates, the mastoid process of the skull being brought forward, and it follows that the head is turned to the left.- It is often supposed that the contraction of a sterno-cleido turns the head to that side, but observation of what takes place will correct the error.

    FIG. 28—A drawing with black and white chalk on gray Michallet paper. The reticent use of the white chalk should be noted.

    FIG. 29—A drawing on blue paper with black and white chalk by J. M. Swan. The simplicity of the work should be noted and the way the white chalk is owed to divide the figure into a few planes. Large areas are untouched.




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