Portrait and Figure Drawing: Online Classes and Resources Reviewed

Skull drawing practice #1, Conte pencil on paper, 24x18 inches

Skull drawing practice #1, Conte pencil on paper, 24×18 inches

I wanted to improve my people-drawing skills, learn about anatomy and be able to quickly sketch a head with some degree of accuracy and fluency. I was looking for information, instruction, and explanation of how the skull, features, and muscles all work together to make each of us look like individuals.

I began exploring resources for learning online and I found one that met all of my requirements: New Masters Academy. It is affordable ($19 to $29/month), has excellent teachers, an abundance of classes in portrait and figure drawing and painting and more, plus great resources for artists including thousands of high-resolution artist model reference photos and timed portrait and figure drawing sessions.

What initially convinced me to become a member on New Masters was the free, 3-hour YouTube video below by one of their many excellent teachers, Steve Huston. This is just a small part of his Structure of the Head course in which he explains in great detail about the planes of the face, the shapes and functions of the muscles, and each of the features (eyes, nose, etc.) in a very user-friendly way.

The YouTube video by Brandwynn Jones (below) introduced me to the Reilly Method Abstraction, an interesting way of conceptualizing and constructing the head. Mr. Jones is a student at the Watts Atelier, another online artist training program.

Before I found New Masters, I regrettably signed up for an expensive month ($99/month) at Watts Atelier Online, based on what I saw and heard in Mr. Jones’ videos and on fellow artist Chris Beaven’s blog, who was trying out the Watts program too. But after watching the head drawing course “taught” by Mr. Watts, I requested and received a refund for the remaining half month. The course consists of videos of him drawing, while he talks on and on–what he calls “bantering”–with very little actual instruction or explanation and it just didn’t meet my needs. Chris later wrote this review of Watts Atelier Online.

Skull drawing practice

Skull drawing practice #2, Conte pencil on paper, 18×24″

Another great source of figure drawing instruction videos (for free) can be found at Stan Prokopenko’s website, Proko.com and on his on YouTube channel. His sense of humor and high production values makes them fun to watch but I find they fly by too quickly for me to retain the information. He offers expanded versions at reasonable cost. In the video below he clarifies and summarizes the Andrew Loomis approach to drawing the head.

Over the past year I’ve watched several good instructional videos on Craftsy.com but I prefer the comprehensive courses on New Masters. One plus for Craftsy is that the videos you “buy” are always yours to stream on demand; on New Masters they’re available to stream as long as you’re a paying member.

Sadie Valerie offers both in person classes, video and online classes at Sadie Valerie Atelier in San Francisco. Sadie is an amazing teacher, very kind, positive, generous and detailed in her approach. I’ve studied with her and her associate Elizabeth Zanzinger in person and via Sadie’s videos and highly recommend them as teachers.

For quick and detailed anatomical information where you can switch from skin, muscles, skeletal or even organ views, I go to Innerbody.com, where I found the resource for the drawing below. I wanted to know more about the muscles that we see through the skin.

A free 2.5 hour figure drawing course based on the Reilly Method is available from Udemy.com.

Croquis Cafe on YouTube offers free figure drawing sessions with artist models (mostly nude) posing in real time, just like you are in a figure drawing session with timed poses and music. They also have reference photos to work from and some paid classes, which I haven’t explored.

Pixelovely.com is another source for figure drawing practice that provides timed photo references of nude and costumed models in interesting and unusual poses as well as instruction and tips on figure drawing.

PoseManiacs.com also offers thousands of digital images of figures in motion or still, without skin so all the  muscles are visible.

High resolution photos of the Asaro Planes of the Head model in 22 different positions are available to download here.

Reilly Method class notes by one of his students are lovingly offered on The Reilly Papers blog.

Glen Orbik was another master figure and portrait drawing teacher. Free clips from videos of his lectures are available on YouTube here. The full course is available at Zarolla Academy but is expensive.

Fred Fixler was another of the great drawing and painting teachers who has passed on but on this site you can download his Reilly method handouts and some great drawing and gouache painting tips.

To find figure drawing classes, workshops and open studios in your area, visit ArtModelBook.com.

 

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Figure and Portrait Drawings

Figure drawing wall in studio

Figure drawing wall in studio

I just made a big leap in my understanding of figure and portrait drawing so wanted to share previous sketches and paintings before the new work. Above is a photo of the “figure drawing wall” in my studio. I’d covered this wall with black non-fade bulletin board paper to avoid reflected light when I’m at my easel (that stands just to the right of this photo). Then I hung black metal grid panels that I got super cheap on Craigslist and use little magnets to stick the drawings to the grid wall. Now it’s easy to add, move or replace drawings with better ones as my skill improves and I can hang framed paintings from it with grid wall picture hooks.

Below are assorted figure and portrait drawings from past Friday Figure Drawing sessions. Click on any image to go to slide-viewing mode and click through them using the arrows on each side.

Sketching a Posing Pirate: Figure Drawing Tips

Pirate, Cutlass and Whiskey, Conte pencil on black paper

Pirate, Cutlass and Whiskey, Conte pencil on black paper, approx. 20×18 inches

After posing nude for a couple of hours, our wonderful male model dressed in a pirate costume, complete with plastic sword,  with sea shanty and pirate songs playing on the stereo. He was such a delight, with a warm smile and a white beard ending in a long, skinny braid. I used four Conté Pencils in white, black, sepia and sanguine on black pastel paper for this long pose (90 minutes).

