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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Drawing Torsos

The female torso from nine angles.
In looking over the "ratings" (page views) having to do with what I write daily, I've long noted that those items having to do with "how to" draw and paint various human body features are among the most popular. I've dealt with how to handle eyes, noses, mouths, hair, hands, feet, and probably a few more I don't recall at the moment. All those are relatively cut and dried as compared to the difficulties in drawing the human torso. Here the problems of light, shading, point of view, anatomical structure, etc. encountered before are merely the starting point. In drawing the central core of the human body, even if not drawn nude (as is usually the case in such studies), the problems multiply geometrically. Few artists today work from live models. The cost, difficulties, and studio arrangements, not to mention the relative ease in obtaining high-quality "models" using modern day digital photographs all work against doing so. Fortunately, just about any angle, lighting, muscular development, age, and gender are readily available on the Internet, provided you're not offended by the more than occasional surprise jolt of pornography in your search.
Now if he could sing as good as he looks...
First of all, there are two types of human torsos--male and female. In general, they bear only very limited similarities. That makes becoming adept at figure drawing twice as hard. Second, unlike eyes, noses, mouths, etc., the human torso has a front and back, in addition to the sides encountered in drawing other body parts. The various angles double the difficulties again. Various ages double, triple, quadruple or more these inherent problems. Obviously drawing the torso of a baby is a far cry from drawing that of Justin Bieber (above) or one of his many girlfriends. In terms of learning to draw the torso, it would be convenient (but boring as hell) to always have a standing, straight-on, arms to the sides pose. As a practical matter, that's almost never the case. Moreover, the pose effects virtually every aspect of drawing the human figure (we'll multiply the difficulty by ten in this case). Then there's the problem of B.M.I. (body mass index) which is a polite euphemism for fat or thin (another doubling). And even with all those factors, there are the simple (not really) skills in drawing pecs, abs, quads, glutes and all the other muscle abbreviations, all interrelated, all in an ideally developed state, (which is usually the main reason for drawing the exposed human body in the first place). Multiplying the difficulties, even in geometrical progression, become ludicrous at this point. Now, add in the aesthetic rendering elements of color, composition, shading skills, not to mention the all-encompassing, ever-popular item called "beauty" and it's enough to send you back to stick figures. Artists may give lip service to belief that all human bodies have an inherent beauty, but they don't really believe it. If that were the case, the garment industry would be in deep remorse.

More differences than similarities...
Male and Female: Until fairly recently it would have been safe to say that the ideal male body was an intricate, compact, highly detailed amalgamation of tightly drawn muscles, each with its own name, purpose, and characteristics; while the female figure was all soft, smooth, gently curved, slender (but not too slender) and usually best drawn with only a modest (or immodest) amount of anatomical detail. No more. Very often today the female body, though slightly more petite, is quite Michelangelesque, that is, a male body with breasts and less noticeable genitals. Even if you're not drawing a female bodybuilder, these days, in viewing the female form, our visual senses have become acclimated to expect far more than "gently curved."

Rotating the torso, 360 degrees.
Angle: Unlike the face, which can be seen, at most from around 270 degrees, the human torso is a 360 degree drawing problem with none of those degrees any less likely to be rendered than the others. And, as with the face, the straight on front, or either profile, are far easier to master than what we call a "three-quarter" view. Worse, unlike the face, there are four such possible angles. They do have in common with the face the fact that, where art is concerned, they are more likely to be used than the perfect front, back, or side views.

A bundle of joy...and circles.
Ages: A baby is basically a chain of circles. As the child ages, the circles become ovals, which from there evolve into adolescence by devel-oping slenderized adult character-istics. A word of warning here for all artists. In times past, nude children were an acceptable, if not all that common, subject for figural painters. Today, that's not the case. From a social, and legal standpoint, it's absolutely vital that children of any age not be rendered in poses or circumstances suggesting sexual in-volvement of any kind. In today's world, even the discreetly posed, art-istically rendered, pre-adolescent, nude figure of either gender is fraught with enormous erotic impact as never seen before. On the flip side of that, never before in the history of art have artists had such near-total freedom in painting, drawing, and photographing the adult human torso (erotic or otherwise). Thus, despite the academic emphasis placed upon drawing the human anatomy in the past, the adult nude figure today has gained in importance as artists' subject matter.

From perfection to far short of it...poses change everything.
Pose: Insofar as art is concerned (and especially with the male figure) stiff is unacceptable. Tense, alert, resting, relaxed, languid, sound asleep, or flat out dead as a doornail, all are quite common poses to be found in hundreds of classical works of art. Keep in mind, even discounting the stiff pose, there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of "bad" awkward, clumsy, ugly, even painfully impossible poses to be avoided. In general, study the classics, from Michelangelo (above, left) to Lucien Freud (above, right); they each have something different to offer as to poses.

Each body type demands a different handling of the drawn torso.
Seated Bather, 1913, Auguste Renoir
B.M.I: For something like a hundred years or more, there has developed an aesthetic of physical beauty often summed up by the motto: "Thin is in." Male or female, artists have been as guilty as anyone in promoting this view, at least since the death of Renoir and his frankly voluptuous bathing beauties (right). Even those whose weight might be considered acceptable, even ideal, by medical professions, are seen as un-sightly by artists and the mass media. Today, the ideal of physical, beauty, male or female, is not just slender but totally devoid of fat, literally in any way, shape, or form. You want to shock and outrage the art world today? Just paint an obese nude.

Changes in B.M.I. effects the torso.

Notice how the pose effects the torso musculature
Muscles: I once wrote an entire article on this subject, so obviously I'm not going to get into a "how-to" discourse here on drawing abdominal six-packs. One doesn't learn to draw muscular definition by reading about it, or even looking at pictures. You learn to draw breasts and butts by drawing lots of them, either from life or photos (despite what academic types often insist, it has never made much difference). Start from a good book on anatomy (not Gray's Anatomy) if you lack the basics, then move on to models in various states of undress and in gradually more complex poses. Make a special effort to master foreshortening, you'll encounter it again and again in drawing figures. And finally, don't follow your impulse to concentrate on mostly the opposite sex.

Beneath the skin, the musculature is similar

The torso rendered with Ebony pencil.
Rendering: Always...always, always, start with pencil. Some may criticize me for saying this, but forget charcoal and pastels. You'll end up fighting the medium as much as learning to draw. In moving on, I've always loved the Eberhard Faber Ebony pencil as a finishing media for pencil drawings, but try various brands and types, gradually using a softer graphite (not lead) as you progress toward a finished work. Don't relegate drawing to the level of a "sketch." A sketch tends to be thought of as "throw-away" art. Each drawing is (or can be) a bonafide work of art. Today, sketching is best done with a digital camera. Moving on to color (preferably colored pencil) is a big step and one not to be rushed, yet every artist feels a certain fulfillment is seeing his or her black and white efforts take on a life of color. It's a huge boost to the ego and self-esteem. However, regardless of the media, always strive for a reasonable mastery of drawing before taking on the struggles of learning to paint.
The ideal male physique from ten angles.


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