Figure Drawing and Portraiture: In Pencil, Chalk and Charcoal

Figure Drawing and Portraiture: In Pencil, Chalk and Charcoal

by Borough Johnson

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ISBN-13: 9780486136752
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 03/08/2012
Series: Dover Art Instruction
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 160
File size: 21 MB
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Figure Drawing and Portraiture

In Pencil, Chalk and Charcoal

By Borough Johnson

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2009 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-13675-2


Art Appreciation

THE principles of art, in all its branches, its history, its poetry, and its technique should, in my opinion, be made a compulsory subject in the curriculum of all schools and colleges. Often too little attention is paid to the value of an art education, which enlightens the traveller in his own and in foreign lands, and opens his eyes to the beauties of the treasures of art, which the prosaic and undiscerning may pass by with but a superficial or even indifferent glance at the "subject" of the picture or object, heedless of the thought and knowledge expended on its creation. Those who can appreciate such beauties, who can differentiate between good and bad workmanship, or whose emotions are aroused by the poetry of art and Nature, add much to their happiness. The benefits of such an education, even if it be but superficial, cannot, indeed, be over-estimated.

The two greatest epochs in the history of art were attained by the Greek and Italian nations in an age when culture reached its highest supremacy. During this period of classic antiquity in Greece and the so-called Renaissance in Italy, the people were educated and encouraged by the Church and the State to understand and appreciate beautiful workmanship and lovely forms in every branch of the fine arts. This phase of education is, I am afraid, very sadly neglected in this mechanical age, in which we are fated to witness the spoliation of our once beautiful country by the erection of hideous buildings, hoardings, and unlovely petrol stations, to say nothing of the construction of bleak arterial roads. It is depressing to contemplate the possible results of another generation of modern "progress" if such efforts as are being made to preserve those beauties that still remain with us are unsuccessful.

Art will always remain art—it is in no way intended to compete with Nature. It is a conventionalized interpretation of natural forms and effects, portrayed by a mind which can discriminate between the commonplace or ordinary and the rare and beautiful. The real appreciation of art demands technical knowledge and an aesthetic temperament. We have all eyes to see, but it is the emotions which we receive from our minds that influence us when we view, say, a fine piece of architecture, such as The Partheon at Athens, or a painting such as Valasquez's portrait of Pope Innocent X in the Palazzo Doria at Rome, or, again, a piece of sculpture such as Michael Angelo's "Moses," one of the world's most famous statues, which, though the figure is strikingly out of proportion according to accepted canons, is yet extraordinarily impressive in the grandeur of its conception and in the evidence it bears of a deep anatomical knowledge. Before this wonderful creation of the mind and hand of a Master the artist is spellbound, while the prosaic person will probably comment only on its ill-proportions.

It is a fact that a large number of the uninitiated in art often prefer what is really a bad picture to one that is a true work of art; that is to say, something that they can easily " understand," that is strictly intelligible to them. Abstract art, or "impressions" of Nature, make no appeal to them. In landscape they prefer photographic exactitude, and in figure pictures, more often than not, they prefer something that is "sentimental" or which "tells a story." Through lack of such training of the public as I have suggested, the true artist who feels deeply and who seeks to interpret his emotions is often unpopular and neglected and his career a financial tragedy. To be quite candid, art to many people is not such an essential of civilization as photography. Amongst the drawings reproduced in this book not one, I hope, represents its subject as a photograph would. If so, it is not art, which is largely a matter of imagination, elimination, and selection. In seeking to convey a first impression aspect much that is unnecessary has to be left out, and such detail as is considered essential concentrated in the right place. The camera lens is not at all like the human vision, as it takes in everything at a fixed focus, and it is only the "artist" photographer who, at times, produces a beautiful result by skilful work on negative or print. A large section of the public has been misled by certain organs of the Press and by exhibitions of pseudo-modern art into such a state of chaotic bewilderment that it is hardly to be wondered at that they find it difficult to discriminate between what is really good and what is rubbish. They are told to believe that forms unrelated to any object, anatomical or natural, and odd arrangements with, very often, decadent motives, represent the true art of the present day, whilst fidelity to Nature, the result of serious study, is but little removed from a mechanical or photographic reproduction. To the majority of serious artists, most of this talk is absurd, but, unfortunately, this campaign against the representation of natural forms and colour, if persisted in and encouraged, as it is by certain art critics, may have an evil effect on public opinion. Many brilliant artists who will not see eye to eye with the "modern" art critic are labelled old-fashioned, and find themselves neglected or totally ignored by the Press.

