I want to talk about anatomy today and why it’s necessary to study it a bit if you ever hope to paint recognizable people on a regular basis. In the past, anatomy was taught at all the great art schools. It was only with the advent of newer and more modern painting methods that techniques that had developed over centuries and had been passed down from artist to artist via apprenticeships disappeared.
As an artist who has always been intrigued by the human form, I have studied anatomy, both on my own and by auditing life drawing courses at local universities. Life drawing, both short pose and long pose, is THE best way to develop skill in rendering the human form. You can copy all the Victoria’s Secret catalog models you want but you still won’t really “get” how the human form turns and moves in space if you don’t invest some time in the study of anatomy and how it relates to ‘real people’.
What is the best way to do this? Find a life drawing or painting group in your area and attend as often as you can. You say there aren’t any? Star one yourself. I paint with a portrait group in Toledo on Saturday mornings whenever I can make it. The group meets in an old school cafeteria and it costs just $5 for a two hour session. We pay the model $30 for the session and we have the same model for four weeks. That’s a bit too long for most of us, who would prefer to have the same model for two weeks because we’re usually done by then. But everyone works at a different rate so I suppose we have to be flexible. My painting speed has increased greatly since I started painting with this group five years ago. I live about 45 minutes away so I can’t attend every week, which means I ALWAYS try to get my painting done in one session and I am usually close enough to finish it at home using a photographic reference.
A little painting I did of the group a couple years ago.
Teri Bersee runs a small rural art school 30 miles from my home. It’s called Bountiful Arts. Teri sponsors a life drawing session once a month and I attended this group last week because she promised we would have a female nude model for three 2 hour sessions over a period of three months. I hadn’t been to any unclothed model sessions in awhile so I made a point of showing up to this one. I brought along my easel and paints because I knew I could finish an 11” x 14” piece in two hours. Our model was great and I was happy with my little painting.
I think painting or drawing from the nude is always time well spent. Nowhere else can an artist learn so much about human anatomy than from close observation of the muscles, forms, light and shadow of the nude subject. You might be thinking to yourself, "Fine, she's lucky, she lives in an artsy community and she has all these opportunities to work from life." Nah, that's just an excuse. A determined will does find the way. You make your own opportunities. Network and get to know the artists in your area. I live in a city with less than 8,000 people and I have to drive 30 minutes to shop at a mall. It may not be convenient, but if you're serious about improving the quality of your art you will find a group that encourages you and you WILL achieve your goals quicker.
Here's my painting from last week: 11" x 14", oil on linen