March 23, 2014

Daily Drawing

An recent email exchange with a former student I thought I'd share:

Professor Muller! 

I was chatting with one of your NYU classmates [from a million years ago] the other day and she remarked that she is still impressed with the fact that you took an hour every day, during what I'm sure was a busy grad student schedule, to draw.  This idea has ruminated with me for a while and while I don't think I'm disciplined enough to stick to an hour a day commitment, it brought up a few questions I thought I'd ask you.  

What did (do) you draw for an hour? Is there a realm to start with and progress to? Inorganic shapes to organic ones? Big landscapes or thumbnail sketches? Free handing a perfect circle?

Drawing class [with Sal Tagliarino] taught me that I had been shortchanging myself all my life by believing that I can't draw … I will have to work twice or three times as hard/long to achieve what comes naturally to others, but I enjoy the idea of setting myself up with a program to improve my skills.  At the end of Sal's class, I saw marked improvement, but much like my basketball skills or my ability to speak Spanish, by not practicing I have lost

most of my achieved talent. 

I guess another question I should ask is how effective do you think a self-guided routine might be for someone like me? There's a perfectly valid reason for drawing teachers, and in the absence of one, might I do more harm than good? 

Sample cat picture
Thanks for taking a min to read this and for all the cat pictures you keep posting on facebook.




Great to hear from you! 

In truth I do try to draw an hour everyday, in a life otherwise devoid of discipline (I also try to do push-ups everyday - but it was a disaster when I tried to combine my daily drawing and push-ups, so don't do that).

What I draw is usually random, and sometimes the fun is to sit down at a piece of paper devoid of an idea or plan and just see what emerges - thoughts of 'I  am empty of imagination today' inevitably give way to 'Where did that come from? Wait, has it been an hour already?'

This morning's skulls
Most often I practice the relative proportions of the body, drawing skeletons from my imagination, layering on muscles, all in charcoal or conte crayon, in a big dusty mess. I generally do a drawing like that every day, taking no more than 5 minutes. These I do on scrap paper and throw away.

Skulls and dinosaur toys
Of course I often spend 12 hours a day drawing for my work, and so I sometimes start the day playing around with the images I am working on in a playful way, maybe going back and drawing some research or completely turning the composition upside down or drawing it with opossums for scale instead of people for scale, just to loosen up and ease the anxieties that accompany doing anything on a deadline for money.

Sometimes I've been interested in a particular artist, and I give myself the program of copying every single drawing from a book about this artist - I've down this recently with Goya and Moebius (the great French cartoonist I was obsessed with as a teenager).

Related to this are drawings I call (I've never said this aloud to anyone before) 'Stealing their Mojo' drawings: copying art I've come upon that provokes admiration or a pang of envy. 'Why is that so fun to look at in a way I'm always struggling after?"I think. I sit down and copy it, making notes to myself about what I discover. In my imagination I am picturing secrets coming forth from the artist and entering me. It's my self-empowering ritual. Also I draw a circle of goat's blood around me. 

Mastodon toy studies
I really do try to carve out an hour, almost always in the morning, before emails and phone calls begin, but I also have spent an hour after midnight, after everyone else - wife, cats, New York City - has gone to sleep. 

I suppose ten minutes a day is better than nothing, but at least half an hour, just engaging in an exercise. If you engage in it deeply enough, you find yourself carrying the ideas of the drawings around with you all day, and things and people you encounter all strangely have something to do with your daily exercise. 

I think it would be impossible to harm your artistry this way, if you are playful, and spend a moment analyzing what you've done. It's for no one but you! You can keep it, give it to your friends, or throw it away. Growth is guaranteed!

Go forth and buy a sketchbook! And none of this 'I'm not talented ' stuff - I was not anointed with a talent wand when I was born! Sheer, back-breaking work, yo!


Rebecca on brown paper, in progress

September 20, 2011

Fear of the Pencil!

A new school year begins and new anxieties fly around the classrooms! After several students told me privately in the first week of class that they're really scared of and not very good at drawing (and I vowed to argue with them until the gave in), I began to ruminate on the fear that hovers around the act of drawing.

Drawing has a particular and seemingly universal anxiety connected to it. There are so many other activities that people are happy to not be especially experienced or even good at, where the stakes are generally much higher, like cooking a meal, or writing. There's a sense that people are embarrassed that they lack a basic syntax of image-making, and will look foolish if their efforts are 'wrong.'

