Art Instruction · Commonplace Book · Here, Read

So you want to learn to draw human figures from your imagination?

If you want to learn to draw human figures from your imagination, here’s what I recommend…

  • Stay as far away from Burne Hogarth’s books as possible. Hogarth has absolutely NO IDEA how the human body really moves, and the simplified forms that he draws are only tenuously connected to real human anatomy. Everything of value that is in Hogarth’s books is in Loomis’s Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth, which is available for free as a PDF download from various sites and in a gorgeous facsimile edition from Titan Books. Loomis’s human beings are idealized, yes, but Hogarth’s are monstrosities. Stick with Loomis.
  • In opening section of Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth, “An Approach to Figure Drawing,” Loomis emphasizes the importance of the “mannikin figure” or “mannikin frame,” by which he means not merely the wooden figures that one can buy at an art supply store, which have somewhat limited usefulness, but lively three-dimensional, repeatable graphic visual simplifications of both male and female human bodies that one has practiced drawing from many angles and in a variety of poses until the process of construction has become second nature. “I am of the opinion,” writes Loomis, ” that to teach anatomy before proportion — before bulk and mass and action — is to put the cart before the horse.”  Loomis offers his own version of a skeletal mannikin figure, and demonstrates how to manipulate and flesh it out in a generalized way, but the point here is not that you must slavishly copy Loomis. Rather, the point is simply that if you are to reach your goal of drawing human figures from your imagination, you must endeavour to develop a conceptual mannikin figure of your own that you can use to lay out your compositions and that can serve as a solid basis for the more “realistic” figures that you will produce once you have increased, via intensive study and practice, your mental store of information about appearances, anatomy, movement, and so on (see below).
  • Always try to keep in mind (until it becomes second nature) Loomis’s BIG IDEA, which is that perspective applies to human bodies as much as it applies to buildings.
  • George Bridgman’s books are held in high esteem by experienced artists, but Bridgman’s drawings can be very difficult to decipher if you don’t already know what you’re looking at, so the books are not very good for beginners. IMHO, of course.
  • Buy the Vilppu Drawing Manual and follow Glenn Vilppu’s course of instruction. Vilppu sells the book via his website. His videos are also helpful because they enable you to watch him put theory into practice. A couple of Vilppu’s students have figure-drawing books out right now that are basically just the Vilppu method condensed and repackaged in a glossy format. Don’t buy those books. Buy Vilppu’s coil-bound original.
  • Buy a good anatomy book written for artists and USE IT. My top two recommendations from among the big “artistic anatomy” books that are currently in print and easily obtainable are Classic Human Anatomy: The Artist’s Guide to Form, Function, and Movement by Valerie L. Winslow and Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist by Stephen Rogers Peck. I also really like Anatomy: A Complete Guide for Artists by Joseph Sheppard, whose old-master influenced drawings are not only admirably clear but also aesthetically pleasing and inspiring in a way that drawings in modern anatomy books seldom are. And last but definitely not least, I like The Human Figure: An Anatomy for Artists by David K. Rubins, which is short, inexpensive, and has some of the clearest drawings of musculature of any artistic anatomy book I’ve seen. In fact, I like Rubins’s book so much that I cut the spine off of my copy and replaced it with a cerlox or “comb” binding, using a heavy-duty machine that I purchased for cheap at the local Habitat for Humanity Re-Store, so that I could lay book flat on my work surface for easy reference. But YMMV, as the kids used to say.
  • Sign up for a weekly class that offers the opportunity to draw from live nude models without instruction. Attend the class, and during the longer poses, attempt to draw exactly what you see. As you work your way through the Vilppu Drawing Manual, you will naturally begin to analyze the model in terms of simple volumes and anatomical landmarks; you will also learn about the importance of gesture. Vilppu doesn’t place much stock in contour drawing, but practice contour drawing anyway and work to incorporate specific details of what you have observed into the drawings that you make when you are not sitting in front of the model.
  • Don’t hesitate to use photo-reference that you’ve paid for or shot yourself to supplement your memory/imagination. Photographs can be misleading, sure, but treated as a source of telling details rather than as the last word on appearances, they can also help you breathe life into your constructions.
  • Keep a mirror close by, the larger the better, and use it, and your own body, to identify and solve problems in your figure drawings.
  • You’re allowed to erase. And you’ll be able to erase more easily if you keep a light touch in the early stages of your drawing. Sometimes, when you’ve made a serious blunder, like placing an arm in a position that is physically impossible for a real human being, you will want to erase completely and get back to white paper; at other times, however, you will want to leave the ghost of a good but not great form as a guideline for a smoother, more precise attack. Yes, you could place your incorrect drawing on a light box with a new sheet of paper over it and redraw it, or you could work on successive overlays of tracing paper. But keep in mind: erasing all but a ghost of the image is just as effective as those other methods, and it’s cheaper, too.
  • If you have the money and the time, sign up for a class in figure drawing with a good instructor. (Here’s a rule of thumb: if you can help it, don’t sign up for a class with an instructor who refuses to draw in front of the class.) Also, diligently attempt to do ALL of the assignments that the instructor asks you to do and work to incorporate his or her advice into your drawings. If you don’t want to do any assignments and you don’t want any advice, don’t sign up for a class in figure drawing that includes any instruction, period. You’ll only be wasting your money, your time, your instructor’s time, and, worst of all, your classmates’ time and money.
  • Jack Hamm’s Drawing the Head and Figure is an inexpensive book that is packed with interesting and useful tidbits of information. Definitely not essential, but I daresay that no other book on figure drawing delivers as much value for money.
  • Draw, draw, draw, draw, draw, draw, draw.

