Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Practice of Anatomy

What greater puzzle is there for a male artist then the Female Anatomy? I've heard that women find it easier, then men to draw women, and men find it easier to draw men, or maybe it's just that we're comfortable drawing people who are of the same sex as our selves. I don't know about the rest of you guys, but the female body is so puzzling to me, it seems so elegant and simple compared to that of a male subject who's bulky stereotype typically consists of bulging veins and muscles. Why then is it so hard to capture the beauty of a woman on to the canvas? It's almost like trying to complete a jigsaw with a shortage of puzzle pieces.

So when I feel like I need to improve my skill, or keep it up to scratch, I like to do a speed paint every now and then. Now I could do some sort of ghastly creature, a killer robot, or even a martian warrior, but lately the subjects of these practice paintings have been, you guessed it, women - mostly of whom are drawn from some sort of reference material whether it be other artists work, or photo references. Now let me turn that last comment on it's head and say that I am personally against using reference material but only for myself, I don't have any problem what so ever if other people do it. It's just a little rule I put in place for myself, I'm not quite sure why, I think it just comes down to the simple fact that I want to be able to draw anything straight from my imagination at will, where ever I am, whenever I want. To draw without having to use reference is indeed hard and does take an amazing amount of skill and practice to confidently get a grasp of, ultimately though, it's what I'm aiming for. However there are exceptions to this personnel little rule and they apply in one of two cases - When I began drawing and when I practice my drawing in an attempt to build upon the skills I already possess. So in this entry I would just like to offer some advice, and share with you a little insight into starting out as an artist. With a little experience under my belt I feel I'm able to share with you this information based on the journey I've taken as an artist, the research I've done coupled with the techniques I've found most useful in attaining a firm understanding of human anatomy.

Now if you're a new comer the first thing you'll want to do is get a grasp on 'perspective', then you'll want to begin experimenting with simple shapes such as spheres, cubes etc... And there's a bunch of other areas you'll need to read up on and research but in this blog entry I'd like to focus on Characters, the relatively realistic, humanoid kind. Now whats the best way to learn to draw characters? The simple answer is this - Use REFERENCES! I sound like I'm contradicting myself here, so I'll step back and explain why you need to use reference material. You see to be able to draw without reference, you must first learn this skill by doing the exact opposite. We learn how do do things through repetitiveness or practice if you will. Do something over and over and over again, day in and day out, and your brain will quite literally store all of the information it gains from these experiences. In other words you learn to become a good drawer in much the same way you learn to walk or ride a bike, it's just with drawing it can take a little longer to get to the level of expertise you might be aiming to reach. And what better way to start learning then to learn from references! Todd Mcfarlane, the founder of Image comics and creator of Spawn, started out drawing by referencing some of his favorite comic books. One week he would work on drawing a torso, then the next he'd focus on drawing a torso and an arm, then an arm and a hand, then a torso and a leg, then a leg and a foot, and through the weeks that followed he began to create a basic but solid understanding of human anatomy. From there it was just more practice.

As well as comics and illustrations, photographic references are another excellent source of knowledge for anatomy. Don't be coy about using nude photography either, female or male, because before you can successfully cover a character in clothing, putting the folds and creases in the right place, determining the weight and thickness of each item of clothing and how to then accurately lay that over the body of every unique character you come up with, you need to first understand what is underneath it. I'm in no way condoning the use of pornography (still your choice), instead gather references of more tasteful nude photography, or even bikini or underwear models. All I am saying is that nudity is nothing to be afraid of, so for goodness sake use it and study it intently because the benefits will pay off in the end and this will be evident in your drawings. Also, it doesn't just stop at knowing what lies beneath the clothing, you need to know what lies beneath the flesh and the numerous muscle groups until you reach the very basic physicality of what we are - the human Skeleton. Obviously, basic knowledge in human anatomy, such as proportions and basic shapes will do, and should be studied first and foremost before jumping into the deep end. But knowing the basic muscles and form of the skeleton is also a very important must as you take the journey toward becoming a better artist. Bottom line is, if you have no experience drawing and want to learn how, and want to be good at it, practice makes perfect. That is the best advice one artist could give to another. Draw from life, draw from reference material and never trace. Read lots and lots of how to draw and anatomy books. Some excellent books for beginners which I highly recommend are Christopher Hart's 'Drawing Cutting Edge Anatomy' and 'How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way' with Stan Lee. Also check the Video tutorial series, 'Dynamic Figure Drawing' created by David Finch. I personally found these videos to be the biggest help of all in understanding human anatomy, going into basic structure, muscle groups, composition and posing, movement and more. David Finch explains the entire process as he draws so you don't get left behind.

