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Figure Drawing: A Complete Guide
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Figure Drawing: A Complete Guide

by Richard G. Hatton

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One of the few available guidebooks of its kind, this manual approaches figure drawing from the draftsman's point of view. With a clear focus on surface lines and prominences, step-by-step instructions and over 300 illustrations guide artists in accurately sketching all aspects of the human form in lively action and repose.
Beginning with method and proportion,


One of the few available guidebooks of its kind, this manual approaches figure drawing from the draftsman's point of view. With a clear focus on surface lines and prominences, step-by-step instructions and over 300 illustrations guide artists in accurately sketching all aspects of the human form in lively action and repose.
Beginning with method and proportion, the author discusses the drawing of lines, contours, planes, masses, and rounded forms. Moving on to the individual parts of the body, simple principles of anatomy are applied to demonstrate techniques for sketching the head and neck, the trunk, the upper and lower limbs, and the digits. Expertly rendered figures are shown in various positions and movements, and from all angles, for the most thorough, concise instruction. Brimming with the basic elements necessary for creating quality works of art, Figure Drawing also includes guidance for drawing drapery, revealing the main points of support on the body and the proper way to sketch the folds and forms of garments. Immensely practical and highly readable, it is a manual that artists of every level will turn to again and again.

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Dover Publications
Publication date:
Dover Art Instruction Series
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)

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Figure Drawing

A Complete Guide

By Richard G. Hatton

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14643-0



1. The Study of Form.

JEAN FRANÇOIS MILLET said, when asked if an artist should study anatomy, that all knowledge is useful. The questioner had in mind, no doubt, the very frequently expressed opinion that anatomy, and all such-like knowledge, is apt to clog the wheels of the artist's progress. The fear is that the unsophisticated freedom, the "thoughtlessness" of nature will be smothered by palpable study—by book-learning especially. And there are, consequently, many of the artistic fraternity who eschew all such aids, and who point to the long roll of illiterates whose work is immortal. There can be little doubt that this mistrust of knowledge is due to the excess of science in these studies. Some degree of excess there must always be, because all possible demands have to be met, while the artist in his own work can manage to evade what he cannot overcome. Nevertheless, there is often so much science that its application becomes very difficult. The reply of Millet would be truer if it ran—all knowledge is useful if it is usable. What every artist wants is usable knowledge, and of that he will never have any doubts.

Our task in the present case is to find out usable knowledge about the figure, so that when we come to draw it we may be the less likely to fall into error.

Now the form of the figure is revealed by its anatomy, but in order that the facts obtained may be of service to the artist they must be selected from his point of view, and must arise out of his manner of working. In preparing the following pages I have kept this fact constantly before me, and have found it necessary sometimes to suppress information which clearly was usurping a position that belonged to more practical knowledge. For I find, and do not doubt that the experience of all draughtsmen is the same, that one works sometimes "anatomically," sometimes "artistically." When one works anatomically one feels that too much insistence is being placed upon facts which do not apply, and the drawing plainly is getting no nearer being a lively imitation of nature, but more and more an exercise of another kind.

We have, consequently, to base our investigations upon the methods employed by the artist. We have to consider what he sets out to do, and what assistance he wants from us in the execution of his task.

We find the artist's task is twofold. He has to first fix his conception, or idea, of his subject; and he has, in the second place, to technically express his conception.

In Volume II, which is devoted to Figure Composition, the conception is dealt with fully. It is there shown that the conception may be comparatively meagre, or rich, but it is clear that when dealing with the technical part we must assume that the conception is as full and complete as possible. We will not spend words here, then, in pointing out that a shaded drawing indicates an intention to express a fuller conception than a drawing in line would. Obviously, if one goes beyond line, and uses shading it is because one has more to say—more form, or more delicate form, to exhibit.

Yet although the conception may be rich, and demand all the resource of the painter's craft, the means employed for the representation do not at once leap to the highest level, but proceed from simple to difficult—following that best of laws, that the simple means should be exhausted before the more complex are called forth. We commence our study, therefore, with an examination of the means of expression.

