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    Searching for the Form of the Human Figure & How to Draw People and their Bodies

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    THE HUMAN FIGURE : Drawing and Searching for the Human Body's Form

    The beginner often shares the general opinion of the outside public that drawing is a kind of legerdemain, a conjuring trick done with clever fingers, a tour de force thrown off lightly with no trouble or study. Of course there are varying degrees of facility among students, and where one accomplishes a task with seeming ease, others may flounder or fail. But the history of art shows clearly that a want of facility has not prevented men from achieving fame, while among good judges the exhibition of cleverness and of smart handling, removes a painter from the highest place.

    The facility of a master of drawing has been attained by close study, and by what has been called the "search for form." That is to say mastery over technique does not come by gaily tracing contours with a pencil, but by more or less painful efforts to track down the subtleties of form. It is difficult to make students understand this, for they suppose that mere practice will give facility.. whereas the eye should be trained by exercises demanding a rigorous scrutiny of form, and needing all the intellectual capacity which can be brought to bear.

    Drawing from the figure may be divided into two main types of exercise. One, very important, is the time sketch, recording the main facts of the figure, and varying the method and visual search according to the time at one's disposal. Generally the time sketch deals mainly with movement, flow of line, and character as shown in the pose. Such work requires supplementing by more searching and detailed expression of form, which indeed enables the student to arrive at the more summary methods of the time sketch. The student who sketches only on a small scale, and for limited periods of time, will not be sure of himself, nor be aware of how far he can pursue his scrutiny. In other words, he has not really learnt to-search for the form.

    The materials with which to engage in this detailed expression of form have not been agreed upon generally. The pencil or crayon point leads to redundancy of strokes, and is wanting in breadth. Further, neither allows of the tentative technique necessary in this kind of exercise. To mention the stump is to condemn it, for it is incapable of making a definite stroke.

    Charcoal, as indicated elsewhere, supplies the best weapon for this particular kind of attack. With it can be produced with ease broad masses of tone, and also, when well pointed, lines can be drawn as finely as with a pencil. It has a full range of tone from velvety black to palest gray.

    FIGS. 10, etc., were 'drawn with charcoal on Michallet or other square grained paper, the sheets of which, measuring about 19" x 24", are of the dimensions most suitable for normal eyes. If one draws to a larger scale it is difficult to keep the whole of the drawing under surveillance, and errors in proportion, and in gradation of accent, are apt to occur. Even if drawings, say for a large mural decoration, were wanted, they should be drawn first to this scale, and then enlarged by squaring or other method. There are some life drawings by Albert Moore, at South Kensington, drawn full size or nearly so, but the method does not seem to possess compensating advantages.

    FIG. 18—A charcoal drawing much rubbed and otherwise ill-treated since its completion. An example of edge study. Every inch of the contour has been carefully studied.

    FIG. 19—This drawing, with all its defects, shows a great interest taken in the pose by the student and a determination to secure an expression of it.

    The procedure is the same as indicated elsewhere. The student should, as always, mark top and bottom of his drawing, and at once find the main line from head to foot. Next follows the general structure of the figure with a plan lightly sketched in of the masses of dark tone. It is at this point that the proportions of the drawing should be scrutinized, and if found wanting, the charcoal strokes, which at first should be light and delicate, can be obliterated with a few flicks of a duster. It cannot be emphasized too strongly that this stage is most crucial, and tests severely a student's powers of selection and analysis. The drawing, no matter how many hours or days are required for its completion, will be substantially in proportion, and general scheme of light and 'dark, what it is at an early stage. Hence the importance of self-criticism, and if necessary of beginning afresh'. No alterations of moment should be made at a late stage. The time for erasure has then passed, and if great errors of proportion reveal themselves as the drawing progresses, they convict the student of heedlessly slurring over his first steps, and of failing to build on a sure foundation. Hints on further procedure are given elsewhere.

    With regard to extremities, hands and feet, the charcoal drawing on Michallet paper gives opportunity for working these out in detail. In some schools such studies are made full size, and certainly the difficulties of constructing properly the head, hands and feet 'demand that considerable time shall be spent on them. On the other hand the nude figure should be used primarily to give right notions of proportion, construction and movement, and until the student is well grounded in these, it seems a pity to distract his attention from the main lines of the figure in order to focus it on detail, however important. A great deal can be done, as indicated elsewhere, in showing that the action and construction of the figure demand the consideration of the extremities, and involve at least construction of their mass forms. Poor drawings of hands and feet always show a lack of construction, and of articulation with the limbs.

    Studies from the nude are sometimes almost pornographic in appearance because the student is (quite innocently) doing the wrong thing. He tries to reproduce a naked person, making a sort of inventory of physical characteristics, so many fingers, toe-nails, etc, Such drawings usually lack the higher interests of the figure, the flow of line, the rhythm of the accents of light and dark, the unity of the long line of shade running down the figure and revealing the "cubist" typical shape. These things sought after, the student cannot go far wrong, no matter how much he hankers after realism.

