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Lunatique
12-04-2010, 04:31 AM
I was asked by someone in the anatomy/figure forum to critique his figure drawing and help him improve, and what I said to him is what I would say to any beginner/intermediate artist. I think this is important so I'm re-posting it here in the Art T&T forum.

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In general, as a teacher, I do not condone the often regurgitated saying that anyone must draw figures from life and do gesture drawings right away, because most people who regurgitate that saying do not take into consideration the fact that beginners do not have the proper observational and analytical skills, nor do they have the required eye-to-hand coordination, or basic understanding of anatomy and figure structure, and worse yet, they don't even have the ability to simply reproduce what they see in front of them with competent accuracy.

When beginners are told to just do as much life drawing and gesture sketches as possible, they are getting really bad and uninformed advice IMO. It's like telling someone who's trying to learn how to swim to just jump off the boat into the deep ocean and have a go at it. It's completely counterproductive and will in fact hurt the beginner because it'll create unnecessary frustration, a feeling of helplessness, confusion, discouragement, and self-loathing. It feels a lot like shoving a martial arts beginner into the ring for full-contact competition and then seeing that beginner get pummeled into a bloody pulp. Anyone who is dishing out this kind of advice has not taken the time to fully consider the psychological aspects of learning and teaching.

Looking at your drawings, it seems to me you're one of those people who was told to just go for it, even if you didn't have the proper preparation in place. What I would suggest, is that you take it down a notch and start at the beginning. First you have to actually train your observational and analytical skills, as well as build up your eye-to-hand coordination as well as muscle memory. You need to first be able to reproduce 2D images to a high precision before you attempt to work from life. It's sort of like first training in flight simulators for a certain amount of time before you actually fly in a real airplane.

If you currently do not have the ability to reproduce 2D images with high precision, then you are not yet ready to take on working from life. I strongly suggest you first be able to take any 2D drawing, painting, or photograph, and then be able to copy them so that your copy looks so much like the original that most people will have to do a double take to see the differences. This is basic technical skill that all competent artists must acquire, and it's the most basic skill that you must master before you move on to any of the foundations of visual art such as composition, perspective, values/lighting, colors, anatomy/figure, surface treatment, and so on. This basic skill will teach you now to observe and analyze proportions, distances, angles, curvatures, values, color shifts, and so on. You cannot do competent life drawing if you have not mastered those skills.

After you acquire those skills, you should then spend some time studying anatomy and figure from books or websites dedicated to anatomy/figure. Learn the basic overview of the main skeletal structure and range of motions, the main muscles and how they look in both tense and relaxed situations, and how a layer of fat and skin changes the way these muscles look in various situations. Also learn the general proportions of the average human being--things like how many heads tall the average person is, the length of the limbs relative to the length of hands and feet, the length of the torso relative to the legs, and so on, as well as the general proportions of the facial features such as the distance of the spacing between the eyes, how the head is divided and where the features are in relation to the divisions.

You should be ready to start working with life models by then, but I would actually recommend you to add one more step before you do it. That step is still life. Get used to achieving the same level of competency you have acquired with reproducing 2D images, but now with real life objects. Plaster sculptures of head busts or entire figures are a great way to train, because they do not contain local color and value variations--it's just one uniform local color/value, with lighting. If that is too hard, start with simple objects like bowls and mugs. Once you can reproduce a pretty realistic looking head bust or figure sculpture, that's when you have acquired competent drawing skills.

Only after you have done all that, should you start working from life models, because by then you actually have some idea of what the hell you're really looking at in front of you, and have the proper technical skill to capture what you see with any sense of competence. Once you start working from life, the rabbit hole goes much deeper, because once you get past simply trying to capture what you see with technical accuracy, you'll be dealing with artistic interpretation and trying to be more expressive with your work. That's when you start to become authoritative in your creative vision and artistic voice.
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To add to what I said to him, I'll also say that there's no real harm in trying to work from life too early, other than the psychological and emotional toll of taking on more than you are capable of handling. Sometimes it may be a good thing to feel a bit frustrated, helpless, and lost, because it would then push you to want to overcome those feelings by finding solutions. You could even periodically work from life just so that you become used to it, while doing all the other learning steps I described above. You would find that what you learned away from doing life drawings will improve your life drawing ability, and in some cases vice versa.

dbclemons
12-08-2010, 05:28 PM
I agree with you somewhat, but I think you're coming down too negatively against the "draw from life" angle of the argument. The frustration you describe for beginners can come with any system of learning. Factually, if what you're drawing isn't alive, then it isn't "life" drawing. I get the feeling from your message here that drawing from life is too daunting at first, but I disagree. The real issues is the art of drawing itself as well as learning how to interpret what you see onto the page, which I believe we both agree on. The same techniques of drawing can be applied with either using 2D images or live models.

Learning to draw from life at the start is very valuable, as it has been long before photographs were ever printed. It's the quality of training that artists receive that matters. The key is getting proper guidance from teachers and then executing it.

Using 2D images as your source is a fine way to learn, the main advantage being their convenience and learning the processes of other artists, but they have their limitations also. Principally, you're basing the drawing on someone else's work. If that work has flaws then you'd be learning bad habits. There are also distortions in photographs that have to be corrected, all of which can lead to even more frustration and mistakes. With Nature you don't have to compensate for those things.

