As y’all know by now, I love to draw the human figure. This has been a life-long passion of mine.

One of my frustrations as a student of anatomy and human portraiture is that so many of the resources available have been single-dimensional in terms of beauty or form. After a couple of hours with the Atlas of Foreshortening, I start to think that everybody has a shaved head and washboard abs.

For someone who actually thinks art should embrace the truth of the human figure in all its ages, shapes, sizes, body types, etc, this can get frustrating.

Yes, there are times when one needs some kind baseline, but when it comes to art, let’s be honest. How many people do I know with washboard abs? *looks around vaguely* None!

The people I know just don’t look like that. So I’ve been gathering resources to help me craft art about the kinds of people I do know. Either the resources below depict various body types and ages, or they help me learn to craft the human form from one body type to another.

I’m sort of boring in my approach to craft: find a reference (good painting, ink drawing, photo, image) and draw it, draw it, draw it. Or paint it, paint it, paint it. Then learn more about the tools and do it again. And again. And again.

So this week, I wanted to explain some of my favorite resources. They are not necessarily standard, although a few are. These are what I have used, and embarrassingly at times, I’ll slap on up a bit of my own art as an example of where someone might want to go with this.

First, I’m going to talk about an interesting book called Body Drama.

I first ran across this book in a Borders in the YA section, where I skulking around looking for a copy of Twilight (yes, Noah, I blame you). This book is not designed for artists, it’s designed for young women and teen girls. But it’s awesome.

It’s a health book about the changes that occur in adolescence and young womanhood, and it focuses on the female body. It’s got lots of useful, straightforward health information on menstrual periods and that sort of thing, but it also covers the amazing differences in bodies and that’s what I want to talk about here. There’s an incredibly cool spread where they take a young woman at a healthy weight in her undies and show her unretouched. Then they show what she looks like after she’s been Photoshopped. Not the zip-removal, but the way that hips are sliced off and thighs slimmed, and curves shifted around.

It was a huge and wonderful AH-HA moment for me as an artist, because yes of course I look at magazines and other visual depictions and one eventually gets the feeling that those bodies (since they’re photos) are “real”.

The book has lots more interesting stuff, though. It has lots of pictures comparing body types. The goal of the book is for young women to know that their bodies are normal (I wish to hell I’d had that book as a young teen) but it also helps an artist to understand how many kinds of bodies there are and how they differ. The color of skin, the shape of the arms, the way the legs are longer or shorter. Good stuff!

The Art Models: Life Nude series of books has a nice range of body types. Volume 3 has some nice age ranges, too. It includes a good series of shots of an older man (always hard to find, ime). It’s just what it says on the box: well photographed nudes, taken in the round, with extra shots on the CD.

Underwear catalogs are, I am embarrassed to admit, another excellent source of anatomy education. Particularly the sort where there’s a lot of cheesy striped stockings. Why? Because in an undies catalog, you can use the lines of the sleezy stocking to see where the lines of the muscles and curves are. The stockings (or garter belts or whatever) show the contour of the form. The big problem with such catalogs, of course, is that the forms in question are extremely thin and exclusively female, but they’re still well worth studying if you want a crash course in how the contours of the skin work. If you decide to try this, Fredericks is better than Victoria’s Secret. Also, you can’t use the drawings for finished paintings for copyright reasons, the way you could with the life nude book above.

Here’s an example of one of mine. (This is not great art.) See the lines that follow the skin? That’s what I’m talking about.

(Apologies for the ghosting of other images in there, this is straight from my sketchbook.)

In addition to being a fiend for ink, I love painting, and that’s what the next few resources are going to cover.  The tools here are primarily designed for digital art tools (Painter, Photoshop, Painter Essentials, the Gimp, etc) but I have used the ideas with traditional media.  The important thing to keep in mind is that color is what painting is all about–it’s a question of using the tool (of whatever kind) to create a surface full of colors that present an image, whereas ink is more a set of lines to create an image.

Here are some of my favorite human portraiture tutorials.

First, we have the incredible Marta Dahlig on skin tones.  She covers classic porcelain, transparent baby skin (always a challenge), ginger (including how to do freckles!), and dark skin tones.  She has another series, which doesn’t seem to be online, about painting different faces shapes, including painting large noses and not-classic-oval face shapes.

What I like about her tutorials is that they usually come with editable images, so you can use the eyedropper tool to experiment with the palettes yourself.

Over on Deviantart, we have navate’s classic skin tutorial.  This really helped me expand my palette and get a better grip on crafting skin that better matching the people I was trying to portray.  One thing that I really like about this tutorial is that the finished images are not super polished–they’re painterly and rough, which helped me to experiment and also allowed me to see how the colors came together.

One experiment that I highly highly recommend is to take a stock reference and then paint a portrait in a different skin tone or with a different feel.

For example, I took the lovely Twiggstock photo here and painted a version of it as a redhead.  I forced myself to limit the time spent (three hours) and came up with this as a result:

Again, it’s not polished, but I felt I learned a lot about changing the hair color into a reasonably realistic redhead (from blue!).  (And I need to remove that slightly darker background from under her chin, and– and–)

I’ve spoken before about how much I like Wen-Xi Chen’s tutorials in the now-defunct Painter magazine.  Her fabulous eye tutorial is now online over at DeviantArt here.  It doesn’t have the series of stock photos of eyes in every shape, shade, and color, but you could find a bunch over at Morgue File if you wanted.

There are some more resources I could talk about, but I’ve nattered on for quite some time already.  I hope readers find them helpful or at least interesting.

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