Life Drawing, by Robert Barrett

December 3, 2011

While having managed to put together a personal library of books on artistic anatomy and figure drawing, this is the first book I’ve come across devoted to life drawing. That is, linking the theory to tackling the live model.

I guess where I’m pleased this book moves beyond mere figure drawing is in the following areas: a first chapter on lighting (and the minimising of light I had to cope with in last week’s class), and later chapters on light and shadow, drapery and edges. There’s one also entitled “Center of interest” which looks at ways of making the overall drawing look ‘artistic’ (moving beyond the narrowly representational sketch to something possessing more of a studied ‘drawing quality, covering composition, vignetting, narratology – what Americans would probably call the ability to “pop”, an expression which has odd sexual connotations for me).

I’ve yet to get my head around the chapter “Atmospheric Perspective” too. Five ways to use a sketchbook, chapter 14, is also very good value.  There is a good Gallery summing up the whole. Barrett doesn’t shy away either from that most verboten of subjects these days, children; surely a mainstay of the portrait market. Pages 18 through 78 summarise the constructionist approach to figure drawing and cover all that one has come to expect: gesture drawing, proportion, measurement, anatomy, hands and feet.

I’m fascinated by the fact that a lot of the explanatory drawings are done on white paper, yet almost all of the finished examples are done on tinted paper. I guess this underpins moving from a sketch using the model to a finished, detailed drawing without the model. I’m still on the hunt for kraft paper sketchbooks and large sheets of tinted paper I can make up into my own sketchbooks. It was hard to find twenty years ago and now seems even harder to find these days. There is too much “presence” for me in handmade toned paper used acrylic paint, but I may have to resort to that before long.

Given my problems with using charcoal convincingly, Barrett suggests mass and volume using something called Prismacolor Nupastel, complimented with a lot of accurate linework (the subtitle of the book is “how to portray the figure with accuracy and expression“, his bold). The examples of poses he provides links directly to life drawing  experience – exactly the sorts of poses live models will take up – so copying and emulating the examples in the book will have very direct relevance to life drawing sessions. Not all the poses are nude; many are clothed, contributing to the rich variety inherent in the book.

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