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.

The leg bone's connected to …

There are three large major bones in the leg, the femur (or 'thigh bone') which connects to the socket of the pelvis, the tibia, which engages with the femur at the knee, and the fibula, which runs roughly parallel to the tibia from the knee down to the ankle, and whose purpose mainly seems to be getting broken on skiing trips (my father, working as a radiologist in the ski resort town of Tahoe, said that broken fibulas put me through art school). The femur and the tibia are the largest, longest bones of the body, with large knobs at either end, such as make good weapons for cavemen in cartoons (note especially the hammer shape of the femur where it engages with the pelvis).

The knee joint is protected, if that is the word (again, it seems to get injured all the time) by the bony cap of the patella, which connects to the tibia with a large wedge of ligament.

The important thing to note about the bones of the leg is that none of them are truly vertical - the femur, from the front, is held out and away from the body's centerline by its engagement with the pelvis, and then is angled back towards the body's centerline as it moves down towards the knee. From the side we also see the femur travel down and back as it moves towards the knee - it's at a one o'clock position rather than noon, if you can picture that. Likewise the tibia and fibula, while roughly parallel to one another, echo the femur's movement towards the body's centerline as it travels down to the ankle, and tilts slightly back when viewed from the side (though closer to vertical than the femur - maybe 12:30 rather than noon).

Be sensitive to the beautiful, changing angles and rhythms of the leg as it travels from hips to ground, and avoid the straight vertical shaft that is appropriate in drawing a robot (but only a pre- '50's robot) but undermines a figure drawing.

January 9, 2008

Hand drawing

Everyone has tried to avoid drawing hands at some point, maybe by posing their figures with their hands insouciantly behind their backs, or with mittens or even better a muff. The challenges of drawing hands are several, not least that the parts often seem to exceed the whole - it often seems impossible to fit five fingers on the palm, which is no doubt why cartoon characters from Mickey Mouse to Bart Simpson have four fingers.

It seems to make sense to divide the hand into three parts: the wedge of the palm, with the mass of the thumb as a separate mass, then the fingers. The four fingers of course can hold all sorts of poses - I don't think anything is more articulate and expressive than the human hand, besides maybe a cat's tail - so it takes careful study.

I copied one very expressive hand here from Burne Hogarth, who was very helpful in visualizing the knuckles of the fingers as a series of disks the flesh of the fingers bulge or pinch at.

It was in class just this November that I noticed for the first time that the horizontal lines on the palm (the 'heart' and 'head' lines in palmistry) line up with the knuckles on the back of the hand, something you think I would have noticed before now.

The last drawing here is a Disney model sheet from the 30's of Mickey's hands. This comes from the always-interesting site Animation Archives, where lots of wonderful how-to-draw images, most from decades past, can be found.

The Foot, and all it means

Like hands, feet have this reputation for being hard to draw, and like hands I think it's because we focus to quickly on the parts - the wiggly toes - before looking at the overall form. We want to find the interesting wedge shape - roughly highest at the ankle, sloping towards the front - and then carve out the smaller parts. I find it helpful to think of the big toe as a unit with the bulk of the foot, and then the other four toes coming off at an angle, as the interesting plan view I copied from Dürer shows (note my scribbled note of Dürer's dates next to the drawing, and note how I had to correct them when discovered I was off by three years for both his birth and death).

I must say I never got a real handle on drawing feet until I saw Burne Hogarth's Dynamic Figure Drawing from which some of these sketches are copied, or freely adapted. I particularly was struck by his way of showing the ankle form grasping the foot like a wrench.

As for the ankles, note how the two bony protrusions on either side are not level - the ankle is distinctly higher on the inside of the foot than the outside. This is part of the fascinating series of alternating rhythms through the leg, the back and forth action of muscles and balance.

We end with a drawing by Dürer himself, a study on blue-gray paper for the feet of a praying apostle.

January 8, 2008

The Pelvis

It's the most complex of the large bone masses in the body, and I still find it a challenge after all these years - how do you simplify it? Essentially you can see it as two plates at angles to each other - the illiac masses - connected at the back by the spine and at the front by the pubis bones. You can visualize it as a box within the body, or as a sort of butterfly shape. You can think of the pelvis as the keystone that bridges the legs and supports and balances the spine above - you can also think of it as a basket that holds the guts and sex organs.

It expresses itself on the outer form subtly, as arcs that curve down towards the groin in the front. Huge bunches of leg muscles attach themselves to the iliac ridge from below, and the abdominal and oblique muscles from above.

There's nothing to do but draw it over and over, looking for its mass within the figure. It will always be there, I swear to you.

Here is a detail from Albinus's Tabulae sceleti et musculorum corporis humani (London, 1749).

The Ribcage

The largest bony mass of the body, the ribcage is too easily seen as a tangle of lines - the confusing, overlapping shapes of the ribs distract us from the larger egg shape, narrower at the top, with an opening at the bottom.

Note the necktie-shaped sternum, which comes half way down the egg shape and is an important landmark, helping us see the center of the torso.

The ribcage expresses itself on the outer body along this centerline, the sternum, and the lower ribs - the upper ribs are buried under the pectoral muscles. But we have to be able to visualize this egg shape within the body - we have to have to - to understand the mass and girth of the torso. It's always in there, an essentially solid mass (even though it does bend and squash a bit in movement).

We end with a drawing of mine showing good posture for students in figure drawing.

January 7, 2008

Facial muscles

The activity here was copying a photo of a pretty actress and imposing (revealing) the facial muscles. A pleasant pastime, finding a different beauty hidden within a typical glamor media image.

January 6, 2008

The Muller Museum

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet,
to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me—

Drawing Figs - a simple approach

A place to post drawings from the
New York University
Tisch School of the Arts
Department of Design for Stage and Film
Figure Drawing I class