It's connected to what happens around the age of 9 or 10 (maybe younger now in our media-saturated age) when as children we begin to judge our drawings, comparing them to other art and the world around us and feeling increasingly aware of the gulf in appearance - when before we were happy just in the mark-making and (key point here) telling stories. The sense of self-criticism, where we compare our drawings to other kids' drawings or comic book art or whatever, becomes for many people how we think about drawing. The way back to happy, engaged, responsive drawing is to simply think a different way. That's all.

This is what I've been able to glean from reading about drawing, from John Ruskin to contemporary comic artists: the secret is to teach yourself to narrate the action of your drawing as you draw. You're drawing the figure, your pencil delineating the arm, and you're thinking to yourself "This line bends slowly around like so, then curves Boom! into this bit like this, then is slightly slightly bending out the other way until it whips around the hard point of the elbow like that …" And if you really engage yourself in the moment by moment movement of your pencil point across the geography the body (or the still life of tomatoes or view of the Chrysler Building or whatever) you'll simply drown out the self-critical voice, until it fades to a barely discernible whisper.

So I am suggesting that the way to deal with the neighbors yelling loudly next door is too blast Bach on your stereo until the neighbors eventually give up yelling. It sounds strange but it's what I've been able to figure out, and it seems to work.

I'm certain that this drawing anxiety is universal, and even Da Vinci or Raphael dealt with it, no matter that their drawings look like they revel in their angst-free mastery. And recognizing that your fear that you should really draw better is not your private dark secret but something you share with every single human - since those people who first rubbed charcoal on cave walls and made leaping deers in the fire light - should help put your anxiety in its proper place.

March 7, 2011

The Gesture Sketch

Rembrandt shows how it's done

So many figure drawing sessions begin with the warm up, where the model moves through a series of short poses, maybe 30 seconds each. As a student, and quite a long while after, I patiently endured this segment of class, dutifully scribbling in my sketchbook until the longer poses came around, when I could finally 'draw.' Now, in my maturity, I find the whole process wonderful, and I always leave a sketchbook laying open to a blank page at night so I can wake up in the morning and start the day scribbling.

The point, for starters, is to physically loosen your arm, like a dancer or an athlete stretch
ing and warming up, and get the hand-eye thing working beautifully - and to turn off the whole naming, worrying, trying-to-do-it-right side of the mind.

What's fantastically liberating is that you don't care what the drawing looks like. Its chaotic, scribbly appearance is beside the point - you are practicing the action of drawing.

So: scribble, madly, with the whole arm and stop thinking. Try to quiet down your internal monologue to complete silence, and if you can't (it's the task of a lifetime), overwhelm it with an internal joyful scream.

No outlines, no eyelashes and earlobes - big swooping gestures that capture the inner energy, the line of action, the brave battle
against gravity, the effort of being. As fast as you can.

Like this.

Not like this (this is by Ingres)

January 11, 2009

The First Week

Portrait Study
Charcoal and chalk on brown paper

Whenever I'm frustrated that a drawing or painting I'm working on isn't working out, and this happens daily, I walk away from my drawing board/canvas/wacom tablet for a bit, and play with the cats or stare out the window at all those people going about their lives down below. Coming back to the work in progress the problem is usually immediately apparent, and I've noted how often it's all about some basic issue that was covered in the first week of my first art class all those years ago.

With this in my mind, I offer what I carefully inscribed in the notebook I just came across for my first drawing class, taught by Wayne Thiebaud, at the University of California, Davis, in 1981, when the world was young:

"You don't do a drawing or painting in a linear way, from start to finish - you have an idea and you make decisions and then you make adjustments along the way. It will only look right at the end, after you've discovered what 'right' means for this particular drawing.

You're either defining the shadow or the light source

Either the warm or the cool

Soft edges of shadow as light moves over a rounded form - change of value when there's a change of plane - cast shadows have hard edges

Don't be seduced by cast shadows or reflected light - work them into the whole - use them to the degree they help describe the form

You're reporting, discovering, sharing, making your ideas and responses clear. Draw with generosity."

I don't think I've read from this notebook since I wrote in it over 27 years ago, and it seems amazing that it's silently made all my moves from California to New York and from apartment to apartment with me. Now I think I should have it beside my drawing table so I can consult daily. You could simplify a lot of lessons in art down to the sentence "Draw with generosity."

