I’ve already told my husband not to worry if he finds drawings of naked men. I’d noticed that odd look on his face, you see, when he came across the sketch I’d made of a partially-nude male model. This was my first attempt at “life drawing” with a living, breathing model, and although it was a bit of a challenge, I did enjoy it.
No, I’m not inviting men to come into my little art room to pose for me. The model for the sketch was “live on video” — a lesson from a free figure drawing mini-class at Craftsy.
Once the sketch was completed, I wanted to do more figure drawing. I know a lot of beginning artists groan at the idea of drawing something as complex as the human body, and most people I know consider anatomy an exceptionally dull subject.
Not me. I’ve always been a very active individual, and a very health-conscious one, as well. Throughout my life, I’ve been involved in athletics, so learning about muscles, nerves, skin, and bones is something I’ve always enjoyed.
Soon after completing the model sketch, I was off on a Google search. I wanted to find as much information as I could on the subject of figure drawing.
One of my first “finds” was a figure drawing tutorial at Learn to Draw. Another site that I’ll be visiting regularly is “Figure and Gesture Drawing” in which artists can choose to draw nude or clothed models from either gender in a “class mode” that starts with gesture drawings for warm-ups, then works into longer poses. Quick Poses is another helpful website, as is Sketch Daily, which includes images for individual body parts as well as the complete body.
From the start, I knew I would need more than online images. I wanted in-depth information. I immediately ordered a used copy of Anatomy: A Complete Guide for Artists by Joseph Sheppard. When it arrived, I couldn’t wait to get started.
People tend to shake their heads or roll their eyes at me when I talk about my interest in anatomy. I can’t explain it. While the subject makes many students drift off to sleep — or at least wish they could — the mere mention of a muscle or bone makes me perk up. What can I say? The human body excites me, and the idea of drawing such a fascinating form has me over the moon, as they say. I love it. I’ve even bought a new sketchbook for all my anatomical drawings, and I’m happily drawing humerus bones, clavicles, and scapulas, along with a few full-sized figures.
Yes, that includes naked men. Naked women, too.
The first step in the process has been learning proportions. That in itself is fascinating to me. I’ve been grabbing my measuring tape, holding it up to my head, to my arms, stretching it across my shoulders, and making lots of notes.
I’ve learned, however, that there’s not a universal agreement on body proportions.
In real life, adults — both men and women — are about 7 to 7-1/2 heads high.
For drawing, artists generally consider the body to be either 7-1/2 or 8 heads high.
In the past, artists occasionally used “heroic proportions” — 8-1/2 heads high — to draw or sculpt gods and mythological heroes.
Anywhere from 7 to 8-1/2 heads high? Great. That’s a broad range.
The first question I had to answer for myself as I approached figure drawing was “Which of these proportional systems will I use?”
I decided to check first with “the master”, Leonardo da Vinci.
Everyone is familiar with da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” – his illustration of the perfectly-proportioned male figure.
Da Vinci developed this drawing by correlating the ideals of human proportion with geometric principles described by Vitruvius, an architect from ancient Rome. It was actually Vitruvius who determined that an ideal body should be eight heads high.
After measuring my own head, I came to the startling realization that if I were constructed with these proportions, I would be 6-foot tall. As I’m barely over 5-foot, I don’t even measure up to the “normal” 7-head-high standards.
Obviously I fall far short — pun intended — of having an ideal form.
All the same, using 8 heads seems logical to me. If it was good enough for da Vinci…
Actually, it turns out that it’s good enough for Joseph Sheppard, too. It’s the proportional system he uses in his book, and since that’s the one I’m studying, that’s the system I’m going to use. It works for me.
I did discover that the tutorial at Learn to Draw promotes the 7-1/2 heads high system. I’m still staying with 8 heads. To me it seems logical, not to mention much easier.
But, of course, body proportions change with age. The next thing I did was to learn — and memorize — these proportional changes:
- Age 1 – 4 Heads
- Age 4 – 5 Heads
- Age 8 – 6-1/2 Heads
- Age 12 – 7 Heads
- Age 16 – 7-1/2 Heads
- Adults – 8 Heads
- Elderly – 7 Heads
So far, I’ve drawn the adult body — male and female — from the front, the back, and in side view. I’ve learned to identify and locate a number of important points, such as the sternal notch and the pelvic ridge.
Am I getting bored with it yet? Not at all. In fact, everything I learn makes me eager to learn more. So that means you’ll probably be seeing bones and skulls and disembodied arms and legs in future posts. You might even see a naked man.
You’ve been warned.