Beginners should not run away from things that look difficult. Those challenges can be simplified also, which goes back to getting proper instruction.

Lunatique
12-09-2010, 04:10 AM
Like I said, there's no real harm in trying to do life drawing right away, and it will get you acquainted with working from real life and translating the 3D space your eyes see into a 2D interpretation. The only drawback is that it is very daunting for a beginner when they can't even do accurate drawings from 2D references yet, and if they can't even do a decently accurate drawing from a 2D reference, their attempts at drawing from real life would be even worse. I have seen this problem over and over, and it's because I've seen it so much that I'm advocating inexperienced artist to first get a handle on drawing from 2D references first.

Obviously, drawing from someone else's artwork or photograph will include whatever distortions and mistakes that exists in their work, but it's the same thing working from life as well--if a reclining figure has the head closer to you and the feet much further away, and the figure is relatively close in distance to you, then you'll be dealing with foreshortening and distortion that's inherent to our natural field of vision. This is why I stressed that you must also learn from anatomy/figure drawing books in conjunction to everything else, because they show accurate proportions and structures, and they also teach you to understand/memorize the average proportions so you'll be able to spot deviations when they are distorted.

ralphslatton
02-04-2011, 02:56 AM
I hope you don't mind me reviving an older post, but I find this dialogue very helpful. I've been teaching art for several decades and was the professor in charge of figure drawing in our former pre-medical illustration program at East TN State. I have found so many of Lunatique's statements to be true. Yes, the emotional toll is certainly real and unless educators introduce some milestones in fundamentals, the student can certainly lose direction in later figure courses.

The hardest thing for me to teach is the art of seeing, commonly known as, "hand/eye coordination." Although I prefer a more gestural approach, I found the method used by Bette Edwards, in "Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain," to be one possible avenue in building these basic skills. Her method relies heavily on contour line and disassociating the student's brain from symbolic pictures. She leads the student away from the following this kind of reasoning: "I know what an eye looks like, so I draw an almond shape rather that really observing what happens with the folds of the skin and the eyeball underneath those folds." The center point of her method is to trick the part of the brain from thinking in terms of symbols. As an example, she may have the student sketch an image of a photo that is turned upside down, forcing the brain to switch to it's right side. The brain no longer labels the image, but instead, deals with the abstract shapes. As suggested by Lunatique's excellent points, students are forced to deal with memory retention of shapes, giving them an intense understanding of seeing.

I grew up under the old school of learning the figure, but maybe wasn't very prepared when first entering those classes. Because of my interest in such comic book artists as Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko, I continued to fall back to those formulaic symbols, rather than really observing the "life" figure in front of me. I had no clue in seeing. This became a huge hurdle in my basic figure classes. My stylized figures often resembled comic illustrations. I realized that I needed to change my source materials, so I began studying photos or reproductions from great masters of the figure. This informed my work greatly and I soon discovered I understood life drawing much better.

There is one caveat that was brought out by dbclemons. Make sure you have good source material, otherwise the preliminary study could teach bad habits of others. In summary, there's nothing like a good balance of life and theory to create successful students and educators.

shanehubert
02-18-2011, 10:26 AM
Hello,

Very nice one, and in fact beginners should be treated in a polite, kind and positive way.

valliantcreations
02-18-2011, 06:08 PM
I'm agreeing with ralphslatton. I got a degree in sequential art, and after four years I only had one class that made me feel comfortable with drawing - and that was one where we broke things down to forms and muscles so much that it broke through my 'eye = almond' (symbolic) thinking. I'd already had my foundations classes, and I hadn't improved much, even in my life drawing classes. After that class, though, my life drawing abilities improved quite a bit.

It wasn't until recently, when I finally took up art with serious intent, that I read Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I wish I'd read it back in highschool, because it broke me out of a lot of bad habits that have persisted even through university - an inability to pop myself into right-brain thinking, struggling with my left-brain symbol system trying to take over. It has resulting in slapshod work - sometimes looking halfway decent, and sometimes looking so stiff it harkened back to my freshmen days in uni.

I specifically found the blind contour and upside down drawing exercises useful. I still sometimes re-visit the exercises when I find my figure work stiffening up.

After that, I'd totally follow the recommendations that have been made - work your way through the many useful forums here that are specifically for beginners. There's also the Peer Project (http://www.conceptart.org/forums/showthread.php?t=76955) over at ConceptArt.org - it's a good way to work through some basic exercises. It's not as active as it used to be, but there are still people doing crits on the thread.

TheWayfarer
10-27-2011, 02:48 AM
I was asked by someone in the anatomy/figure forum to critique his figure drawing and help him improve, and what I said to him is what I would say to any beginner/intermediate artist. I think this is important so I'm re-posting it here in the Art T&T forum.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
In general, as a teacher, I do not condone the often regurgitated saying that anyone must draw figures from life and do gesture drawings right away, because most people who regurgitate that saying do not take into consideration the fact that beginners do not have the proper observational and analytical skills, nor do they have the required eye-to-hand coordination, or basic understanding of anatomy and figure structure, and worse yet, they don't even have the ability to simply reproduce what they see in front of them with competent accuracy.