On the other hand, there is the type of art "appreciation" which is wholly influenced by a name. If the artist is an "Old Master" his pictures may fetch £50,000 or more, when very often the work may be a second rate piece of commonplace painting, cheap and sentimental, and its merits as a work of art very slight. So the fact that a picture realizes a very high figure does not imply that, on its artistic merits, it is worth anything like the money paid for it. I am more than suspicious that the payment of such "fancy" prices is frequently a matter of ignorance or snobbery on the part of the purchaser. With some, of course, the buying of "Old Masters" is nothing less than a speculative gamble. Very often, in after years, such a picture may not realize a tenth part of the price at which it was bought, in which case the purchaser can blame no one but himself. When, however, a masterpiece does come into the market, as, for example, "The Wilton Diptych," the case is different, and it is only fitting that it should be purchased for our National Gallery.

These few remarks regarding art may be, by some, considered rather severe and reflecting unfavourably on the artistic intelligence of the general public, but my chief object is to emphasize the fact that, for a true appreciation of art, a specialized study is essential, just as it is in other spheres.



WHEN we wish to draw figures, draped or nude, our primary object is to ascertain the relative proportions of one figure with another, the length and breadth of the limbs, and the relation of the separate parts one with another. This is a matter of no little difficulty, and can be done successfully only if the artist has a good superficial knowledge of the structure of the human skeleton, from which we take our principal measurements. A knowledge of the surface muscles is almost equally important, but it is of little use without a thorough understanding of the bony construction of the human form. Many can draw a draped figure, or even a nude one, correctly from a model, but very few can rely entirely upon their memories unless they have this knowledge, which is the result of years of constant study of the figure at rest and in active movement.

The scientific study of Plastic Anatomy is, I am afraid, greatly neglected by our young art students, and when they leave the schools they have to rely upon their imagination, and sometimes they find themselves involved in difficulties when no model is before them.

The great sculptors of classic antiquity knew little about anatomy from the scientific point of view or in the deep sense of post-mortem examination. Their marvellous anatomical exactness was obtained by the frequent opportunities they had of seeing the nude human body in action, displayed in the gymnasium. The study of external forms alone, in their constant change, gave the Greek sculptors their extraordinarily correct knowledge.

In the space at my disposal I shall try, with a few concise remarks and examples, to convey to the inexperienced student some ideas and observations which may be helpful.

Where we have to work in the streets or other public places it is obviously of little good to hope to make actual measurements of the figure or figures we wish to draw. I am afraid we should be "run in" by the police if we attempted to tape-measure utter strangers! So we must depend solely upon our eye as the only true means of arriving at good proportions, fix the principal characteristics, and seize upon the most notable points and comparisons. The person being clothed, and his body being therefore camouflaged, the student is apt to forget the structure hidden underneath, which is made apparent by the form the creases take at the joints and the shape of the figure shown where the clothes fit more tightly upon the flesh. He must calculate the change of appearance and proportion by foreshortenings, for the dimensions of the figure should principally be considered in lengths and divisions, in halves, and even smaller measurements. Seldom, if ever, should any mechanical help or plumb line be employed, for such means interrupt the sight and are apt to cause us to lose our "grip" of the figure as a whole.

If the draughtsman has the time, when working with a seated or standing figure, he should first sketch it in lightly and freely, with as few constructional lines as possible, never forgetting the vertical line of balance in a moving person. Approximate proportions only can be aimed at, nor is absolute accuracy necessary; it is the spirit of the thing that counts in a good drawing. If one follows the advice and teaching of Boisbaudran on Memory Drawing, as practised in Paris in his famous school of last century, the progress made will be astonishing.

Proportion in figure composition, in calculating proper dimensions of figures, near and far away, is largely a matter of perspective. The leading principles of this science are generally sufficient to enable us to present a just effect of a crowd of figures.

As we are dealing with black and white only, we need not concern ourselves much with the colour contained within the forms. Each member of the body must correspond to its opposite, in order to make a well-understood whole, representing its chief characteristics, and not confounding delicacy with strength, or vice versa. Here I may quote Leonardo da Vinci, who says in his Treatise on Painting that "A man, in his infancy, has the breadth of his shoulders equal to the length of the face, and to the length of the arm from the shoulder to the elbow, when the arm is bent. It is the same again from the lower belly to the knee, and from the knee to the foot. But, when a man is arrived at the period of his full growth, every one of these dimensions becomes double in length except the face, which, with the top of the head, undergoes but very little alteration in length. A well-proportioned and full-grown man, therefore, is ten times the length of his face; the breadth of his shoulders will be two faces, and in like manner all the above lengths will be double." This must be taken for what it is worth; it is only approximate, for, obviously, no hard and fast rules can apply to all figures, with their differences of proportion; in fact, the fewer rules the better, if one wants to draw fearlessly and with expression.

