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Principles of Figure Drawing

Principles of Figure Drawing

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Principles of Figure Drawing

5/5 (4 évaluations)
451 pages
1 heure
Mar 8, 2012


Written by a noted author and instructor, this guide for intermediate to advanced students presents the fundamentals of figure drawing in a lucid, practical manner. Each step in the construction and artistic representation of the human figure is fully explained and illustrated. Topics include such vital aspects as proportion, bone and muscle structure, limbs, head and neck, male and female figures, action and motion, and the draped figure.
This volume ranks among the most complete and useful guides to figure drawing. Its wealth of illustrations ranges from diagrams to anatomical drawings to photographs, along with a rich gallery of work by the great masters. Examples include drawings from the works of Leonardo and Vesalius as well as Picasso, Modigliani, Rubens, Rembrandt, and dozens of other distinguished artists.
Mar 8, 2012

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Principles of Figure Drawing - Alexander Dobkin




IN LIFE the human figure is usually from 6½ to 7 head-lengths tall. Yet in art it may be anywhere from 4. to 12 head-lengths, varying in size according to the demands made upon it. If the artist is concerned primarily with the muscles of the body, the head will tend to become small in proportion. If, on the other hand, the features and the expression of the face are important, the figure will tend to be smaller.

A child, with his limited experience, will often draw a face and practically ignore the body and the limbs. Such also is the tendency among primitives. In some civilizations certain proportions become traditional and remain intact, with but few variations, for thousands of years. When compared with the extreme variety in design and proportion of European figures, the Egyptian concept of the human form seems to have remained quite static for three thousand years.

Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were not only outstanding artists but profound scientists as well. They approached the structure of man as a science, making their own dissections, drawing what they saw, and refusing to accept any notions without being convinced by seeing, studying, and drawing from nature. Hence, in their work, the enlarging and elongation of the body at the expense of the size of the head can be explained partly by the desire to display their extensive knowledge of muscles and bones. The figure grew in length until El Greco often made it 12 head-lengths tall. To endow his men and women with godlike proportions, Michelangelo built figures that were gigantic and completely out of scale with a real human being.

Like Leonardo in Italy, Dürer in Germany was a scientifically-curious artist. He, like Leonardo, was a product of the Renaissance, which was rapidly moving north. He lived in a period that was truly the rebirth, or rather the dawn, of man’s freedom, of his recognition of his powers to create his own environment, and of his abilities to harness nature and make it work for him. It was the dawn of experimental science and research, the awakening of greater interest in the material world. It was the beginning of the struggle of human knowledge against the superstitions and taboos piled up. by ages of darkness and slavery.


The importance of man was the credo of the times. His body was no longer held in contempt, a mere mortal shell containing an immortal soul. He assumed the new dignity and power so discernible in all the art of the Renaissance. The highest object for art is man, said Michelangelo. Looking at his frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, who could doubt it?

When the highest object for art is man, man naturally becomes the highest object of research also. For no artist can paint two hundred figures, many larger than life-size, in a single continuous mural, as Michelangelo did in The Last Judgment without a thorough knowledge of the human being.

No wonder then that some of the most original and amazing treatises on the human body were written and illustrated by these artists. Leonardo filled pages and pages of his famous notebook with detailed drawings of all sorts of anatomical details, constructions, and proportions of the human machine carefully and minutely described.

In the North, Dürer was preoccupied with the same problem. His two volumes, Human Proportions, originally conceived as a treatise to run to four volumes, was published as he lay on his deathbed.


It is significant that no great mural painting has been done without this highest object for art. Landscapes, flowers, and abstract designs can never capture the imagination nor constitute the necessary drama so essential to mural painting. Nothing is more exciting than a painting of man as the protagonist in a dramatic situation. For nothing is more important to us than ourselves. Whatever detours art history may take, one thing is certain—in the end man always emerges as the most important object in art.

Today the world is much smaller. Art of all kinds, from all places and times, travels rapidly, making artists aware that beauty scorns narrow standards. Today, more than ever before, a good artist represents the sum total of world-wide influences. Hence proportions become a matter of personal choice.

Often, however, figures are made taller or smaller because of the function they serve. Fashion artists prefer an abnormally tall figure that can perform the task of displaying clothes to the fullest advantage. In many cases the fashion figure is at least 8 or 9 head-lengths tall.

Regardless of the size of the figure, certain proportions remain constant. The center of the body falls just above the crotch, at the point called the pubis. After starting a drawing, one should be able to see at a glance whether or not the whole figure can be made to fit into the given space. All one has to do is to measure off the distance from the top of the head to the pubis and double it.

Do not measure off proportions with a ruler. Do it approximately, by sight, or with something less accurate than a measuring rod, and then only when you feel there is something wrong with the results of your freehand work. The essence of good drawing is freedom and spontaneity. Avoid becoming a slave to rules.

Fig. 1

Leonardo da Vinci makes his man 8 head-lengths tall with four concentric circles, each circle being one head-length apart. Whether artists make their figures 8, 9, or 12 head-lengths, the proportions remain constant—the middle always falls in the same place, and the arms, legs, and hands maintain the same proportional relationship with the body.

Study anatomy carefully, but when drawing a figure never use precision instruments of any kind. Just being aware of certain proportions will help you to draw them naturally. Remember that all the masters have created their own proportions in their work. Not one of them has ever followed all the rules slavishly. Every artist of standing has evolved his own theories from long study and observation.

Fig. 2

Leonardo da Vinci said the span of a man’s outstretched arms is equal to his height. If a circle [with navel as center] be described of a man lying with his face upward and his hands and feet extended, it will touch his fingers and his toes. Dürer does the same thing (p. 17). And although the Renaissance Italian artist (p. 14) puts his figure in a square, he describes his circle with the pubis as a

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