Figure Drawing Atelier: An Instructional Sketchbook

Figure Drawing Atelier: An Instructional Sketchbook

by Juliette Aristides


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"The best way to learn about art is to make it. Discover the secrets of great figure drawing as you sketch along with past and present masters. This working artist's sketchbook guides you from beginning gestures to delicate rendering. It's your art, your tradition, your time. Take your voice and add it to the tradition as if the history of art has saved the best for now."— Juliette Aristides

Figure Drawing Atelier
offers a comprehensive, contemporary twist to the very traditional atelier approach to the methods that instruct artists on the techniques they need to successfully draw and ultimately paint the figure. The book offers art instruction, practical and progressive lessons on drawing the figure, and high-quality sketchbook paper in a beautiful package that includes blank pages for sketching and copying. Artists will then have a record of their process, like with a sketchbook, which many artists like to document and save.

In this elegant and inspiring workbook, master contemporary artist and author Juliette Aristides breaks down the figure drawing process into small, manageable lessons, presents them progressively, introduces time-tested principles and techniques in the atelier tradition that are easily accessible, and shares the language and context necessary to understand the artistic process and create superior, well-crafted drawings.

Atelier education is centered on the belief that working in a studio, not sitting in the lecture hall, is the best way to learn about art. Every artist needs to learn to master figure drawing. Ateliers have produced the greatest artists of all time—and now that educational model is experiencing a renaissance. These studios, a return to classical art training, are based on the nineteenth-century model of teaching artists by pairing them with a master artist over a period of years. Students begin by copying masterworks, then gradually progress to painting as their skills develop. Figure Drawing Atelier is like having an atelier in a book—and the master is Juliette Aristides, a classically trained artist and best-selling art-instruction author with almost rock star popularity in the contemporary world of representational art. On every page, Aristides uses the works of Old Masters and today's most respected realist artists to demonstrate and teach the principles of realistic figure drawing and painting, taking students step by step through the learning curve yet allowing them to work at their own pace. Unique and inspiring, this book offers a serious art course for serious art students and beginners alike.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781580935135
Publisher: The Monacelli Press
Publication date: 09/17/2019
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 123,542
Product dimensions: 7.50(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Juliette Aristides is an extraordinary draughtsperson and artist with a deep and well-rounded education and solid commitment to the atelier movement. She studied at the National Academy of Design, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, and various private ateliers. She is now the director of the Aristides Atelier at the Gage Academy of Art in Seattle, Washington. She is the co-founder of the DaVinci Initiative, which works to bring skill-based art instruction into public education. Aristides exhibits in solo and group shows nationally. Her work can be seen at the John Pence Gallery in San Francisco and the Art Renewal Center Living Masters Gallery online. Aristedes is also the best-selling author of Classical Drawing Atelier, Classical Painting Atelier, Lessons in Classical Drawing, Lessons in Classical Painting, and Beginning Drawing Atelier. Visit her website at She is based in Seattle, Washington.

Read an Excerpt

All the past up to a moment ago is your legacy. You have a right to it. The works of ancient masters, those of the student next to you, the remark let drop a moment ago; all is experience. 

The history of art in the Western world is inseparable from its principal subject: the human figure. Over the centuries, women and men have modeled in an endless parade of mythological, historical, religious, and portrait paintings. Supporting this stream of production were the studios, guilds, and academies that trained artists to master the human form. Much has changed in the world, yet the figure remains central to artistic expression—probably because, as artist Gary Faigin observed, a face is the most important thing in the world to a human being. Our shared identity as human beings forms the most basic link between artist and viewer. 
When we pursue skills in figure drawing, we don’t journey alone; we join the ranks of past artists and are aided by a storehouse of knowledge many simply call “the tradition.” This body of information accumulated slowly through the combined efforts of centuries of practitioners. The tradition gives us a common language with which to understand art of the past and, as we add our voices, create new art for our own times. 
In this book, you will study the same proven methods that helped train artists of the past. Most artists began their studies by copying the work of master draftsmen to learn the secrets of their success. The most important part of your art education is the basic skills learned in the beginning. During my student years, I took the same foundation drawing classes multiple times to gain the strongest possible understanding. 

When learning to draw the nude, many people are unsure how to start. In real life, naked people are usually nothing like what we see in films, fashion advertisements, or art. The real body is lumpy, spotty, hairy, blotchy, uneven, and rounded, and can be seen in almost every color, height, width, and age. It can be hard to look at a real person posing in an art studio and know where to begin. Artists use techniques for drawing the nude model (called “life drawing”) that allow you to see the structure of the body, no matter how hidden. Once you have eyes to see it, you will find that every person’s body is beautiful. Beauty is not a subject matter; it resides in the eyes and mind of the artist. 

The Greek philosopher Epictetus advised, “One of the best ways to elevate your character immediately is to find worthy role models to emulate... There is nothing false in this. We all carry the seeds of greatness within us, but need an image as a point of focus in order that they may sprout.” This is true in life and art. By studying great drawings done by historical and contemporary masters, you learn at the source, from the artists themselves, what makes a great drawing. 

You deserve every tool for self-expression. This is your art, your tradition, your time. Take your voice and add it to the tradition as if the history of art has saved the best for now. 