October 4, 2008

The Standing Pose: Rhythm and Contrapposto

The traditional standing pose comes straight down from the Hellenistic Greeks, who seemed to have figured out almost everything about portraying the human form without benefit of figure drawing websites. In their figurative sculpture they sought to capture the essence of activity within the static marble or bronze forms, and they emphasized the shifting balance through the body to give a sense of arrested action – as if the figure was pausing between two postures, like in the act of shifting weight from one leg to another. It’s interesting when looking at the statues of the Greeks that often the facial expressions of the figures are in repose, often seemingly blank of emotion, while the position of the body is full of action and stress and strain (the Laccoon Group would be an example).
I’ve wondered how much we read emotion differently than the ancient Greeks – if we read emotions through faces much more than they did. The interesting point of comparison would be our dominant modes of dramatic storytelling – for the ancient Greeks it was theater, where the performers were masked, and relied, along with text, on movement that was possibly very akin to dance to convey the emotional states of the characters. Our dominant form of dramatic storytelling is film, which relies heavily on the close-up of performer’s facial expressions – often in the cinema an actor’s face projected on the screen can be the size of a building, and we’re attuned to every almost imperceptible flicker of facial muscles.
In any event, this standing pose, with the weight clearly on one leg, was rediscovered in Renaissance Italy and conveniently given a name: the Contrapposto pose.

con·trap·pos·to n A relaxed asymmetrical pose of the human body in art, especially sculpture, in which the shoulders and hips are turned in different planes

It conveys a series of opposing balances, one shoulder higher than the other, then the opposite side of the pelvis higher than the other, and leg on the side of the higher pelvis carrying the weight down to the floor.

One can visualize the weight of the body coursing down from the head to the ground like water down a mountain stream, the sinuous shape of the water buffeted from side to side, rock to rock (another image might be weight falling down towards the earth like balls in a pachinko machine, if that works for you).
The point of the Contrapposto pose is to avoid straight lines that lead too directly to the ground, but rather to create opposing rhythms that arrest the eye and move it across as much possible. And that’s an interesting goal right there – to deliberately move the eye across the whole body, and to feel the rhythms and life of the figure in every part.
Artists after the Renaissance codified the Contrapposto pose into a specific series of lines and relations, and while we aren’t about laying down rules here, guidelines are helpful, to be ignored whenever we feel like it (we can draw people in the act of falling over if that’s what we want to do).
It helps to visualize a line of gravity that falls straight down from the head to the ground – if the figure is looking straight at us, you can draw the line from the chin down to the ground. From the head to the ground, the body’s gravity moves as a series of diagonals back and forth across this line, until moving through the dominant, weight bearing leg to the foot, which lines up under the chin (“Ball of the foot under the chin!” a teacher of mine used to declaim to the class, “Ball of the foot under the chin!”)
In the Ecolé des Beaux Artes, this was further codified to a line that began along the neck of the weight-bearing side, passed through the torso to run along the inside thigh of the leg, and then crossing over the leg to outside ankle.

And we can see a direct relation between the Doryphoros by Polyclitus, seen above in a fragment of a Roman copy (of the lost Greek original bronze) and the pouty hip-thrusting pose of every fashion model ever.

And we should immediately note that people rarely arrange themselves so perfectly in day-to-day life, and a person can look very solidly planted on the ground without a line running through their body in this specific way. It is, after all, a pose.
Remember our first, original goal – to draw figures that look like real, living beings, with hopes and dreams and thoughts, rather than mannequins leaning against the wall in a warehouse. If the Contrapposto pose is, in its essence, a contrivance, it’s only because the act of drawing itself is, in the service of conveying life and action.

September 18, 2008

Syllabus and the New School Year

Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible. - Paul Klee

And we're back - a new school year, a new class to teach, and the scent of autumn has finally come to grace the air in New York City. Here for all to see is our syllabus for the Fall semester:

Figure Drawing III

Issues of Technique and Expression
New York University
Tisch School of the Arts
Department of Design for Stage and Film

Grading will be based entirely on boldness, generosity of spirit, and personal growth in class.

Class Schedule

September 3
First Principles of Figure Drawing and Costume Sketches – a review of the how and why of figure drawing
• The illusion of form
• Volume and Form
• The major masses of the body
• Review of proportion and general principles of anatomy – the major landmarks

September 10
Balance and Force
The Standing Pose and Power of Gravity

• The Line of Balance
• Opposing rhythms and directional forces
• Tradition and the Contrapposto

September 17
Body Types – the range of sizes and shapes in the human form
• Pears, Cylinders and Wedges
• Changing Ideals of Beauty

September 24
Watercolor Warm Up
• Review of watercolor fundamentals

• Color theory – purity and mud

October 1
Age and Body History
The changing proportions and appearance of the body from infancy to maturity
• The body’s continuum and this moment in time