I’m finding more ease with life drawing lately as I apply the techniques I’ve been taught over the years but that hadn’t “clicked” until now. Finally I’m willing to do a little measuring of lines, shapes and angles instead of “just going for it,” which is fun, but always wonky (not that my drawing isn’t still wonky, even when I do my best to measure—but I’ve also learned that “wonky” is what gives work our own style and I like my wonky.)

Three resources that have helped me learn to draw better:

  1. The book Sketching – from Square One … to Trafalgar Square that explains better than I can, techniques to improve your drawing.
  2. Sadie Valeri’s excellent student handout that I got when I took a workshop at her studio, which she has generously given me permission to share with you: sadie-valeri_draw_block-in_08-2013-2 (PDF Download).
  3. Sadie Valeri’s free video demonstration of how to do a “Straight Line Block In.” All of her videos are excellent, free or paid. She is one of the most generous and clear teachers that I’ve studied with. She is brilliant at lifting the veil between the subject, your eyes and your brain so that you can see what’s really there and draw it.

Here are the ways I practiced some of these techniques in this drawing:

  • first determined whether the subject is wider or narrower using a skinny stick (e.g. a bamboo skewer or knitting needle) held at arm’s length to compare both directions so I know whether to place the drawing and the paper in portrait (tall) or landscape (wide) orientation.
  • marked where I want the top and bottom of the drawing on the paper (to avoid decapitation or leg/foot amputations).
  • measured the size of the model’s head with the skewer, marking the size on the stick with my thumb and then moving down his body, measuring how many heads fit from his chin to the lowest part of his body (e.g bottom of foot). In this case there were 5 heads.
  • divided the space between the top and bottom marks on the paper into 5 equal sections, using the sepia pencil so it wouldn’t show much.
  • noted where on the models body each of those “head” divisions were (e.g. chin bottom, right knee top, left knee top, right foot bottom, left foot) and indicated that on the paper. I also noted how many “heads” wide the subject was at the widest part and marked that.
  • sketched the head in its section.
  • held up the skewer along the angles from the top of the head out to the sides to find the shape of the imaginary “envelope” that the pirate’s body would fit into and drew those lines lightly on the paper (see Sadie’s handout).
  • broke that envelope down into smaller and more exact shapes, looking for negative space shapes and angles to help find the shapes that made up his body parts.
  • continued doing the same, ending with the feet, which I didn’t quite finish as time ran out.
  • drew the whiskey bottle (which was actually empty) during model breaks.

The model asked to take a photo of my drawing at the end of class. That was a first…and a great payoff to practicing the tools!

Happy Halloween: Figure Drawing Date with a Skeleton

Halloween Date, charcoal on paper

Halloween Date, charcoal on paper

For a pre-Halloween figure drawing session, the model posed with a skeleton as if they were on a date, making small talk on the sofa. While the model and the rest of the group took a lunch break I continued drawing the skeleton, who needed no break and continued posing nicely.

I think we had about an hour and a half on this pose with the model, plus my time with Mr. Skeleton. I wish I’d sketched in a bit of the background so that their funky sofa wasn’t just floating in space.

Lady in Red at Dr. Sketchy's, ink & water-color pencil, 8x5.5"

Sketching Burlesque Pin-Up Girls: International Sketchcrawl 35, Part II

Lady in Red at Dr. Sketchy's, ink & water-color pencil, 8x5.5"

Lady in Red, ink & watercolor pencil, 8″x5.5″

Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School was holding a free Tease-O-Rama drawing session during the afternoon of the Sketchcrawl at a Holiday Inn. The models, all burlesque artists, were beautiful, with surprisingly natural bodies from heavy to thin, and without any apparent enhancements except makeup and feathers (and maybe wigs; their hair was just a little too perfect).

They were in town for a burlesque convention so the hotel was filled with people from this interesting subculture. Some looked quite ordinary when they changed out of their costumes (I was in the restroom when two ladies did that). Others were extraordinary in a variety of ways, costume or not (head to toe tattoos for example).

First pose of the day, ink & colored pencil, 8x5.5"

First pose of the day, ink & colored pencil, 8×5.5″

They really knew how to pose like pin-up girls and hold that come-hither look. The poses were each 15 minutes which was perfect. There were about 50 artists in the plush conference room, sitting audience-style in chairs, so I couldn’t get out my watercolor set. I just had my pens and a red watercolor pencil I borrowed from Cathy.

Last pose, least favorite, ink & colored pencil, 8x5.5"

Least favorite model/sketch, ink & colored pencil

The model’s outfit above was actually white but so was her skinny body, which was kind of boring to draw. I used a Micron Pigma pen and black and yellow Pitt Artist Brush Pens and Cathy’s red pencil.

Miss Red, in Green, ink & watercolor, 8x5.5"

Miss Redd, in green, ink. (Watercolor added later) 8×5.5″

I was delighted to discover that I could to do a competent job at not only drawing the models, but also fitting them on the page. If you do any figure drawing, I’m sure you know how easy it is to end up with no room for the feet (or worse, the head)! Frequent drawing practice and study has led to my being able to better see the angles, shapes, negative space, and plumb lines within the subject, which makes drawing easier. Yay!

The next model was way too creepy for me: a guy wearing a rhinestone-studded gas mask, a sequined g-string and black leather body straps. My sketch buddy Cathy had left after the first model, wanting to be outdoors, and I decided this was a good time to join her.

More sketches from the beautiful outdoors in the next post.

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