Before we begin 
Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you work through this book: 

*Develop your drawings lightly. A light line erases easily without damaging the paper and allows you to go darker as your confidence increases. On an extra scrap of paper (outside the book), practice making a range of marks with your pencil. Start lightly, the pencil barely touching the paper, then press down firmly to make deep, rich darks. You can even get tracing paper or vellum to lay over the drawings and practice on before drawing in your book. 
*Take it slow. Don’t worry about trying to finish a drawing in one sitting. Accuracy and improving your eye will come with time. 
*Mark your boundaries. To copy a full-page master drawing, make your drawing the same size as the one you are copying. As we start drawing, our picture may accidentally grow, pushing the heads and feet off the page. To prevent this, lightly draw lines from the top and bottom of the master drawing onto the blank page. This establishes the height of your figure. To determine the width of your figure, measure the original drawing with your pencil, ruler, or a scrap of paper, then mark that same width on the blank paper. It will be easier to correct your drawing if it is exactly the same size as the one you are copying, because you can flick your eyes back and forth between the images to scan for differences. 
*Check for accuracy. While I recommend freehand drawing, it’s okay to find anchor points, such as the halfway point of the figure, or head lengths. If your drawing is the same size as the master drawing, you can measure directly from the original drawing to check if your heights are correct by placing a T-square (or a piece of paper) across both your drawing and the original to see if they align as you lower your T-square down the figure. However, try freehand drawing first before using measurements to double-check accuracy. 


The only materials you need for this book are a good pencil, an eraser, and a pencil sharpener. For drawings with color, you can use colored pencils in sepia or umber. 
I prefer to start with a hard graphite pencil, such as an F (or H), to keep the first lines light, before switching to a softer pencil to get darker. When buying a pencil at the art store, look at the stamp at the end of the pencil. “H” stands for “hardness” and “B” for “blackness”; the higher the number, the harder (and lighter) or softer (and darker) it is. I like to have a range from 2H to 2B. Mechanical pencils are also a good choice—even the inexpensive ones found in office supply stores—as they make a thin line and don’t need to be sharpened. If you live near an art store you can get a better-quality pencil, but any pencil can be used, even the classic yellow schoolhouse #2 (which translates to an HB). 

The pink erasers on the ends of pencils often leave damaging marks on the page. Instead, use a good white polymer eraser or a kneaded eraser. 
Remember, you don’t have to do an exact copy for the practice to have value; you can use a different medium or go lighter or darker. Many works in this book were created in charcoal or sepia Conté crayon or pencil, but can be copied in graphite. Charcoal is not recommended because it will smear on a smooth surface as it brushes against the opposite page. 

A key to approaching the figure 
This book builds sequentially, from beginning lines to rendering volume, helping you understand the drawing process from start to finish. We always work from general to specific, moving from large lines, shapes, and tones to smaller ones. 

1. Place the figure on the page. Mark the top, bottom, and halfway point of your figure, followed by a centerline. This simple scaffolding determines the size of your figure and its placement on the page. 
2. Find the line of action. Find a line of movement, from top to bottom, that carries your eye through the figure. This important stage cultivates your artistic vision and helps convey it to the viewer. 
3. Find tips and tilts. Look across the figure to determine the tip and tilt of the shoulders, the nipples, the hip bones, and the pelvis. You can also determine which is the weight-bearing leg. These lines form an armature upon which to build your figure. 
4. Block in the figure. Use simple straight lines to capture the angles of the body and significant shadow shapes, Place the general angles, focusing on the line direction, rather than trying to capture each small change in the contour.
5. Map the shadows. Separate the light from the shadows, flattening areas of the body into simple shapes and then lightly tone them. 
6. Add form. Lay in halftones to create gradations of light across the surface of your figure, giving it the illusion of three dimensions.

Figure drawing demonstration 
Most artists follow a more general progression, less exact than the steps on pages 12–13. In this drawing sequence, notice the flow from large lines to small forms. Each stage is an important step leading the artist to a beautiful drawing. 

1. Place the figure on the page. The artist marked the top and bottom of the figure. A diagonal runs from the center of the neck and down the leg. Repeating angles are found: the line of the shoulders is the same as that of the hips and the top of the head. This is the armature of the figure. 
2. Block in the main masses. The head, ribcage, and pelvis are placed. We know that we are seeing a three-quarter view of the chest and a profile of the head. The artist jumped ahead to find some shadow shapes to structure the ribcage. 
3. Block in the figure. The rest of the figure is blocked in. The shadow shapes are treated as an essential part of the figure; they are specific and well observed. Notice how the lines are kept angular and light, making them easier to work into later. 
4. Map the shadows. Once the shadow shapes are drawn and shaded, the tones look like the continents on a map. There is now a clear separation between light and dark. Notice how our eye is drawn to the nuanced “coastlines” or edges of the shadow. 
5. Add form. The shadow shape is darkened and a gentle gradation, or wash, of tone describes the surface of the skin and brings our attention to the lights. Placing these halftones adds dimension. It shows how much, or little, the form rounds and darkens as it turns away from the source of light. 
6. Finish rendering form. To finish the piece, the same kind of focused attention brought to the chest is applied to each part of the figure. figure. Looking at small sections of the body in turn helps us capture the unique, personal aspects of our model.

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