Various artists: Ron Lemen, Marshall Vandruff, Justin Gerard, Warren Louw and more.

One of my favorite things in the whole world is figure drawing.  The human form comes in so many wonderful variations: shapes and sizes, proportions, movements, gender differences and similarities, muscle types, ages.  I love to focus on the form and try (and inevitably fail, because human form is like understanding oceans, ever shifting) to reach understanding.

Comics as a medium embraces many aspects of figure drawing, sometimes well and sometimes (stock cape depictions of women, I’m looking at YOU) poorly.  As someone who draws comics for pleasure, I especially enjoy exploring the craft of figure drawing.

The challenge of comics, in part, is to draw a wide variety of people (including different body types, depending on the comic) in many poses, including action poses, from many angles and foreshortenings.  Plenty of traditional artists use references, either live models (if they’re wealthy or good at bribing friends with baked goods) or photographs.  Alphonse Mucha, for instance, had a stunning collection of reference photographs, including the Divine Sarah, for his paintings and prints.  Even I could make a pretty nice drawing out of this photo (half the work has already been done, really, what with the pose and the costume and the pre-existing anatomy).  Drafting a work from a reference is an important skill, and I am not knocking that skill!  It took me years to be able to do that well, and I’m quite proud of it.  However.

Most of us, unlike Alphonse, do not have a cadre of wasp-waist women who are willing to sit in such poses.  And even if we do have them, it wouldn’t do us much good if we were trying to draw an intersex swordsman in mid leap, decapitating someone with a katana.  (Yes, a recent drawing problem I wrestled with.)

One must be able to draw from the imagination in order to draw certain scenes.  Or have a friend in Hollywood with a Peter Pan flying harness and a willing Wuxia actor, I suppose.

Which brings me to my ever-reaching, ever-striving attempts to understand and embrace human anatomy in all its variations and forms.  The difference in approach is much like working from the inside (such as the spine) to the outside (skin), rather than from the outside (skin/clothes in a reference photo) to the inside.

There are many ways to go about the inside-to-outside approach, such as taking cadaver classes, studying Bridgeman, working with bones, and studying sculpture.

The How to Draw and Paint Anatomy piece that I’m reviewing includes a couple of methods.  The first main method is Industrial Design, which is probably to familiar to many artists but which is given a great treatment here.  The basic approach is to divide the figure into shapes and how those shapes function together.  You’ve probably seen some how-tos that say something like: use a circle for the head, use a box for the chest, use a circle for the hips, and so on.  That comes from the industrial design method.  I’ve used this method in variations for many years, and one of my most successful self-taught drawing projects was redrawing an entire ladies underwear catalog in such shapes, page after page.  (Undies=easy to see the body.)  One of the problems I’ve run into is that it can be difficult to get a good feeling of flow.  Making separate shapes is all well and good, but if they’re put together poorly, you kind of get this static feeling.  The figure might appear three dimensional, but it also appears stiff, even with a dynamic pose.

That’s where Ron Lemen’s series especially shines.  His approach to this method goes all the way back to its roots with Frank O’Reilly.  The first part of his series begins with the history of the method, basic how to steps, and some examples.  What I like about the way Lemen approaches the industrial design method is that he uses a lot of gestural flow and interconnects the working parts of the body that so they work as a functioning, smooth, dynamic flow.  Instead of blocky shapes that are frozen, the bodies begin to show movement.

Here’s a nice example from his section on drawing legs:

See how the muscles are balanced and connected?  There’s some lovely movement there, even though as poses go, it is quite static (just standing).

Lemen begins with the whole shape and then takes a deeper look at each of the main body segments: torso, legs, arms, hands, head.  Each section contains illustrations and suggestions for crafting workable poses from various angles and various movements.  Lemen discusses body types (including natural female anatomy, heavy set men, and so on) and how that impacts the shifting of weight, unlike many of the drawing manuals I have read where the best you can hope for is to stick some melons on the chest and call it done (pro tip: breasts, not actually ball shaped!  Who knew?).  I was enchanted to discover that Lemen realizes that breasts are more comma shaped.  Each of the sections also covers the figure in movement–what happens to the torso, for instance, when the body bends to one side?  The outer line of the curve is smooth, and the inner line of the curve becomes wrinkled.

Here’s another example from the legs section:

Again, you can see the connection from the bottom of the feet all the way up to the buttocks.  There is a distinct flow of lines and balance, as the weight is on the ball of the foot and the thigh muscles are tensed.

It’s a great series of articles.  The other aspect that I particularly find useful in this work is that it is not merely a magazine/book.  It comes with a DVD, and on the DVD are multiple files.  Lemen has includes various poses, so that an artist can manipulate, copy, play with, practice from, or study at larger or smaller sizes.  And the creme de la creme, a series of videos.

To me, the video series included in the work is well worth the entrance fee.  The videos are quite simple, but for someone like me, who learns kinesthetically and visually, it is priceless.  They show a plain shot of an artist’s arm and their large drawing board.  Beginning with blank paper and no references, the artist draws, free hand, a variety of lovely poses in the industrial arts style.  (Some of the poses are later shown in the book.)  There is not any time consuming erasing, it’s almost entirely free hand with dark pencil and the drawings do not take a long time (usually about three minutes or so per pose, even the complex ones!).  I found it utterly fascinating, because it is only by watching the actual process that I truly understand where the artist begins with each piece and how the lines become connected and what follows what.

There are over twenty minutes worth of such drawings on the DVD.  I’ve watched some of them more than once, and each time I learn something new.  (If you have access to a good art school and a great set of life drawing courses, you may not find this useful.   Me, I don’t, so.)

The second half of the book is taken up with Marshall Vandruff’s comparative anatomy series, which is completely different from Lemen’s, but utterly fun.  In it, Vandruff begins with several main body types: human, big cat, horse, and great ape.

(I apologize for the cut-off part in this scan.  I’ll replace it when I’m back to my scanner.)

He compares the bones, joints, and proportions of various types to create a working knowledge of animal anatomy (including human anatomy).  I found myself comparing my foot and my dog’s back foot, bending the joints and pointing my toes, trying to understand how both of us worked.  Ever since reading his articles (and boring my poor, long suffering Pookie), I’ve had a much better understanding of ankles.  My drawings of feet are connected to the legs more properly and no one is wandering around on what would have to be broken ankles.

Like Lemen, this series start with a broad overview and then tackles major muscle/anatomy groups in turn.  Necks, torsos, heads, legs, feet, and so on.  One of the fun parts is the homework assignments, which suggest, among other things, morphing an animal into a human and back again.  Great practice for comic artists doing supernatural works, or for any artist who wants to get a more distinct character feel to their people.   The examples of a woman with more catlike features compared to a man with bearish features was fascinating, even though both at the end had proper human anatomy, the feeling was utterly different.

Unfortunately my me, there are no videos of the artist drawing such pieces off the cuff.  But there are plenty of additional sketches on the DVD.

This work ends with a couple more short workshops and a fun practical Artist Q&A section, where pro artists answer anatomy questions.

It’s hard to say whether this a book or a magazine.  It’s produced by the folks at ImagineFX, the magazine, and I bought it in the magazine section at my Borders.  It does have compilations from earlier ImagineFX issues, but is not itself an issue.  It’s not bound like a book, but a magazine.  I’m hoping it’s still on the stands, because it appears to be out of stock already at its mother store.  I think it’s well worth hunting down, if you’re working on the craft of anatomy.

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