Linear Figure Study.
Figure drawing presents opportunities for observation and increased visual knowledge of human proportions. Yet, the expectation of accurately drawing the human form can create a wave of fear for some of the students who lack experience in this area. When students are asked to draw the human form, their work is often tight and lacking in artistic expression. My aim is to create a variety of figure drawing projects that will lessen student fear, yet help to increase awareness and personal expression.
Students create bold and expressive figure drawings that show fluidity in the use of line and media, and a visual sense of volume in the human form.
The goal for this process is to have an increased understanding of a flowing use of line, better proportions in representing the human form, and greater overall artistic expression.
Share the work of well-known artists to help students become aware of the variety of artistic expression. Examples could include the powerful line drawings of sculptors Henry Moore and Alberto Giacometti. Both sculptors' drawings have a bold approach that offers freedom of expression in a fluid linear style. Students can observe the sense of ease in which the line was expressed and how the use of line can create the illusion of volume. The viewer will also notice that repetitive lines help to create an illusion of the three-dimensional form.
Select a student model. Students begin with a loosening-up exercise using pencil, crayon, or marker on newsprint paper. They then create one- or two-minute sketches that are linear gesture drawings. Ask students to remember scribbling when they were young. Ask them if they can recall that looseness and expressiveness of line quality as older students.
Encourage students to create bold and loose linear drawings of the human figure they are viewing. They should not be concerned with detail, but with creating a sense of three-dimensional form and volume.
In aiming for a linear approach, ask students to try to see the figure as a wire sculpture. The wire is wrapped around the contour of the form. Try to see the image as continuous flowing lines. The line represents the wire defining the form. The overall image is one in which the viewer has the potential to see through the form to the other side.
After the warmup on newsprint paper, students work on large white vellum. Since this process is intended to be a quick linear exploration of form, students spend approximately three to five minutes on a loose pencil drawing as a guide. They then move onto the use of oil pastels. Ask students to select three colors they feel work well together to further develop this figurative image. Their chosen colors follow the pencil guidelines. As the student continues to observe the model and refine the line, changes can be made.
While students complete these linear drawings of the human form, they need to consider the negative space left in the composition. Once again, the drawings of Alberto Giacometti are shown. He utilized simple architectural references that offer a grounding to his centrally located figures. Students should look beyond the model to see and include the architectural elements found in the artroom.
When the drawn color image is complete, water is added with a watercolor brush to soften and unify the form. Careful consideration to the quantity and use of water is needed to bring about this unity.
Does the drawing demonstrate a sense of three-dimensional form? How is the sense of volume in the form created in the drawing of the figure? How is visual unity established in the use of line and media?
Students appreciate that the direction of this process is not to accurately define and render the human figure. By recalling the loose quality of their own scribbling stage, they make the needed connection to this visual problem. They feel more at ease as they focus on a more expressive use of line to define the overall form.
In the planning stage, I gave some thought to the use of color; possibly using a triadic color (with reference to the color wheel) or suggesting the use of analogous color. Since the focus is on a fluid linear drawing, the color needs to be limited. I feel students need to be part of the decision making, so they should pick three colors that they feel work well together.
Figure drawing has the potential of being stressful for the individual art student. By structuring a process that focuses on loose and flowing expression, the student feels less frustrated and more willing to accept the challenge.
Freedom of expression is encouraged when expectations are lifted, clear directions are given, and all students feel they can achieve a basic level of success. This process works well, and student work reflects personally expressive results. The students' sense of proportion, quality of line, and use of media increases, as does their awareness of the human form.
Students conceive and create works of visual art that demonstrate an understanding of how the communication of their ideas relate to the media, techniques, and processes they use.
18 x 24" (56 x 61 cm) newsprint paper
18 x 24" (56 x 61 cm) white vellum paper oil pastels watercolor brushes
Ken Vieth is an art teacher at Montgomery High School in Skillman, New Jersey.