Creating artwork centred on the human figure has captivated artists for centuries. Drawing the human figure is the most basic way to learn about how our bodies are structured and how we move around.
In this 3T Art Blog post, we’re going to have a look at gesture drawing, talk about manikins, casts and Bargue drawings which is a drawing course that’ll help you when it comes to learning how to draw the human figure.
I’m also going to introduce you to Steve Pietrzyk, a full-time art model. Don’t be fooled, modelling is hard work and takes a great deal of practice for models to get their poses just right. From short gestures to a few hour long poses, it takes training and dedication on the part of the model, and Steve is one of the best.
Brief History of the Human Form
Let’s start with a bit of history. When and where did our fascination with creating artwork centred on the human form begin?
We can look way back to Paleolithic Europe. “Woman of Willendorf” is thought to be at least 25,000 years old. This 4.4” figurine, carved from oolitic limestone (not native to the area) and tinted with red ochre, was unearthed at an archeological dig in Austria in 1908. She is the oldest known artwork relating to the human figure. Its exaggerated proportions represent what is thought to have been important to people at the time, which was fertility. Because these people lived in a harsh ice-age environment, it’s thought that plumpness was also desirable.
Four sides of “Woman of Willendorf” - Photo by: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen
Over the centuries, this ideal of the human figure changed. The Egyptians represented the human form using simple, clean angles and flat shapes without any 3D qualities to them. They actually used a stretched out string dipped in red paint to ping (kind of like today’s chalk line) the angles of the human forms onto a plaster wall giving them guidelines to use when they painted them up. These depictions were all very similar and never exaggerated. They all belong to a larger plan, defining people as a head with two arms and two legs.
Source: San Antonio Chamber of Commerce
Centuries later, the ancient Greek's take on the human figure reflected something completely different. It was all about perfection. Buildings reflected the perfect proportions and the human form reflected the perfect exaggerated athletic body type. The ancient Greeks even created gods in the form of humans.
Athanadoros, Hagesandros, and Polydoros of Rhodes, Laocoön and his
Sons, early first century C.E., marble, 7’10-1/2″ high (Vatican Museums)
The Romans were also heavily inspired by the human figure, in sculpture, and in painting which was also highly regarded. In 146 BCE, they conquered Greece and not only took home the usual treasures of gold and silver, they also took works of art. Using marble instead of bronze, Roman sculpture became modeled after statues in ancient Greece, and their idea of the figure was not to the extreme idolized perfection that the Greeks had taken the human form to.
Things changed when the Renaissance came. The human figure was still a wonder to artists and patrons but it was now portrayed in a more natural and celebratory way. Artist were anxious to know more about the inner workings of the human body and the more they found out the better their artwork became anatomically.
Vitruvian Man – Leonardo da Vinci
By the late 1500’s, art school training included the copying of engravings after which students moved on to draw from plaster casts, and only then could they be trained to work from a live model. Mastering the drawing of a model was considered the prerequisite to painting.
At this time, aspiring women artists were not allowed to view nude models as it was considered to be improper and possibly dangerous for them to study from life. Women used casts and models to learn human anatomy and form.
Luckily, today’s contemporary studios are open to everyone. Learning to draw the human form is an element of all fine art and illustration programs. It seems that the figure in artwork is just as important today as it was thousands of years ago but in different ways.
Drawing the Human Form
There are many ways you can draw the human form. Let’s have a look at a few of them.
There are different ways artists go about drawing the human form, but gesture drawings can be considered the groundwork when it comes to getting comfortable with figure drawing.
Gesture drawing can be defined as a simple, quick drawing that captures the energy, action, pose, or feel of the model. They’re created using dynamic, sweeping lines that contain a minimal amount of information to get the maximum amount of results. They can be realistic or exaggerated.
The main purpose of a gesture drawing is to help you understand the human form in motion. It’s a way for artists to train their hands to draw what their brain is seeing.
Source: Animator Island
You can use gesture drawings to draw the human form, usually nude, for short bursts of time. They’re usually the warm up to a longer drawing session. For example, a model may hold a pose for a gesture drawing for as short a time as only 10 seconds or hold it as long as 2 minutes. This gives you enough time to define the pose the model is presenting, which, is usually very spontaneous and energetic and can only be held for a short time.
Characteristically, gesture drawings are started using one long continuous line that represents the movement in the model’s pose. Then, you can block in larger shapes with light, loose, sketchy marks.
Source: The Drawing Source
Longer gesture drawings allow you to capture more of the movement and action of the model but there are no details in a gesture drawing. Ever.
Poses held longer than 2 minutes are not considered gestures because there’s time to plan the drawing, measure and define the human form in more detail.
