Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters: 100 Great Drawings Analyzed/Figure Drawing Fundamentals Defined
Robert Beverly Hale
New York, NY
these excerpts address what we talked about in class yesterday, adding value to your drawing according to the form you've established on the page--rather than simply copying the light and shade that happen to appear on the form at that moment, in a particular situation. note especially the clarity of the value on the side plane on the albinus engraving (bottom) of the skeleton.
forms: their shape, lighting, and position
But first of all, in order to draw a specific form, you must be aware that this form exists. This is one of the reasons that figure drawing is so difficult for the beginner: in the human body, there are many forms which the beginner has neither heard of nor thought about. For him, these forms literally do not exist. For instance, many beginners are not conscious of the rib cage, the largest form in the body; very few are aware of the tensor of the fascia lata, though it is impossible to represent the pelvic region faithfully without a knowledge of this form. Indeed, this muscle takes six or more inches of the outline of the figure in certain poses; so you can imagine how important it is.
Once you are aware of the existence of a form, you must then come to an exact conclusion as to its shape. Unless you have decided on the exact shape of a form, how in the world can you communicate its exact shape to others?
Furthermore, you must light the form in such a way that it is recognized for what you have in mind and not for something else. A woman’s breast may be lit in such a way that it looks like a flat, white poker chip, or almost anything but its true, somewhat spherical form.
Finally, you must come to a decision about the position of the form in space. Certainly you will not wish to draw it in two or more places at once. Nor will you wish to draw a form in a position that does not reveal its true shape.
Naturally, it is difficult for the beginner to carry all these matters in his mind at once. What is more, his unaccustomed hand will be unable to dra with precision the shapes he wishes to present. And his hand will be too heavy to render the necessary values (light and shade).
image: hale teaching at the art students league of new york
You must realize that there is no royal road to drawing. It is practice, practice all the way. (14)
basic geometric forms
You should practice drawing cubes, cylinders, and spheres. These are the simple, basic forms; the artist feels that all other forms are composed of these forms, or parts of them.
Soon you will discover that there are many forms that lie between the cube and the cylinder, between the cylinder and the sphere. An egg, for instance, is neither a cylinder nor a sphere; its shape lies somewhere between the two. In you mind, whittle away the vertical edges of the cube until it becomes a cylinder. Close up the top and bottom of the cylinder and imagine it as a sphere. In this way, you will begin to feel the relationship between these forms which becomes so important in the study of values.
Soon you will find you can give the symbol—the illusion—of any simple form you wish. After quite a while, you will realize that you can give the illusion of any complex form by combining the simple forms—or parts of the simple forms—of which the complex form is composed. (15)
learning to think in many-shaped boxes
When you are learning to draw, it is most important to cultivate the habit of forcing everything you see into its simplest geometric form. Do this sort of thing continually. It enables you to feel a form in its entirety, disregarding details which are so loved by the beginner. Above all, it promotes the ability to think in mass, which must become an instinctive habit, the most important habit the student can acquire. (16)
Luca Cambiaso (1527-1585)
Group of Figures
pen and bistre
13 3/8” x 9 7/16”
In this drawing, Cambiaso shows you how an artist thinks of the figure in terms of simple masses. He used blocks to clarify the front and side planes and the up and down planes. He then threw a light from the left and from above. Thus, it was very easy for him to put shade on the side and down planes. If he had drawn perfectly life-like figures and put the same light and shade on them, they would ha looked very well.
Even in these block-like figures, Cambiaso still shows his anatomical training. The line (A) designates the top of the sacrum.
There is another principle nicely illustrated here. As the artist turs his attention from one block-like form to another, he varies the direction of each form. In other words, adjacent forms vary in direction, each to each.
Honoré Daumier (1808-1879)
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza
charcoal wahed with inia ink
7 3/8” x 12 1/8”
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Try re-drawing this Daumier, giving it the simple, block-like shapes of Cambiaso. Throw the light from the right and you will understand why Daumier put his shade where it is.
Incidentally, this drawing shows that Daumier was altogether intimate with the bones of horses. (Have you got a friend in the country who will send you some horse bones so that you can learn to draw horses?) Compare the horse with his rider and start to think of the basic similarities between men and animals. Don Quixote’s knee is at A hi horse’s knee is at B. Don Quixote’s ankle is at C; his horse’s ankle is at D. From here down, the horse’s leg is all foot. Notice the S curve on the back of the horse’s neck (E. This is the basic movement of the cervical or neck vertebrae of animals, but not of man.
inventing your own source of light
Where there is no light, there is no visible form. When light plays upon the form, tones appear and the form emerges. But naturally there are certain conditions of light under which an object will give the clearest presentation of its shape. Skilled artists can create these light conditions even though they do not exist. An accomplished artist is able to create his own light source or sources, disregarding, if he wishes, whose which do exist. Actually, an artist cannot only create new sources of light, but he can decide on their position, color, size, and intensity. He can therefore create his own highlights, darks, and halftones.
You can grasp the importance of inventing light sources if you think of certain problems confronting the landscape painter. In the morning, he starts to paint a tree; if the sun is on his right, the shade and cast shadows of the tree will be on his left. After lunch, however, when he is completing his picture, he will find the shade and cat shadow on the other side of the tree. You can see that this would be troublesome unless an artist had the power of Joshua, which indeed he has, for he can command the sun to stand still! The artist realizes that just as he cannot draw a moving object, but must seize upon a phase of the motion, so he cannot draw an object under a moving light source, unless he imagines the source as fixed.
how light can destroy form
But there is a much more important reason why an artist must have the power to create his own sources of light: the light that plays upon a form frequently—almost in variably—does not reveal the true shape of the form. I assure you that it is possible to arrange your sources of light so that a cylinder looks like the window of a prison cell and a sphere like a soiled white poker ship. You can see what complications might arise if the cylinder happened to be your model’s neck, and the sphere her breast. This may sound exaggerated, but almost all beginners manage to make the egg-like form of the model’s thigh look like a roller coaster or a large piece of cheese which the mice have taken over. (62)
bernard siegfried albinus
tabulae sceleti et musculorum
corporis hmani, 1747
metropolitan museum of art, new york