… or go your own way, and let your freak flag fly, because drawing naturalistic human figures in a convincing manner from your imagination is by no means the be-all and end-all of art.

[DRAFT 03 May 2013 11 May 2013]


Art Instruction · Collage Art · Here, Read · Look Here

Look Here, Read: An intro to old-school, cut-and-paste photomontage

At one of the local Thrift Stores a few days ago, I came across a stack of back issues of The Photo from the 1980s. Although most of the information in The Photo is out of date for those of us who have embraced the digital age, I still managed to pick out five issues that had articles and other features of interest to me. In fact, the first issue I picked up, the one that was right at the top of the pile — The Photo #22 (1981) — included an article called “Simple Montages” that I thought would be perfect to share here on RCN. One thing I noticed right away about The Photo is that the magazine regularly featured articles about how to photograph the (female) nude, which very strongly indicated to me here in 2012 that the editors circa 1981 thought the magazine’s readership was mostly men! Another thing I noticed is that, although the covers of The Photo generally featured the usual shots of athletes in action, picturesque landscapes, wildlife hi-jinks, etc., every once in a while they would feature a subject that was a little more provocative. Think of it as “fan service” for photo buffs. Or casual sexism in the service of sales, if you prefer. Either way, enjoy!


Now I don’t know about you, but whenever I see a photograph, painting, drawing, etc., of a naked woman, or even just an image of a beautiful woman period, I wonder how much of my response to the image, if my response is positive, is due to the presence of the naked and/or beautiful woman and how much is due to the formal qualities of the image…

Could a magazine sold in drugstores in 2012 get away with a cover image like the one featured on the front of The Photo #19 back in 1981? Somehow I doubt it…

Art Instruction · Commonplace Book · Drawing · Here, Read · Moebius

Jean “Moebius” Giraud on drawing from the work of other artists, from life, and from photos…


[KIM] THOMPSON: You attended art school, right?

[JEAN] GIRAUD: Yes. I began as a self-taught artist, copying other artists; then, luckily, I entered an art school, which freed up my hand and opened my eyes to a degree. It’s very dangerous to work only second-hand — referring only to other artists, that is. My teachers were of the old school: they insisted that in order to transcribe reality with any degree of freshness or personality, the eye had to be confronted with the three-dimensional image. Of course, I didn’t do it enough, and when I met [Belgian artist Joseph] Gillain, that’s what he told me. He said that one could work from photographs in a pinch, but the work wouldn’t have the same intrinsic quality. It’s true: you can be very adept at drawing from photographs, and yet completely lose the scope, the dimension of the original…

THOMPSON: It has a tendency to flatten out…

GIRAUD: Yes, you lose the perspective; there are so many details to transcribe that you get lost within the billions of pieces of information. Working from nature teaches you to synthesize.

THOMPSON: Have you ever worked from photos?

GIRAUD: Oh, yes, when I began working with Joseph Gillain, he taught me how to draw from photos. It’s a very special kind of skill; if you’re too loyal to the photo, it swallows you up. If, for instance, in the middle of a whole page of “personal” drawings, there is suddenly a drawing that is too…


GIRAUD: Not overworked, but too dependent on a photographic vision, it’s as if there’s a sudden hole in the page. You have to take the elements from the photo that you need, and retranscribe them through your personal computer, in order to get a personal vision. The same rule applies to drawing from nature. It’s very difficult, but it’s what enables the artist to bring his vision to a work. Otherwise he’s nothing but a parrot, or an ape. [pp. 86-87]

SOURCE: Jean Giraud, “The Other Side of Moebius,” interview by Kim Thompson, The Comics Journal #118 (December 1987), pp. 85-105.