Gesture drawings are by no means easy to do. They’re vague concepts created to define not only a human form but whatever you’re drawing be it an animal, building, or still life. It takes dedication and practice on the part of any artist to develop the skills needed to capture what they’re seeing well enough, in seconds, to make someone looking at their gesture drawing understand the action conveyed by the drawing.
Gesture Drawing – 2 poses same page
When creating a gesture drawing, think about defining the essence of the model’s pose. Just because you’re working quickly, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look before you draw. Create only lines that have a purpose and make each one of them count.
We’re not all lucky enough to be able to attend regular live model drawing sessions, especially these days, but there are other ways to draw the human form.
Manikins are helpful when it comes to drawing a body in action. They’re made of wood and can be posed in a variety of ways. You can chose from 8”, 12” or 16” high manikins and female or male models. They’re easily transportable and you can pose a manikin using its stand or in different positions, like sitting, without it.
Another thing about wood manikins is that they’re to scale when it come to the human form so you’ll have close to accurate results in your drawings.
Another type of manikin that’s available are KUN Dolls.
They’re small (approx. 6” high), grey, movable figures that animators and anime creators use. I have a set of them and think they’re pretty useful. They bend much easier than the wood manikins and come with a variety of hands and feet so you can create more realistic poses.
Because the KUN Dolls are grey, they’re really easy to use with a light source to give you the value information you’ll need to make a human form 3D.
Keep in mind, these are really small and can be difficult to work with, but if you photograph them and work from the images like I do, they can really help you understand a pose.
KUN Doll – Pose 1 - male – with an Icy Square chocolate. (Yes, they’re really small!)
KUN Doll – Pose 2 – male (they do stand up on their own)
Another way to understand the human form is to draw it from casts. They’re 3D forms that artists can use to draw from.
Casts are made of plaster and painted white making them easy to light. You can create a lot of strong light and dark values to help you with your drawing. The more information you have to draw from, the better your drawing will be.
Artist: Noah Layne
Casts come in many forms. You can choose from individual body parts such as hands, feet, lips, noses and ears, or busts, or even full bodies which can be on the expensive side.
Source: James Gurney - Gurney Journey
The drawing of casts is based on the Sight-Size method. This refers to a way of drawing in which the artist creates a drawing that’s the same size as the image or 3D model they’re working from.
Using a cast as your model can be very time consuming. Start your drawing with large forms and work toward smaller details.
Have you heard of Bargue Drawings before? They’re a very popular way to learn to draw the human form at academies and ateliers focused on teaching Classical Realism. It was created by French painter and lithographer Charles Bargue.
Bargue created his influential Cours de dessin in collaboration with his instructor and mentor Jean-Léon Gérôme. Based on creating and teaching students how to do lithograph work, this classical drawing course was designed to guide art students from the study of master drawings on to the drawing of the live model.
The first copies of the course were published between 1866 and 1871, complete with 197 lithographs (called plates) printed as individual sheets making it easy for artists to draw one plate after the other. Popular artists like Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh both studied Bargue’s plates and incorporated what they learned into their own work.
Example of a Bargue Drawing plate
Bargue drawings are based on the Sight-Size method. This requires learning to measure distances, lengths and angles, as well as understand the value scale of a drawing.
If you’re interested in the Bargue Drawing Course, you can purchase a copy of the complete drawing course in book form from Amazon. It’s a bit pricy, but you’ll sure learn a lot about drawing the human form.
Well, that’s a lot of interesting information about the human form in history and different ways to go about drawing and learning to draw the figure. I always learn so much writing these blog posts!
Now, let’s move on to our guest interview!
3T Art Blog Guest Artist
Steve Pietrzyk – Nude Art Model
I’d like to introduce you to Steve Pietrzyk who I’ve known for a few years and have had the pleasure of drawing many times, both live and online via Zoom. He works hard at his art modelling career, working nude, clothed and in costume.
Steve’s always been intrigued by the artist/muse relationship and modelling is something he believes he was destined to do for a living. His only regret so far is that he didn’t start his modelling career earlier.
“Being the focus of an artist's expression as a nude art model allows me the freedom to express and explore my creativity and is a unique, enjoyable and rewarding experience.”
Steve started modelling in January of 2016. Back then, he was doing it part-time. His goal was to become a successful full-time art model. Little did Steve know how well his career would take-off.
In the studio with Steve. Yes, he’s a major hockey fan!
He focused on educational, private and workshop settings for artists who sketched, painted and sculpted, as well as photographers. It was important for him to work with sincere, dedicated and ethical artists. Steve wanted to inspire them in their quest to produce interesting, engaging and beautiful works of art.
