Drawing the Human Form

Classes & Workshops, Special Features / Articles

By Mark Anthony

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I often tell my students that I was born 100 years too late.  I loved the romance of the old world of Europe since I was a boy.  My colleagues tell me, ‘more like 400 years too late.’  Oh well.  I do play modern music while I work.  Edith Piaf, Nat King Cole, for instance.  It keeps me from whistling…  I still have this burning desire to understand how great forefathers of representational art created such powerful, gestural, poetic works with the simplest of hand-made tools.  How did they know how to exploit every trick in the book to express dramatic human form and movement without our current resource of hundreds of years of examples to draw (pun intended) from.

I really marvel at the way they learned by copying each other.  I teach students the same way…by example.  Each student receives a full demonstration from a blank page in each session, as well as studies and lectures from the old masters.  This method gives them an opportunity to take their own project as far as they can and while applying fundamental principles.  I love the old ways.  It’s a great privilege, especially with our young generation, to share a traditional approach to exploring their own observational skills, dexterity and creative potential without the interference of modern equipment.  And when my students get to re-create masterworks with metal point, medieval ink recipes, home-made charcoal and hand-carved goose quills, it’s as much a cultural and historical experience as an artistic one.

Old book stores is where I hang out.  The best reading, I would say is from the turn of the century . . .  20th that is.  Harold Speed, for instance.  Photography was just beginning.  Books were circulating in abundance.   And, photographers followed the same simple lighting models that traditional fine art studios would follow, like the famous Rembrandt model.

Finally, with a good exposure to anatomical studies (thankfully we are not dissectors separating cadavers in each class… volunteer disectees seem to be in short supply) one graduates from simply copying or drawing observationally to studying underlying anatomy and structure and finally to drawing with understanding.  I believe a good drawing is the product of 50% what we see and 50% what we understand.  Like musicians, we first try to imitate masters like Mozart.  Then we study the rudiments of melody and harmony, etc.  Then we learn to be expressive and improvise through understanding.  Finally, we may compose with our own defined style.  It’s all based on a solid foundation.

So lets go back 500 years.  Michelangelo marveled at great classical works like the Belevedere Torso, the Belvedere Apollo, and surprisingly after he sculpted his magnificent David, the newly discovered Laocoon Group which he called the finest sculpture ever created.  Bernini referred to it as the greatest achievement of classical art.  These boys were bang on!  And so began a long string of representational study in the style and discipline of classical Greece.  First the Renaissance, featuring the obvious greats like Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael.  Moving into the 1600’s the Baroque expression made us aware of good lighting and form, however, the departure from ‘closed form’ lead the great ones like Rembrandt, Rubens, Bernini, etc., to consider the environmental influence on the tension and emotional impact of the scene.  I don’t care what ‘Tim’ says . . . . I really like Vermeer.  His definition of feminine beauty is truly a wonderful example for any artist.  And moving all the way through Ingres, Tadema, Leighton, Jerome, Bargue and Bouguereau, for instance, we see a long thread of passion for the poetry of life.

We need more great works from the old masters to visit us in B.C.’s lower mainland.  I just watched the Minion Movie with my little boy.  Can’t remember his name, Victor, Vector, I can’t remember, but he managed to steal the Pyramids.  If anyone knows how we can steal the Louvre Museum and bring it over here please let me know.   I think you can contact me through the Federation.  We’ll devise a plan!  Meanwhile, DON’T WASTE TIME . . . . DRAW!  I think someone famous said that.

Mark Anthony is also offering a FCA workshop on Drawing the Human form at the Federation Gallery on April 4 & 11. For more information and to register visit our website here.

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