Brandon Graham > That elephant rumble — a loose, baggy monster of a blog post that includes two pages from National Geographic displayed alongside two pages by Moebius (see also below).

kiCswiLA? > Un, Dos, … — a side-by-side comparison of a publicity still from the move Hondo and the Apaches starring Ralph Taeger and Moebius’s cover painting for the Lieutenant Blueberry album, The Trail of the Sioux.

quenched consciousness > Comics artist Leland Purvis sent me this photo… — a side-by-side comparison of a famous photograph by Horst P. Horst and one of Moebius’s Angel Claw drawings.

quenched consciousness > Approaching Centauri Page 3 w/photo reference

BONUS IMAGES (added 30 June 2013):

The following two swipes from National Geographic were noticed by Brandon Graham and posted on his blog:

A link to Graham’s post is included in the bonus links above as well as right here.

Andrew Loomis · Art Instruction · Artistic Anatomy · Heads Up!

Heads Up Follow-up: DRAWING THE HEAD AND HANDS by Andrew Loomis

Drawing the Head and Hands (160 pages; ISBN-10: 0857680978, ISBN-13: 978-0857680976) will be the second in Titan Books’ new line of facsimile editions of Andrew Loomis’s celebrated art instruction books. The first volume, Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth, is available now, and it’s a beauty. Other volumes that have already been announced include Fun with a Pencil and Creative Illustration.

And keep in mind: you don’t have to take my word that Loomis’s sophisticated but practical course of instruction will benefit any student of art who wishes to become proficient at drawing lively human figures in deep pictorial space from imagination as well as from life. Loomis’s books have been available for free download online for several years now. So before you order, you have nobody but yourself to blame if you haven’t already test-driven the content; however, if you have already taken Loomis’s analytical concepts and encouraging words for a spin, and you have a notion that what Loomis has to offer will help you get where you want to go as an artist, now is definitely the time to buy, because I daresay that even if you are much, much younger than I am, you are unlikely to see better reprints of Loomis’s books in your lifetime — though if Titan Books also decides to publish softcover editions, you might, eventually, see slightly cheaper ones.

See also:

Heads Up: “Drawing the Head and Hands” by Andrew Loomis

Andrew Loomis · Art Instruction · Artistic Anatomy · Heads Up!


Back on 10 November 2010, I posted to alert readers to the possible re-publication, in hardcover, of the art-instruction classic, Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth, by Andrew Loomis (see Heads Up: “Figure Drawing” by Andrew Loomis).

Well, I don’t have the book in my hands yet, but earlier today I received notification from that my order for “Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth” has shipped! Which is odd, because when I subsequently checked the record in the catalogue, the status of Loomis’s book was given as “Preorder Today! – Not Yet Released.” But apparently being “not yet released” is no hindrance to shipment via Canada Post!

I’ll certainly update this message if and when the book actually arrives at my door. But I have to say that, right now, it’s looking pretty damn good!


The good news is, the book arrived at my door about an hour ago! The better news is, Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth from Titan Books is exactly what any artist who is also a bibliophile would wish for in a Loomis reprint: hardcover, sewn binding, classic dustjacket, classic trim size (9.23 x 12.3 inches), excellent paper selection, crisp reproduction, and no silly additions. And what’s more, given the overall excellence of this reprint, the very best news is, the bottom corner of the back cover flap includes the following notice:


Drawing the Head and Hands
Fun with a Pencil
Creative Illustration

So collect ’em all, folks! You won’t regret it.

Andrew Loomis · Art Instruction · Artistic Anatomy · Heads Up!

Heads Up: “Figure Drawing” by Andrew Loomis

I don’t know whether to believe this or not — other Loomis reprints have been announced before and come to nothing — but an search of drawing books to be published in 2011 brings up the following:

Figure Drawing [Hardcover]

Andrew Loomis (Author)

List Price: CDN$ 46.00
Price: CDN$ 28.84 & this item ships for FREE with Super Saver Shipping. Details
You Save: CDN$ 17.16 (37%)

This title will be released on May 31, 2011.