October 8
• Color and Shape
• Social History and Meaning
• Grey Hair (draw the instructor)

October 15
Watercolor Part II

• Warm and Cool
• Light and Shadows

• Color palette variations – warm and cool compositions

October 22
• Review of fabric types
• Sheen and reflection

• Layers and Transparency

October 29
Fabrics II
• Fur and leather
• The life of fabric
• How clothes don’t fit

November 5
Fabrics III
Patterns and weaves – painting opaquely

November 12
Opaque painting and different carriers
• Acrylics and matte mediums
• Gessoed surfaces

November 19

Introduction to the 21st Century
Photoshop and the computer

November 26
Photoshop and the computer II

December 3
Figure Drawing Extravaganza
Multiple models and special guests

Nonstop drawing rave

Art is our best way of connecting with life, and it is our best way of shielding ourselves from life.
- Thomas Mann

July 30, 2008

More Skulls

Just because I've been drawing and painting little else. Time to move on to other matters.

July 29, 2008

Faces on the Subway

A natural step after my recent obsession with drawing the skull was to take my sketchbook (a clever little Moleskine that flips open like a reporter's notepad) and try to draw the skulls within my fellow human's heads. Which is a morbid way of saying I went out and drew people's portraits, in this instance while trying to look nonchalant on the subway. And in most cases the people I chose to draw were not skeletal, with prominent cheekbones, etc., but as much as possible a good New York City cross section of body types, genders and races.

What's also morbid is the aggressive halogen light that glares down on one and all in all its civic gloom, throwing eyes into shadow and making all complexions sallow. Still and all, there, hidden underneath, are the eye sockets, the cheekbones, the maxillae and mandibles we all share in common.

I'm still under the spell of the drawings I did, noted below, of my cast skull draped with a cloth, and how drawing a face or head or all of the figure is essentially drawing the surface that shows hints of the form within.

April 27, 2008

The Skull Beneath the Skin

"I have a real passion for bones … Have you noticed that bones are always modeled and not carved, that you always have the impression they come from a mold, that they were first modeled in clay? Any bone you look at, you always find fingerprints on it … The fingerprints of the god who amused himself fashioning them—I can see them on any bone whatsoever."
- Pablo Picasso, quoted by Brassai in his book "Conversations with Picasso"

Go get yourself a skull, perhaps a nice inexpensive plastic cast (here, or here), or a really nice cast (here or here) and have it sitting on your desk in a Cezanne-like tableau, and hold it and feel it and draw it all the time.

Holding it in your hands is vital - understanding the mass of the brain case, and the barrel shape of the teeth and jaws, etc., really comes from feeling their shape under your fingers. I strongly feel that if you know and understand a form, you can't not draw it.

Far too often people draw the head as a mushy balloon shape with features imperfectly stuck on the surface. If one really knows the skull's form - if one feels it in one's bones would be the apt phrase - then you know those peaks and valleys, the eye socket and the zygomatic arch and all the other landmarks as well as you know the way home.

Like everything in drawing the figure (like everything in life) we begin by finding the simple shapes, and then build on and revise them. For the skull we start with a sphere for the brain case, which we then slice the sides off of, like so:

Hanging down from this is the mass of the face - filled with holes like swiss cheese for the senses: eye sockets, nasal opening, mandibles, and ear holes on the side, to access the world out there.

Note the proportions shown in the drawing. The wonderfully complex shape just needs to be explored and drawn, both from life and from memory, both genders and every race, until you can see them effortlessly under the skin of everyone around you. And it's not a creepy Halloween vision, I promise, it's about the animating force of life.

(The Electronic Media Arts site has an interesting page here with many photos of a good skull cast from every angle, and in the absence of a real skull or cast, a nice afternoon could be spent drawing these).

March 29, 2008

A Brief Word on Painting Gold

When it comes time to pour gold accessories on a figure - capes and necklaces and chains and belts - the naive artist will reach for their tube of gold p
aint. It seems to make sense: gold thing is painted with gold pigment, which looks like it's made from actual gold. By the same logic, when we come to paint flesh tones, we should reach for that tube of 'flesh' pigment, made from real flesh.

I have nothing against gold paint, and have a nice collection of tubes and jars of it, including all sorts of bronzing powders and gold leaf, and on summer afternoons I pull them all out and look at them sparkle in the sun. But when rendering a gold object they don't work, at least not by themselves.

