FIGURE DRAWING CLASSES
The term 'figure drawing' usually refers to the instructional class (known as drawing from life, or life class) taught in many academies and schools of fine art, such as the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, during which students study and draw a live model sitting in front of them.
This classic method of representational art is regarded as the best way for aspiring painters and sculptors to acquire the skill of drawing the human body and mastering its line, shape and depth. By comparison, copying the human figure from photographs or from memory is traditionally seen as inferior by most arts teachers. (See also: Pencil Drawings as well as Charcoal Drawings and Pen-and-Ink Drawings.)
Drawing remains the foundation for all types of fine art, including painting and sculpture, as well as architecture. Other types of art that benefit from good figurative draughtsmanship, include: illustration and illuminated manuscripts, as well as caricature art and cartoons.
List of Other Artists
Reproduction drawing III (2009-10)
Even more challenging is to draw a figure in motion using deep foreshortening. That is, a figure seen from above or below. Seen from below, for example, the chin and nose are the dominant form; from above, the dome-shape of the cranial mass becomes dominant. When it comes to sketching a figure in motion, the torso is of key importance. Because any movement of the torso will throw the legs, head and arms out of their previous relationship, and into a new one. The slightest movement of the ribs immediately shifts the head and arms. An important drawing aid is what is known as the centre line. This is an imaginary line that runs through the body. It helps the artist keep the relationship of different parts of the body in alignment. After the torso, the legs are of next importance (more so than the arms) because legs express weight and tension. If they are not accurately rendered they make the drawing look unstable and unconvincing. The correct positioning of the feet and ankles in supporting the legs is also critical. Of third importance are the arms. While movements of the arms do not cause great displacement of the torso or legs, they are capable of a wide-range of unique movements. They should always be considered as a single unit, never individually rendered. Artists are taught to visualize an imaginary line running from one arm, over the collarbone and down to the other arm.
Drawing a figure in motion accurately is a highly technical skill, one that was forever practiced by some of the greatest Old Masters of our time, including Michelangelo, Tintoretto and Leonardo da Vinci.
Also called Life Drawing, most figure drawing classes involve drawing a naked model. Without clothes the model can be rendered in a timeless fashion. (See also Female Nudes.) Stripped of culture and place in time, there is no difference between those figures drawn today and those created in a Renaissance classroom. The nude figure, depending on pose and artistic skill, can suggest every aspect of humanity from the pathetic to the narcissistic or heroic. If you attend a figure drawing class, you are participating in a tradition that is hundreds, possibly thousands of years old. The structure of your class will depend on the venue and person offering the course. Some teachers prefer to let students render their own sketches, offering tips or corrections as the work progresses. Other teachers take a more instructional approach - first doing and then encouraging the students to try. The latter approach is more appropriate for beginner students.
The following is an outline of a typical
6-stage figure drawing course. During the class, a variety of media can
be used to represent the model's body, including: pencil, pen and ink,
charcoal, crayon, pastels, chalk or mixed media, although pencil is the
classical tool. (See also: Pencil
Drawings as well as Charcoal
Drawings and Pen-and-Ink
The earliest known drawings of human figures were created as part of the prehistoric tradition of cave painting, from about 17,000 BCE onwards, in France and Australia. In France, the earliest drawing of a man - a prone stick-like figure - can be seen in the Shaft of the Dead Man (15,000 BCE) at Lascaux Cave, in the Dordogne. On the other side of the world, human forms first appeared in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Known as "The Bradshaws", this unique style of aboriginal art, at least 17,000 years old, consists of stick-figures (up to 6-feet in height) drawn in fine detail with accurate anatomical proportions. Despite animals being drawn in quite a life-like fashion, Paleolithic drawings of humans remain rigidly non-naturalistic. Not until the late Mesolithic era (c.6,000 BCE) do we see more natural-looking pictures of humans. However, the fact that these drawings of matchstick men have survived at all, is a miracle, and owes a great deal to the fact that artists sketched on rock.
Ancient art from the early civilizations of antiquity (Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Greece, Persia, Rome) also featured drawings of humans, but typically these were sketched on less weather-proof media, such as papyrus or wood panels, and few have survived. The only type of figurative art which survived antiquity in any significant amount, was statuary and relief sculpture, although Ancient Greek sculptors succeeded in inspiring later generations of stone masons, painters and draughtsmen. (See also: Greek Art.) In particular, they championed the idea that the human body was the ideal subject for a work of art: a view echoed and developed further by the masters of the Italian Renaissance, notably Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael. For their influence, see also the Classical Revival in modern art (1900-30).
It was these three artists in particular, that made drawing - or disegno - respectable, since up to then it had been regarded as merely preparatory design work - rather than an independent form of fine art - or, it was used to simply record and copy finished works of art, including paintings and statues. The wider availability of paper after 1550 also meant that drawings could more easily be produced and collected. Leopold de Medici and Giorgio Vasari both amassed a great collection of sketches (Medici had amassed 12,000 drawings by 1689). The Renaissance era (c.1400-1600) unquestionably represented the apogee of drawing as an art form. Workshop apprentices working for painters, sculptors and goldsmiths absorbed the fundamentals of sketching from working with drypoint and metalpoint on wax tablets, before proceeding to more expensive media, such as chalk or charcoal.
Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519)
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)
Raphael (Raffaello Santi) (1483-1520)
Here are just a very few examples of the media used in Renaissance drawings and sketches in order to obtain precise effects.
Metalpoint and brown wash over black
chalk heightened with white on salmon-pink paper.
Since the Renaissance, nearly every art movement, including Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassicism, Realism, Impressionism and Expressionism, has featured artists who were supremely talented at sketching, and who executed drawings in a wide variety of media. Here are a tiny handful of great sketchers with examples of their works.
Durer: Madonna with Many Animals (1503, Albertina, Vienna)
It's only a sketch on paper, right? What can it really be worth? Well, in 2012 a sketch of a man's head entitled Head of a Young Apostle (1519) by Raphael sold for a record £29.7 million at auction, smashing its pre-sale estimate of £10-15 million.
For more information about sketching and drawing, see: Homepage.