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Monday, July 1, 2019

Monday Morning Art School: figure drawing for the busy person

Line-of-Action won’t make you a figure artist, but if you can’t get to a weekly model session, it’s the next best thing.
The Anatomy Class at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, 1888, François Sallé. Courtesy Art Gallery of New South Wales.
My son-in-law Aaron has the makings of a very fine artist. Yesterday, he snapchatted me some figure gestures with a note that said, “I practice online when I can’t come to your class.” (He lives in Buffalo.) They were quite good.

The website he’s using is Line of Action. It’s a bundle of reference photos that can either play as a slideshow or in a class format. The latter is like a figure session, starting with 30-second gestures and working up to longer poses.

Bathers on the Seine – Academy, 1874-76, Édouard Manet, courtesy São Paulo Museum of Art. 
I clicked through the figure photos. For the most part they were poses I might see on an average Wednesday night at Camden Life Drawing. In some cases, the photos exaggerate perspective due to barrel lens distortion.  But that’s a quibble. For someone wanting to draw comics, lens distortion might help create dynamism. The viewer can choose gender and whether the model is clothed or unclothed. Nothing I saw was remotely sexualized (a danger with working from photos on the internet).

There are other categories of images as well: animals, hands and feet, and faces. I’ve done gesture drawings of horses in motion, cows, and sleeping dogs and cats. However, animals, as a rule, don’t pose well. Too often animal portraits are static because they are generally done from photos.

The drawing class, 1660, Michiel Sweerts. Courtesy Frans Hals Museum. The formal class has been around for centuries because it works.
There’s a landscape drawing section currently only available to subscribers, but there are better ways to get there. I’ve written before about painting from a moving vehicle. My watercolor workshop on the schooner American Eagle is all about landscape gestures. Even the most prosaic suburban apartment complex has things to paint and draw, so all you need is to go out there and do it.

If you choose to play the slides in class format, you will experience the models as seen in a typical figure drawing classroom. This mode includes built-in breaks. You can practice drawing just as you might practice cello.
Modelo de Academia, date unknown, Manuel Teixeira da Rocha. Private collection.
Typically, figure-drawing classes start with brief gestures. These help the artist draw kinesthetically, putting his whole arm into the process. Short gestures fire up a kind of sympathetic drawing, which can be more accurate in measurement than more formal systems. And short gestures are unsettling, so the artist can’t get into a rut from the start.

From gestures, most classes move through longer and longer poses. The final long pose is where the artist begins to explore detail. Anatomical accuracy is usually the primary concern in a figure class. But equally important are composition and the relationship of the figure to its (mostly unarticulated) ground.

Line-of-Action won’t make you a figure artist—you need lots of time with live models for that. But if you’re in a place where you can’t get to a weekly figure group, or a point in life where going out to draw is impossible, it’s the next best thing.

You can use their basic photo library and the class format algorithm for free. There are two basic subscription levels. Since I don’t need feedback from their artist community, I’ll just be dropping by as a casual user.

Coda: Last week I wrote about gender disparity in the arts. Last night at Cape Elizabeth Paint for Preservation, the highest auction price was set by Jill Hoy. The tide may indeed be turning!

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