The first of tonight’s life drawings were found tucked away with the drawing boards when the evening class at Bristol Grammar school finished this week. Most of the other paraphenalia we take home with us but as we can’t be fussed to take everything we leave the boards in a little cupboard in the corner of the sixth form common room.
I’m often suprised at what gets chucked away at the end of the evening. I find these life drawings really interesting. I’ve always felt my knowledge of anatomy was pretty good but I must say I’m impressed by this artist’s ability to draw bone structure from memory.
But why bother? Well, I always feel that part of being able to draw a person well is showing that you’ve understood how the figure “works”. It’s not just a question of copying what you see but being able to show an undertstanding of how the various parts of the body interact with each other. A living figure isn’t just a stack of oval shaped muscles, it has a certain logic to it. You may only have a short time to draw a pose so having an understanding of anatomy makes it easier to decide what is essential to put in and what you can also safely gloss over. I also find it helpful because I like to work a lot from memory when I paint my own pictures.
They’d stopped teaching anatomy when I was at art college during the eighties. Apparently too many students would end up drawing “idealized” figures rather than a “true” picture of what was in front of them. I can see the sense in that but it’s ironic that one of the traditional objectives of life drawing was to produce such idealized looking figures. Having spent many years working from first engravings and then plaster casts of Classical Greek and Roman statues you were never meant to just copy nature, you actually had to improve on it, with the work of those Greeks and Romans in mind. Here is a contempory description of the sculptor John Rysbrach (1694-1770).
“He borrowed the head of the Farnesian god (Hercules…and used) various parts and limbs of seven or eight of the strongest and best made men in London, chiefly the bruisers and boxers of the then flourishing amphitheatre for boxing…The arms were Broughton’s, the breast a celebrated coachman’s, a bruiser, and the legs were those of Ellis the painter, a great frequenter of the gymnasium.”
At some point I hope to include a few scans from the stack of anatomy books that I have accumulated over the years.