When beginners are told to just do as much life drawing and gesture sketches as possible, they are getting really bad and uninformed advice IMO. It's like telling someone who's trying to learn how to swim to just jump off the boat into the deep ocean and have a go at it. It's completely counterproductive and will in fact hurt the beginner because it'll create unnecessary frustration, a feeling of helplessness, confusion, discouragement, and self-loathing. It feels a lot like shoving a martial arts beginner into the ring for full-contact competition and then seeing that beginner get pummeled into a bloody pulp. Anyone who is dishing out this kind of advice has not taken the time to fully consider the psychological aspects of learning and teaching.

Looking at your drawings, it seems to me you're one of those people who was told to just go for it, even if you didn't have the proper preparation in place. What I would suggest, is that you take it down a notch and start at the beginning. First you have to actually train your observational and analytical skills, as well as build up your eye-to-hand coordination as well as muscle memory. You need to first be able to reproduce 2D images to a high precision before you attempt to work from life. It's sort of like first training in flight simulators for a certain amount of time before you actually fly in a real airplane.

If you currently do not have the ability to reproduce 2D images with high precision, then you are not yet ready to take on working from life. I strongly suggest you first be able to take any 2D drawing, painting, or photograph, and then be able to copy them so that your copy looks so much like the original that most people will have to do a double take to see the differences. This is basic technical skill that all competent artists must acquire, and it's the most basic skill that you must master before you move on to any of the foundations of visual art such as composition, perspective, values/lighting, colors, anatomy/figure, surface treatment, and so on. This basic skill will teach you now to observe and analyze proportions, distances, angles, curvatures, values, color shifts, and so on. You cannot do competent life drawing if you have not mastered those skills.

After you acquire those skills, you should then spend some time studying anatomy and figure from books or websites dedicated to anatomy/figure. Learn the basic overview of the main skeletal structure and range of motions, the main muscles and how they look in both tense and relaxed situations, and how a layer of fat and skin changes the way these muscles look in various situations. Also learn the general proportions of the average human being--things like how many heads tall the average person is, the length of the limbs relative to the length of hands and feet, the length of the torso relative to the legs, and so on, as well as the general proportions of the facial features such as the distance of the spacing between the eyes, how the head is divided and where the features are in relation to the divisions.

You should be ready to start working with life models by then, but I would actually recommend you to add one more step before you do it. That step is still life. Get used to achieving the same level of competency you have acquired with reproducing 2D images, but now with real life objects. Plaster sculptures of head busts or entire figures are a great way to train, because they do not contain local color and value variations--it's just one uniform local color/value, with lighting. If that is too hard, start with simple objects like bowls and mugs. Once you can reproduce a pretty realistic looking head bust or figure sculpture, that's when you have acquired competent drawing skills.

Only after you have done all that, should you start working from life models, because by then you actually have some idea of what the hell you're really looking at in front of you, and have the proper technical skill to capture what you see with any sense of competence. Once you start working from life, the rabbit hole goes much deeper, because once you get past simply trying to capture what you see with technical accuracy, you'll be dealing with artistic interpretation and trying to be more expressive with your work. That's when you start to become authoritative in your creative vision and artistic voice.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

To add to what I said to him, I'll also say that there's no real harm in trying to work from life too early, other than the psychological and emotional toll of taking on more than you are capable of handling. Sometimes it may be a good thing to feel a bit frustrated, helpless, and lost, because it would then push you to want to overcome those feelings by finding solutions. You could even periodically work from life just so that you become used to it, while doing all the other learning steps I described above. You would find that what you learned away from doing life drawings will improve your life drawing ability, and in some cases vice versa.

Ive been reading this thread. And i completely agree. I studied game design at Qantm College here in Melbourne, Australia, and the teachers wanted us to fill books upon books of life drawing, actually it was one of the assessments. Thing is, most of these kids couldnt even draw, and the majority of them were starting the course with absolutely no prior drawing experience whatsoever, and they were thrown in the deep end with naked life drawing straight up. I think alot of them were damaged artistically from the results of their drawings, most of them not passing this part of the course.
At the start of each drawing class we would be given 10 minutes to draw a picture of an event we saw the previous day. I thought this was a terrible idea, i knew from looking at the other students they were mentally straining themselves trying to reproduce a memory onto paper. Also it was very unprofessional for a college based on design and had a reputation of being leaders in the field. It was poorly set up, we were looking at a dull projection on a wall in most of our lessons, cramped in a hot room trying to listen to a has been in the game industry "instruct" us how we SHOULD draw. I think this done some damage to me as an artist and i soon left the place. i didnt draw for a while after getting a fail on some of my assignments, it really f**d with my confidence. I guess im only just getting back to enjoying drawing and playing games as both were ruined for me. So i sgree with everything Robert has to say on this matter. And in saying that, i think it was stupid forcing kids into drawing whats in front of them when they have/had no desire to draw in the first place. Ive learned more here than i did spending a year at Qantm. and continue to learn.

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