My own system, one frequently used, as I have more fully explained in The Technique of Pencil Drawing, is a simple one, namely, a method of seeing imaginary lines and angles from point to point on the figure that may be before me at the time. This is really a matter of linear deductions and reasonings, founded upon the true judgment of the degree of an angle formed by bisecting lines, and is an infallible system provided one has trained oneself to imagine and "see" such angles correctly.

The direction of a straight line is less difficult to judge than that of a curve full of subtle contours. Academic accuracy does not necessarily imply a good drawing—in fact, to an artist it can be downright bad; for without inspiration or "style" such a drawing often leaves one cold. Raphael was sometimes incorrect in his proportions; Michael Angelo oftener; Bouguereau never. Our own academicians are not always impeccable, which is some consolation to the struggling student in an art school.

The proportions of a head made up by its separate features and parts are, of course, much less difficult to arrive at than those of the figure, as they are all assembled within a small compass which the eye can readily take in at a glance. The correct placing of the ear is perhaps most difficult, and here again it is a matter of determining the exact angle in relation to the face.

Faces, and the shape of heads, are infinite in their variety. The nose, for instance, may be straight, turned up, or aquiline —or a mixture of all three! The same variety is found in the rest of the features, but the foundation is the bony structure, the skull, which should be studied or drawn in every conceivable position so that the artist may gain a thorough knowledge of its construction.

The knowledge of anatomy alone will not, of course, enable one to draw artistically. Constant practice in sketching people and faces wherever one may find an opportunity is vitally important. In this work we should depend entirely on what we see in the model, employing our anatomical knowledge for gauging and checking purposes. I have thousands of such sketches made in my travels at home and abroad, and yet am far from finding drawing an easy accomplishment. Does any artist?

No amount of written explanation can demonstrate as forcibly and clearly as actual drawings made from the life, and the examples given in this volume will, I hope, prove beneficial to the student who is a little uncertain what to look for, and suggest to him how he may proceed.


Some Observations on Superficial Anatomy

IN my early days it was my great ambition to become an Anatomist. I remember starting modestly by dissecting a mouse, and later on giving my elder brother, a medical student, a standing order to supply me with bones from his hospital, and even with a good skull. However, my parents discouraged my highly meritorious researches, and since those youthful days I have had to content myself with the study of the nude form from the living model.

The ancient Greeks had more opportunities than we have of studying the human figure in its highest perfection, as, owing to lack of physical exercise, the majority of people nowadays carry superfluous fat.

It is not my intention here to enter deeply into this highly scientific subject, but merely to confine myself to such points as will be of assistance to the art student, and to discuss briefly the chief facts relating to external form, manner, and appearance of the nude and draped figure—facts which will, if properly assimilated, save the beginner from many egregious blunders in his attempts to portray the human form.

Many excellent books have been written on Anatomy for artists, and every figure artist should possess a well-chosen textbook on the subject. Some treatises are possibly too scientific and abstruse for the purpose required, which is to furnish the figure draughtsman with simple facts likely to save him from palpable anatomical faults.

Let us consider, first of all, a few details relative to the clothed figure. Our first consideration is the correct movement of the limbs appropriate to the particular action, and to make certain that all parts hang well together. This necessitates an acquaintance with the various joints and muscles of the extremities and limbs. The head must be well set upon the shoulders.


Field Labourers (Charcoal)

Well-worn clothes, such as the labourer's, partake more of the form of the body than new ones. This is observed in the knee and elbow joints, and in the hang of the coat. Should the limbs be foreshortened, those creases at the joints will be more in evidence than in other parts, and this is where some knowledge of anatomy proves useful. We often see draped figures drawn with an excess of folds, or, worse still, with folds in the wrong place. Francis Millet, in his pictures of peasants, shows how admirably he understood this fact.


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Table of Contents

IntroductionI. Art AppreciationII. ProportionIII. Some Observations on Superficial AnatomyIV. Figure: First Principles to Be ObservedV. Economy of Line in Representing ActionVI. Simple and Complex MotionsVII. The Study of Separate PartsVIII. Comments on CompositionIX. Thoughts on Memory DrawingX. The Construction of the HeadXI. Character and the Expression of the EmotionsXII. Methods of TechniqueXIII. Materials

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