2. Drawing in Line.

IT seems very formal, very didactic, to say that the representation of solid forms in line is based upon the drawing of the cube and the cylinder, and the statement is certainly an exaggeration, but as a practical rule the assertion is true enough. The principle involved is seen in Fig. 1, and briefly is—that a cylinder seen in a foreshortened position is expressed by a curved line, an oval, at either end, and that a cubic form is represented by two lines at an angle, also at either end of it. It will be clear to any one without further explanation that modifications in the form will be followed by modifications in the de-gree, and kind, of curvature, or angle. However varied the form may be, its expression by line will depend upon the simple law thus indicated. From this law of foreshortening we deduce this axiom—that where two similar lines, as A and B in Fig. 2, occur one beyond the other, the inference is that the smaller (according to perspective) is the more remote, and that the surface from A to B recedes. Such a shape as C, if symmetrical side for side, may be a plane receding upwards, or may be a shape seen in its true form, without foreshortening. An addition at the side, as at D, suggests that the form is receding, but only if the bottom line of the addition, d, slopes down. Of course where such is the case the form EF is truer, because the side FF would become shorter than EE. It would often be impossible to tell which end was the nearer without an edge, or side, as shown at H. This edge (H) at once indicates that the smaller end is really the nearer, and that we are looking up at the object. This edge belongs to the cube form—it is the return, or third side, and indicates the nearer end.

The lines by which the shading is produced are as important as the end-lines themselves; indeed, in line-drawing the shading-lines are often the chief exponents of the form.

The application of the principle of the cylinder is seen in Fig. 3. Each part of the body recedes in a certain direction. The near and far ends of each part come, therefore, under the principle, that is, they curve backward, or away from the spectator. The drawing here given is marred by being made to show the application of the rule. Its curves are too regularly circular, and the near and far ends of each part are too equal.

The shading which is done on the principle of the cylinder is of two kinds. It is either made up of strokes side by side, or of strokes crossing. How is the direction of the lines governed? It is difficult and dangerous to give a rule, but this much may be said—that in the single-stroke work each successive stroke seems to be the edge of a new section parallel to the last, and all at right-angles to the direction of the limb. This is illustrated in Fig. 4, where the curvature of the lines varies according to the form to be expressed. It will readily be believed that this method is a dangerous one—a slight misdirection of line, or of curvature, produces false form. But dangers such as these carry with them compensating qualities—directness, and the evidence of good workmanship when things go well. What has one to guard against? I fancy Albert Dürer would have said—making the lines too straight.

If the reader will examine carefully the lines on the engraving by Dürer reproduced (Fig. 6), more particularly in the legs, he will see that the lines are well curved. This curliness of the lines is characteristic of Dürer's work, and indeed of the work of his time, and its effect is to over-model, rather than under-model, the form. Such curly shading is seen over and over again in that work, so that one is tempted to say that they preferred not to make the curve the true curve as produced by the section.

The shading by curved lines, of which we have been treating, is not the only kind. There is the cross-hatched variety. I suppose nothing could seem more merely pedantic, more superfluous than to give any instructions as to the direction the curves should take. For it seems so evident that the directions are chosen by each individual artist differently, as suits his style, his hand, and his knowledge. We may say this, however, that cross-hatching owes its origin to the fact that sometimes we want an edge of shade against light which is sharp in character, sometimes an edge which is soft. Now the little strokes, more or less parallel, terminate against the light with a comb-like edge. This is the soft edge. Sometimes it is not soft enough, and we have to continue our strokes in shorter strokes, or dots, so that the tone can be carried less harshly into the light. This method of softening was in vogue among the old woodcut designers, Albert Dürer and Holbein among them. But if we want a sharper, more sudden change from shade to light we can use the strokes so that the side of the first stroke borders the shading. In this way, especially when we allow ourselves lines in more than one direction, we are able to get a great variety of gradation. Fig. 7 merely gives one set of lines; it is evident that another set crossing them would assist much in the expression of the form. For all that, artists will, I think, generally prefer the simpler method.

3. Drawing by Planes.

THE most unkind comment we can make upon a drawing of the figure is that it is "sausagey." We like well-rounded limbs, but we object to any suggestion of their being stuffed, or inflated. Obviously this over-roundness can be corrected by flattening the surface here and there. To flatten the surface is to create planes, and these planes will meet in ridges.

Of course the planes are nothing like so sharp as those shown in Fig. 8, which is drawn to show that the symmetry of the surfaces must be preserved, and that this is done by assuming that they meet in the formal manner there illustrated.

In Fig. 9 is an oblong with a long line across it. This long line, even without any shading, suggests that two surfaces are sloping away from it. In the same diagram is shown the same line converted into shading of a simple character.

In most cases there is but one main ridge down a limb, or down the trunk. That is as much as to say that, as a rule, the surface falls into two main planes. This is further illustrated in Fig. 10, where one plane is shown in light, the other in shade.

4. Drawing by Contour.

THE oldest method of drawing is drawing by contour, or outline. In Fig. 11 we have an illustration of a Greek vase-painting, or rather drawing, for there is no "painting" in these beautiful pieces of work.