Gold paint is generally a particle with some natural iridescence, such as mica, suspended in a clear binder, and this iridescence catches the light in a pleasingly metallic way. But there are several objections to it's use when trying to depict an object in space. Were we to paint a gold ball, for instance, and dutifully drew a circle and filled in the shape with gold paint, it would glitter nicely but would remain looking like a circle - there would be no sense of the third dimension, no shadow or highlight, nor would it reflect the world around it.

The best method is to paint gold with an opaque medium like gouache, as a mass of several colors, and to do so we must acquaint ourselves both with the colors of gold and its behavior. In the example I have done of a golden statue, I have followed a classic scenic painting technique, with the following steps:

1. A brown underpainting, in raw sienna and black, which models the form - this is transparent and layered.
2. Another wash with olive green, for gold has more green than one suspects at first.
3. Highlights and reflections painted with cadmium yellow deep, which as you can see is a lovely orange color.
4. Finer highlights and reflections in cadmium yellow pale - and this is the trick: the yellow is painted only on top of the orange color. Also, it is used mainly for the highlights - reflections generally remain orange.
5. The brightest highlights are then added with permanent white, which as before is only painted on top of the yellow.

6. As this statue is outdoors, I added a little cool sky blue - mixed ultramarine and white - to pop out the warm tones by contrast.

Let's look at actual, real painters, like Rembrandt and "Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer" - the whole painting sparkles and shimmers like gold, but he used no gold paint. If you can, go to the Metropolitan Museum and stand before it, and look especially at Aristotle's chain - thin glazes of rich oranges and browns with thick glops of yellows and whites on top.

If you can get to the National Galley in Washington DC, take a look at David's portrait of Napoleon. Gold objects abound, like the chair to the right, and the epaulets on his uniform - again, no sparkly gold paint used, just browns, oranges, yellows and whites.

As I said, you can use gold paint if you want, why not? My suggestion would be to not paint it directly over white, or to use it flatly. Try painting it over a black or dark brown base, and try to stipple and model the object you're trying to convey, as in my quick example here:

(One of the issues with using gold and metallic pigments is that they copy and scan unpredictably, and obviously without their sparkling character translating.)

Observation is the key, as ever, so look at all the reflective, shimmering things in the world and take note.

March 16, 2008

Drawing Fabric - Part 2

The recent homework assignment was to drape cloth over some object and draw the tableau with charcoal and chalk on brown paper, with an eye to making the object within understandable - the assignment yielded some wonderful results (we'll try to post some soon). I tried my hand at it myself, wrapping a plastic cast of a skull in a dishtowel (I sort of threw the game by poking in the indentation of the eye socket).

It is a fascinating activity - I kept reflecting on how in drawing a face and head of a fellow human we're drawing the thin membrane of skin that covers the skull, and in recording the topography of the face we're also aware of the mass of the skull underneath. And in more mature years, people's faces become less taut, and the skin will pucker and wrinkle in ways that suggest loose fabric. I've drawn my plastic skull many many times, but drawing these studies I had an eerie feeling of evoking the actual person who in time past spoke and ate and listened to music and saw the sun shine, before dying and yielding their skull to be cast and molded plastic.

March 1, 2008

Drawing Fabric - Part 1

The folds and wrinkles of fabric are endlessly fascinating and can be overwhelming in their shifting complexity. Some simple observations to help us:

Just as we study the forms of the skeleton so that its masses are always understood to be within the body we draw, so the body itself (and the skeleton within it) are understood to be within the clothing of the person we're drawing. The folds and draping shapes of clothing are thus defined by the body the clothes cover, enfold, surround, and hang from. We essentially draw the effects of gravity on the cloth that dresses the figure.

The variety of folds and wrinkles - always changing as the figure moves - are a series of transient abstract shapes that express the action of the figure, and pass by like clouds on a windy day. But like clouds, their abstract shapes have been given names and organized into categories - just as wispy, insubstantial clouds are labeled 'cumulus' and 'cirrus,' so folds have been given a series of names by George Bridgeman, the influential drawing teacher at the Art Students League a hundred years ago. His categories:

Pipe Fold
Zigzag Fold
Spiral Fold
Half-lock Fold
Diaper Pattern
Drop Fold

It is, one will soon discover, a bit arbitrary, and fabric sometimes acts as if it never read Bridgeman's books at all, but it's an entry point.