“Being part of the creative process and caring about an artist's results and celebrating their successes is very important to me.”
Artist: William Rogers, Online Figure Drawing, 2021
Steve’s first modelling job was at the Blue Tadpole Studio in Mississauga, Ontario. He posed for 10 art students and admits he was extremely nervous.
“After my initial awareness that I was the only nude person in the room had worn off, I settled into my posing routine and felt totally comfortable and empowered modeling for the class. The three hour class went by so fast!”
Artist: Sadko Hadzihasanovic, Avenue Road Arts School, 2019
Steve says that he’s always been mentally and physically confident and comfortable within himself and his body image. Modelling nude in front of small or large groups of artists is perfectly natural for him.
To prepare for his modelling career, Steve did a lot of research. He spent countless hours on the internet researching art modelling and the relationship it has with the artist. He also purchased a lot of art modelling publications focused on specific aspects of modeling and from that he was able to develop his own poses and style.
Art modelling for Steve really is a full-time career. He says he trains for it 24 hours a day! “I'm always thinking of poses and new styles even when I'm not modeling. I constantly practice my established 'go to' poses as well as work on new poses. I use two large mirrors as well as my iPad so I can see my image which helps me gauge what poses look good and which ones need to be tweaked. So, needless to say, I spend a lot of time looking at myself nude in a mirror!”
Steve works diligently to establish poses while at the same time practicing new poses and techniques. He feels it’s important to have a large repertoire of both short and long poses so he can offer a wide variety of them to artists. His goal is to always provide creative, dynamic and artistic poses in an expressive and energetic style and Steve really does deliver on this every time.
Here’s a great story he shared with me about one of his more exciting live modelling sessions and a good example of why he works so hard to establish his poses:
“These sessions at Sheridan College are available to all students for free and are designed to give the students extra practice at life drawing. There are 15 sessions offered every week in each of the disciplines: animation, illustration and art fundamentals. These 3 hour sessions are usually attended on average by 10-20 students.
I showed up for my scheduled extra life modeling session 15 minutes early as usual. When I walked into the studio I was surprised to see about 40 students set up to draw! I prepared the stage for my session, arranging my props, stools and chairs, then went to the change room to disrobe and put on my robe. When I came out of the change room I was stunned to see another 30 students had piled into the studio!!!
As I made my way around the students and got up on the stage, I had to ask why there were so many students there. Their answers were unanimous, they needed more drawings to hand in for their portfolios! They put off attending extra sessions throughout the term and left it to the last minute! This was by far the largest group I’ve ever modeled nude for! 75 in total!!!
I thought to myself, thank God I’m not a rookie or this would have been extremely intimidating.
I ended up doing about 300 poses, mostly gestures, for them! It was an exciting but exhausting session!”
Artist: Janet Wilson, Eden Mills Community Hall Life Drawing, 2017
Since he began modelling, Steve has built up a very impressive résumé. He’s posed for almost 2,000 live modelling and portrait sessions. He’s posed for as few as 1 artist and up to 80 artists at one time. He currently provides art modelling services for over 50 clients including Sheridan College in Oakville, the Academy of Realist Art and Seneca College in Toronto, as well as Fleming College in Haliburton which hosts the Haliburton School of the Arts.
As for his future plans, Steve is just getting started.
“I plan on continuing modeling for years to come! There is no greater experience than modeling in person with artists for drawing/painting sessions or special projects.”
Artist: Elena Ruiz Diaz, Online Figure Drawing, 2020
Steve currently offers live art model sessions, fully nude, via Zoom. He has a dedicated studio with good lighting and in the summer he even does live modelling sessions outdoors.
Tiffany Falls in Ancaster with photographer Linda Arki, 2020
If you want to catch one of Steve’s online sessions, you can find dates and times by checking out his website at sjp-nudemodel.ca.
You can also get in touch with Steve directly:
Cell (Call or Text): (416) 821-7814
Lucky for us, Steve has plans to expand his online modelling presence by offering more sessions as well as creating recorded sessions and still photographs that artists can work from.
I hope some of you will give Steve’s online sessions a try. Fingers crossed, when COVID has ended, that we can all get back to working live from the model. I know that I’m looking forward to it!
I think the take-away from this post is that as an artist, you should at some point sit in on a few model drawing sessions. It’s a great learning experience that can be applied to all of your work. For those of you working with the figure or portraiture, getting a good connection to the model will make your artwork so much better, even if the session is just for practice.
Next time, we’ll be taking a look at mixed media art and I’ll be introducing you to an amazing artist who creates exciting and colourful mixed media artwork, Mahtab Abdollahi.
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