In these Greek vase-paintings the drawing is of the highest excellence, and should receive more attention than it does. The form is extremely well and sensitively rendered, and when we consider that with only an outline to work with there is much truth, bone, muscle, tendon, fleshiness, we may well doubt whether, at any subsequent period of artistic history, there has been better drawing. Now this is all contour work. Fig. 12 is from a lekythos in the British Museum. With all the imperfections due to the reproduction it is a very beautiful drawing. The anatomical form is perfect, and even with the small part represented the action is easy and harmonious, while there is a fleshiness and elasticity which is the despair of the draughtsman of to-day. There is, it must be feared, no technical secret which we can learn for such work as this. It seems to be merely the record of great delight in the human form, in its mechanism,and its harmonious properties. Like Nature herself, the draughtsmanship seems to care nothing for the show of cleverness, or of knowledge, but to be solely the reflection of unalloyed delight in the subject portrayed.

No draughtsman will, however, doubt that the Greek artist possessed great knowledge, and that because he possessed great knowledge he worked with the ease his drawings exhibit. No one will pretend that this drawing is drawn by a man who cares nothing for the form, and who tries to forget any fact about it he may happen to observe, or that he made this drawing from a model, posed for the purpose, and for evermore forgotten. There was then, as there always must be, a body of knowledge diffused through the artistic fraternity, kept fresh and vital by a zeal for their craft and an enthusiasm for nature.

In all periods we find this contour-drawing, in all periods knowledge. Sometimes the knowledge is not first-hand. Indeed, if we could look into those old Greek workshops we should probably find the master handing down to his apprentice the knowledge he himself similarly acquired. The early Greek vase-painting was surely traditional, else how comes it that the same characteristics so constantly recur? The Greek artists of the best period inherited a body of tradition which they sifted and developed as served their purpose. When, however, he who inherits does not freshen his knowledge at the fountain of nature, it will flag, grow awry, become conventional, as we say. Even then it may be a most powerful agent of expression, for we must not lose sight of the great fact that drawing is, after all, only a means to an end. It is not art, though the great means by which art achieves its labours. In Fig. 13, for instance, we have an example of thirteenth-century drawing. Jt represents nature rather than imitates it. It is conventional; but note this (which is true of all conventional drawing), it is true in the great facts, if false in the little ones. The hands particularly are good. It is possible, therefore, for a drawing to be much better in its detail, and yet not only worse on the whole, but less useful—the production of a more learned but a less sane personage than he who drew these crude Gothic figures. And such failure all the more enforces the lesson that the contourist must be careful, above all, of his main form, his big planes.

5. Drawing in Thick Lines.

SOMETIMES our work demands the employment of a thick line, and we can have no better exercise for our power of managing outline. We have, in the first place, to determine whether we are allowed to make our lines thick and thin as we like, or whether we must keep to one regular thickness. Even in the illustrations (woodcuts) to the 'Dream of Poliphilus,' in which the line is practically of one thickness throughout, there continually occur slender lines, and all the lines are more or less jagged, as may be expected in woodcuts. As a rule, in all such work the line round the figure is very bold. There is a reason for this, and the reason is that the thick line concentrates the broad light of the figure — hems it in. A form surrounded by a thick line is more readily regarded as modelled than one surrounded by a thin line. This is because the thick lines, being very evident, are easily associated with one another—will associate themselves, in fact—and the form between seems to be bumped up or modelled. It is of course only when the outline is at all curved that this suggestion of modelling is produced. The indentations in the form no doubt suggest channels, or depressions, in the surface, but it would be of little service to us to enter upon a detailed inquiry into such a matter.

A comparison of the three illustrations, Figs. 14, 15, and 16, will serve to show what approximation to the more detailed rendering is obtainable by the use of thick lines. Sometimes one finds the thick line is wholly outside the form, surrounding it. Rarely, if ever, is the thick line within the form, except on the shadow-side. In Fig. 17 the outline down the shadow-side (the left) is within the form, while on the light-side it is on the background, and does not invade the form. This seems indeed to be the only serviceable rule one can make —perhaps no rule at all should be made.

6. Drawing based upon Rounded Forms.

IF you draw by outline you must trust almost to luck for your modelling. If you begin to model you may either regard the form as built up mainly of flat surfaces (planes), or you may regard it as composed of rounded forms one against the other. Both of these predilections are, in a measure, wrong, as well as right; the planes make too many sharp edges, the rounded masses make none at all. One would say, side with truth, not with imaginary standards, especially as they seem to be proving false. But the draughtsman must begin somewhere. Moreover, while he is seeking truth he must needs make use of whatever will help him to gain it. Our progress in drawing, at all events, is through error to truth —and to us who have not yet done our task, our error is only error because it is not all the truth, not because it is no part of truth at all.


Excerpted from Figure Drawing by Richard G. Hatton. Copyright © 2007 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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