    Unfortunately this wrongly realistic drawing has in the past been rewarded, on the ground that the student has been honest and sincere, qualities however which students evince rather by what they omit than by what they put in.

    Another evil resulting from insistence on reality is loss of rhythm. One often sees a figure with carefully shaded details, all of about the, same weight of tone, and the dark masses monotonous in character. The drawing looks fussy and over-elaborated, while reference to the model gives an impression of simplicity and breadth. The student has been too busy to catch the rhythm of the modeling. The darks have been referred to as accents, and certainly tone rhythm is akin to that, of music. The figure, perhaps, has dark hair, the contrast between that and the white brow giving the strongest accent. Lower, on the face add, neck the accent of dark is weakened, to be strengthened again, say, at the armpit, while the shade areas on the torso and lower limbs again diminish in strength—an ebb and flow, or rhythm throughout the figure, giving at once variety and breadth.. This supplies a method of procedure. The main masses of middle accent should be struck, the stronger and weaker accents following in their places, and keeping their relative pitch. Mention has been made of the 'division students arbitrarily make between drawing and shading. They often show that they do not consider shading as drawing. They work away laboriously at some dark patch without ever exploring its borders, its varying contour, or indeed without considering the structural use of their darks. Shading is only useful where if is expressing structure and revealing form. It should be busy, that is giving due emphasis to the line of shade which emphasizes the meeting of the planes.

    Form is expressed by light against dark, and this form should be drawn and then be backed up by shading. Shading without drawing may be compared with bringing bricks into a field without attempting to build with them.

    As pointed out elsewhere, any object is seen divided into two areas, light and dark. In the former are planes and forms sharply defined under usual conditions of lighting. In the shade area which under normal lighting is the further removed from the eye, the forms are quiet and subdued. Hence an equal distribution of focusing is destructive of unity. There is no need to pore into the crannies of the dark area, for Nature forbids it, while the light area affords abundance of opportunity for searching study. Often, however, the would-be finished drawing shows that the eye has not fully explored forms ; the test may be applied to the meeting of angles, such as the line of armpit, where it meets its shade edge. The lines may have been brought together in some fashion, but what happens at the junction? What is the actual shape of the dark patch ? The student must ask himself these questions as he approaches such passages, for unless he exercises a vigilant scrutiny his drawing will be full of insufficiently observed shapes. Lastly, light and shade is not merely utilitarian, does not serve only to reveal the forms, but has a beauty of its own well worth the closest attention. If we look say at an interior by Velasquez, we are conscious of a subtle yet clearly marked series of beautiful passages of light and shade, of rich velvety darks against liquid lights, or of light edges melting mysteriously into background tones. He showed us how to look at the beauty of tone in nature, and the seeing eye discerns it everywhere. What can be finer, for example, to be seen in any wood or clump of trees, than a trunk in full light with a dark spray cutting across it, or some such passage in constantly varying sequence as the eye examines the scene. Equally beautiful are the tone passages in the nude figure posed before a quiet background. The semi-translucency of the flesh seems to enhance these contrasts, and presents some of the most subtle and varied effects that light reveals. An arm in strong tone against a gleaming chest, or the darks of a hand or knee against a thigh fully illuminated are things to wonder at, and not merely because they are striking examples of the relief of one form against another, of what one may call the stereoscopic appearance, but because they are beautiful passages of light and shade. To judge from students'• drawings they sternly ignore beauty of tone. They say in effect that they are not to be turned, aside from their purpose, which is to draw a human being, to fix the pose and the proportions, to indicate the structure, and to express the details. If they really were selecting from the model, the teacher would be delighted, even though they omitted what he considered an essential part of their training, the study of tone. But he finds that these effects of light and shade are ignored because the students fail to see them, or to be attracted by their beauty. Shading, to them, consists in industriously striping or stippling their study with tone, monotonous yet full of the wrong variety—too many lights in the dark areas, and too many darks in the light—while their shading has often no drawing in it; they fail to follow the boundary of the shade patch, nor do they give the variety of its edge, for they do not perceive the "invisible" spots, the places where the outline melts away, nor, on the other hand, the trenchant, brilliant edge where a dark comes sharply against the light, or where the contour of the figure in light contrasts with the darker background.

    On the other hand there are passages of the utmost subtlety generally in the lighter areas where a well-lit form comes against another similarly illuminated. A common example is that of the thighs and knees of a seated figure. The near thigh and top of the knee seen against the further thigh presents a border hardly visible except to a keen eye, so little difference is there in the tones of the two thighs, yet the edge of the near thigh is there, and though faint, must be expressed by a clear line, or in some cases by the sharp edge of a delicate tone suggesting the upper plane of the thigh. Students often represent this delicate edge as a thick black line like a cart track, partly because they do not perceive the refinement of the passage, but also perhaps because they do not realize the different intensities their drawing implement is capable of. They should understand that a 6 B pencil, if used delicately on the right paper, will draw a line as lightly as a 6 H.






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