A basic idea is that fabric wants to hang from a point - let's say a shoulder - in a series of perfectly coned-shaped pipe folds, but other forces - like other tensions and compression points - will interact with the pipe fold shape and create the other forms. We can see clearly, usually, that the diaper pattern is really two sets of pipe folds radiating from two hanging points and creating new valleys and ridges as they meet together. There are many ways to visualize this, but let's begin with the following illustrations:

February 15, 2008

The Head and Face

We 'read' the faces of our fellow humans in greater detail than anything else we look at - we see endless, fascinating things in the expressions that flicker across someone's face. If only we could read elbows and bellies, and shadows and sunsets, as deeply - we would all be mystics and saints!

We want to immediately draw the parts of the face that interest us - the eyes, of course, and the mouth and nose - and tend to ignore everything else, but we need to understand, as ever, the whole form, and how the whole shape works together.

We should see the head, the shape defined by the skull, as a ball, the shape that roughly encompasses the brain. And attached to this is egg shape of the face, where all the interesting parts - the eyes and and eyelashes and lips and so on - are arranged.

Like every part of the body - the body as a whole - understanding the proportions is the key to the whole matter. I even suggest in this instance rote memorization - copying charts such as I've drawn here, until you can do it in your sleep, and then experience the joy of seeing how the real world - the actual heads and faces we encounter in life - follow and diverge from the system.

In drawing the 'egg' of the face, one first divides it down the center north pole to south pole, and then the equator. The equator line is where the eyes fall - right smack dab in the middle of the head. This at first seems to grant people far more forehead than seems right, but if you look you'll see that faces are all scrunched down in that lower half of the head - when we begin drawing we for some reason cheat people out of their fair share of brain cases.

The next division is a leap of faith, but it works, I swear - indicate the hairline on the egg of the face, and then divide the distance from the hairline to the jaw in three parts - this gives us the brow and the bottom of the nose. And even with just these marks indicate we begin to have a compelling face. Try it, it works.

You see here I used the same proportions to draw Beethoven and a 40's actress, and the same proportions hold for Ernest Borgnine and Bertolt Brecht and Ella Fitzgerald - a wide (infinite!) array of faces, all built on the same schema.

The features themselves bear being practiced in isolation. I'll do a deeper posting about each of these individually, but for now I'll note that we tend, when we first begin to draw, to adopt a series of naive symbols for each of the features which in truth blinds us to what they actually look like. The eyes are often drawn as two arcs joined together, horizontally symmetrical, when in fact the shape of the eye is far more complex - always, when you draw the eye, try to remember how it is a ball in a socket, with folds of flesh (the lids) wrapped around it.

I think of the lips as two 'M's' and a 'W.' An elongated 'M' forms the upper shape of the lip, and second, generally more shallow 'M' forms the line of the mouth, and then an elongated 'W'
forms the lower lip - what is the relationship between the shapes? That is what makes each individual mouth unique.

And the ear! Again, we'll look at it in greater depth later, but look at, and commit to memory, the parts:

- The helix, the 'C' shaped piece of cartilage that gives the overall shape to the ear
- The anti helix, the major shape contained within the helix, which branches at the top
- The conch, a smaller 'C' shape that encompasses the passage into the ear canal
- The tragus, the little ridge that protects the other side of the ear canal
- and everyone's favorite, the lobe.

January 19, 2008

Take these arms

The bones of the lower arm perform one of the great tricks of the human body, which we do every time we do something like turn a key in a lock or look at our wrist watch - the twisting motion that, even though we do it without thinking, involves some of the most interesting bone shapes in the body. There are two bones in the lower arm, the ulna and radius, and each is responsible for a different action - the ulna carries the lower arm up and down, like when one lifts a weight, and the radius, as the name suggests, twists the lower arm.

The joint of the humerus at the elbow has an interesting spool shape that the ulna moves up and down on - and the ulna has an answering shape that has been called the 'parrot's beak.' The radius pivots on a shape on the humerus joint that's called the capilum, a half ball shape that fits into the radius's half round joint.

These shapes don't express themselves in figure drawings, of course, but their action does, and the differing shapes the forearm makes as it moves. When the palm is up and the thumb is pointed away from body's centerline, ulna and radius are parallel - in the supine position. When the palm is down and the thumb is pointed towards the body, the radius is crossed over the ulna, which we call the pronate position. The radius attaches at the wrist on the thumb side, and we can imagine the radius carrying the thumb this way and that as it moves.

These two side by side, or crossing, bones, give the forearm its distinctive shape at the wrist, twice as wide as high. The bones at the elbow, upper arm and shoulder are essentially buried under the thick cords of crisscrossing muscles that perform the many actions of our expressive arms.