You've practiced and practiced, you've filled sketch books full of observational drawings. Now you want to be able to draw from your head, the mind, the machine of all creation. Well to start with, you're going to need to buy a new sketch book (or two) and fill it with lots and lots of stick figures in every single pose you can think of an more. That's right, 'stick figures'. Now by stick figures I mean the basic structure of the skeleton (circle for the rib cage, circle for the head and hips, and lines for the limbs). Now if you like, continue to look at references, in fact I recommend it, because by doing so you'll gain a better understanding about the limits of the human body. After all, just because our skeleton might roughly resemble a stick figure doesn't mean it can bend in any direction and as far back as it wants. Why not use yourself to reference this? Ask yourself how far you can bend your shoulder back, how far can you lift your leg up in the air, how much can you twist you torso around? Unless you're made of illastic, or are a contortionist, chances are you'll discover that you do have limits in regards to what you can do to your body, and applying this knowledge to your drawings will make your characters more realistic from their poses alone. After a few weeks of drawing stick people, you'll want to start to flesh your poses out a bit by drawing the simple structure of the body and it's various muscle groups. Now remember, start simple. Simple shapes for the arms, simple shapes for the legs, even cylinders will do at first. When you arrive at this point you're pretty well on the right track. Surprisingly detail is the easiest part, so don't dwell on it too much to begin with, just really concentrate on the basic shapes and structure of the body. Keep practicing and in time you will get the hang of it.

Maybe you might ask why I still use references, considering I've been drawing for the last 15 years. Well, you still want to feed your brain with information on anatomy. Because lets face it, a lot of the time we forget how to do things, or how things work, not entirely, but still enough that you may find a deterioration of quality in your work over time. Doing quick sketches, speed paintings, poses, for practice regularly keep the ball in your court. Think of it as exercise for an artist, regularly practicing anatomy, regularly drawing from the world around you, regularly drawing from reference helps to keep you in shape as an artist. So that when you do come to drawing straight from your head, from the imagination, or there is no reference anywhere to be found the process becomes almost instantaneous as you create an image purely original - an image from pure thought.

Lastly I'd just like to share some of the 'practices' I've been doing lately. Really, I should be doing this every night, but unfortunately I can only wish in the busy life I seem to be leading this year. You notice the subjects I've chosen for these art works are women, and yes, they are based from photo references. Which brings me full circle back to the first paragraph. I think I draw so many female subjects because that's what I find the most uncomfortable to draw, it's what I feel I need the most practice in. There is a way in which society views women. Some say that the ideal female image is an unfortunate allusion which we all seem to be fixated on, whether it be that you find these seemingly perfect looking women attractive, or you envy them, or you want to be like them, you can't deny or change the fact that this is the way the world sees an ideal woman. I wish I could change it, I do think that it's an unhealthy and delusional way to see women, but woman have always been the face of beauty and to me that is something every woman should be proud of. Lets face it when we think of women we think of femininity, delicacy, beauty in much the same way we might see the stereotypical image of a man to be muscly, handsome, and strong. Who knows where these assumptions came from, who knows why we think about our selves is this way. Could it be just in our nature? Is it our simple way of thinking and categorizing information just as we do with the vast amount of knowledge that feeds into our minds daily. Maybe it's simply our way of dealing with thought management - Or - Is it to do with this fascination we've had with a higher being since the dawn of man? We look up to these idealizations of ourselves, we want to be like them - We want to be beautiful, we want to be handsome, the brave man wants to save the damsel in distress and she wants to be saved. We want that smoking hot woman in the Cadbury Milk Chocolate ad, or the drop dead gorgeous guy in the Mens underwear ad. But we can't be them or have them, because they don't exist. We can't help it though, we'll always view everything in a certain light, positive or negative, it's our nature.

I'm getting a bit off track here, but the reason I brought this up is because I wanted to let any ladies reading this blog know that just because I draw 'super-model' like women instead of 'real women' isn't because I view women as sexual objects or anything like that, I draw beautiful women because they seem to be the universal view of what beauty is. Don't get me wrong either, I think my partner is the most beautiful woman in the world, but does that mean you do? She may see me as the hottest hunk in town, does that mean you do? The answer is probably going to be no or differ in some way. Remember I said the 'universal view' meaning that if I then draw the stereotypical, ideal woman or man suddenly everybody agrees that yes, to some extent, the subject this illustration is depicting is attractive to me. If we want our work to appeal to a viewer through something aesthetically pleasing is it any wonder then that we use beautiful men or women to reach out to a broad range of audiences, whether that be in advertisements, comics, video games, movies, or any other media outlet? It's hard to create a connection to people you've never met on a personnel level, throw an element that everybody recognizes and agrees on into the mix and you've just made that connection, you've grabbed their attention. As people we have this need to attach images to things such as beauty, and we have found what that is very thing is, unfortunately it's often misunderstood or cause to take offense.

Here's the pics.

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