The Artist's Complete Guide to Figure Drawing
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Published: 2000
Demonstrates a three-step drawing method exploring outline, contour, and the capture of light, volume, and mass

This is the first serious book on Figure Drawing I bought when I first started. It prompted me to take courses with Anthony Ryder in Santa Fe in 2009. I learned a lot and my figure drawing improved. However, there are a lot of conceptual weaknesses in this method. Anthony Ryder and the line of artists he represents put too much emphasis on drawing with straight lines. That makes for an artificial and rigid style that is not in unison with the teacher’s own personal way of drawing. In fact, Anthony’s drawing in real is more reminiscent of a very fluid and open way of drawing.

The Artist’s Complete Guide to Figure Drawing Review – Comment n°1 : The block-in does not a good job at representing reality

One of the major teachings of this book is the dreaded block-in stage of drawing. Ryder inherited this method from his teacher Ted Seth Jacobs. It is basically a process that relies on the contour of the model, going from the outside to the interior of the figure. What is striking about it is that it uses straight lines to simplify the 2D projection of the model on the paper. The straight lines are then iteratively refined into curves.

While Anthony’s drawings are beautiful, I know for a fact that following his method will not completely allow you to reproduce such drawings. First of all, it puts a dangerous emphasis on the contour. This purely conceptual frame of mind doesn’t fit with reality. Because the importance of an edge is determined by its surroundings and there is a relational hierarchy between all the different entities we see. Some edges of the figure are usually in shadow and can’t even be distinguished. Therefore, a flat order of lines and curves is not a good descriptor of reality. Now it is ironic that some students take the method too seriously and try making perfect block-ins only to discover that some parts of the model are constantly escaping one’s grasp.

It’s true that Anthony says that the block-in process is not part of the drawing but a container for it. But this should make us suspicious : how can the block-in not be part of the drawing? During Anthony’s course in Santa Fe, I was myself a victim of this conceptual trap. The funny thing is that Anthony’s critiques were precisely on the opposite side of what he teaches in the book : he stressed to me many times that I should give less importance to lines and more importance to gradations. Because they do a better job of representing reality. I watched him draw many and he never used the block-in as such for his own artworks. Of course, it could be that Anthony now only uses the block-in mentally without the need for construction lines. However, even then,  why should he never mention the fact that these tools should become automatised and unconscious at one point? That being said, I still find the exercise useful in conditions that allow doable blocking-ins. Even if that doesn’t solve all problems in normal circumstances. For the latter, more powerful tools are needed.

 

The Artist’s Complete Guide to Figure Drawing Review – Comment n°2 : There are no backgrounds against which to judge the values

Most drawings in the book are done without a background. This is very disturbing because the background is usually what allows the artist to calibrate the values of the figure. That’s why Ryder’s figures give the impression of floating in thin air. The fact that he over-emphasizes contour lines adds to this ethereal feeling. Drawing on a white background will augment contrast and make your marks considerably lighter than they should be. By contrast, my own figure drawings with Anthony are surprisingly darker than expected making fair skin people look as if they had dark skin. Somehow I must have targetted the right values and a darker background would have been useful for making my values look natural. Of course, Ryder knew about this and for each drawing he adapted his values to the situation. It’s true that he would sometimes ask us to put a little of the background in. But this was not explained thoroughly and taught methodically. If you want more info on the subject, a representational hyper-realist artist has written an interesting article on the subject.

 

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