As a kid, I never had the patience to sit and read with full comprehension a book related to the complex subject of accurately and effectively drawing the human form. I'd occasionally flip through them in a bookstore or library, and take it home with the hopes that it will make me a better artist. Back then, my dream of becoming a comic book artist was inextricably linked to the need to develop the uncanny ability to convincingly depict the human form, male or female, from any angle, in motion, violent action, repose, etc. Many of my favorites were geared specifically toward comic books, while others took a more intimidating, almost scientific approach. The question of how best to study from these books has always been an issue for me. I have so many in my library, so how come I still struggle with this stuff?
The diagrammatic approach of measuring heads, and seeing basic forms as spheres, boxes and cylinders only got me so far. It always seemed to come down to a quesiton of memory and understanding the underlying mechanics and structure. This was different from the rigors of drawing the figure from life, which can be understood as a process of measuring and the appropriate application of marks, or the translation and organization of patterns of value.
As an undergrad, I was able to squeeze in two semesters worth of figure drawing. During the years after graduation, I enrolled two figure drawing and one portrait painting workshop through City College of San Franciso's Extended Education program. I have also committed many hours to open life drawing sessions and sketching in public. The problem was that I still could not draw the figure accurately, either from memory, or through observation. I could muddle my way through a loose, gestural drawing, with marks occasionally landing in the right place, but I still felt like something was missing. I worried that my instructors had placed such an emphasis on an expressive approach, that I might never develop the discipline and focus to truly draw what I see. The proportions were always approximate, the marks rushed. Where my drawings excelled in confidence and expressiveness, they failed in terms of sturcture. And when I tried to draw bodies from my imagination, I would usually revert back to old habits because the time in front of the model wasn't helping me to retain much.
It wasn't until I took an ecorché class with Carol Tarzier (also through CCSF Extended Ed.) that things finally started to stick. The class involved building a 1/8 scale armature and modeling the bones and muscles in plasticene. I was especially inspired Carol's ability to draw any bone or muscle group from memory and identify things like origins and insertions. At last, I had found the kind of anatomy for artists instruction that made sense to me. It was a holistic approach, that combined the disciplined rigor of careful measurement and accurate porportions, with a very hands-on and tactile approach to learning.
This afternoon, I came across a unique book entitled Anatomy for Artists: A New Approach to Discovering, Learning, and Remembering the Body by Anthomy Apesos (ISBN-13: 978-1-58180-931-2) at the San Francisco Public Library. Apesos' approach is to also present the body through a "hands-on" model where he gets the reader to engage with the material by using their own body. It's a simple, but highly effective approach to learning how the body works. Personally, I'm not very good at memorizing diagrams and formulas, although, I've learned several useful ones through the years. But I'm finding that when I can include a bit of movement and touch to my learning process, I seem to retain more.
If you're looking an anatomy for artists book that offers some valuable insights and a unique approach to the topic, I strongly suggest giving this book a read.