# Hardcover: 208 pages
# Publisher: Titan Books (May 31 2011)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 0857680986
# ISBN-13: 978-0857680983

It’s strange to think that Loomis’s legendary art instruction books are all out of print in English. I read once that the lack of reprint editions had something to do with a certain lack of interest on the part of the copyright holders; however, if the copyright holders have had a change of heart, all I can say is, HALLELUJAH!

Of course, Loomis’s books are all available for download from various sites, but I say that a book in the hand is worth a dozen on the hard drive.


Heads Up Follow-up: FIGURE DRAWING FOR ALL IT’S WORTH! — in which I confirm that the Titan Books reprint is really real.

Art Instruction · Link Roundup · Oh the places I've been...

Free Art Instruction: A Few Good Links


Phil McAndrew! > Super Obvious Secrets That I Wish They’d Teach In Art School by Phil McAndrew — what are the ten habits of highly effective illustrators and cartoonists? Phil knows, and if you take a moment to read his advice, you will too.

@random > From Idea Sketch to Final Painting: Kent Williams, Mother and Daughter (2009), oil on linen, 42 x 50 in. — not art instruction per se, but much can be gleaned from step-by-step process photos, and the finished work is a knockout!


comic tools > April 11, 2009: Ball, hoop, cone, vase | April 18, 2009: Basic Bones | April 26, 2009: Torso Muscles | May 3, 2009: Upper Arms (and Kirby Dots) | May 10, 2009: The Forearm | May 17, 2009: Leg Muscles | May 24, 2009: Neck Muscles.

Ragged Claws Network > Anatomical Reference Sheets — seven plates from an old anatomy book for art students.

Ragged Claws Network > Download Here: “Constructive Anatomy” by George B. Bridgman > Rey’s Anatomy by Rey Bustos – a display of images that use Flash technology to interactively cross fade from photos of real and sculpted human figures to drawings of those same figures with the skin removed to display the underlying musculature.


Some of these links are repeated in other categories.

AlexHays . Portolio > Save Loomis! — download PDFs of Fun with a Pencil, Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth, Drawing the Head & Hands, Successful Drawing, Creative Illustration, and Eye of the Painter, all for free. The books are also available via Illustration Age and the Internet Archive.

ComiCrazys > ComiCrazys Archive for the Famous Artists Cartoon Course Category — 18 free lessons and counting; available in both PDF and JPEG formats.

Lulu > The Practice and Science of Drawing by Harold Speed — download a free PDF of the classic book courtesy of

Ragged Claws Network > Download Here: “Constructive Anatomy” by George B. Bridgman


Animation Resources > Preston Blair’s Advanced Animation — a classic! The whole book is online, but you have to download it page by page.

The Art of Jake Parker > Agent 44: Fixing It Old School — learn how cartoonists make art corrections in the real world.

arglebargle! > Ken Hultgren on Cartooning

ComiCrazys > ComiCrazys Archive for the Famous Artists Cartoon Course Category — 18 free lessons and counting; available in both PDF and JPEG formats.

comic tools > Comic Tools: Tutorials — learn about basic anatomy, balloon shapes, Kirby energy dots, perfect white-out consistency, ruling pens, cutting techniques, art corrections, scanning, and lots more.

Karmatoons Inc. > Drawing for Classical Animation — learn how to construct characters out of basic three-dimensional shapes, how to animate your characters according to time-tested principles, and how to create naturalistic movement through the use of live-action reference.

Richmond Illustration Inc! > Tom Richmond’s MAD Blog Cartooning/Caricature Tutorials — noses, hands, crowd scenes, cross hatching, and more.

The Tools Artists Use — find out what tools your fellow artists keep in their toolboxes that you might add to yours.


ProkoTV > includes two playlists — “How to Draw Facial Features” (eight videos, two each on eyes, nose, lips, and ears) and “How to Draw the Head from Any Angle” (four videos). Also includes videos on shading, how to draw hair, how to draw Jack Skellington, and how to draw Santa Claus.


Character Designs > Photosets by Hong Ly — free figure reference for artists, licensed under a Creative Commons license, the very reasonable terms of which can be found on the Character Designs site; the 39 photosets include both nude and costumed models.

Figure & Gesture Drawing > Figure Drawing Practice — a customizable, timed slide-show of nude and clothed models designed to help you to practice gesture drawing; please note, however, that the images are copyrighted and as such cannot be used to create derivative works. They’re offered for private practice only.

Reference! Reference! — clips of animals and people in motion. The site is intended as a “free database for animation,” but any artist with an interest in drawing from life will find the clips a useful resource resource for home study.


Figure & Gesture Drawing > Animal Drawing Practice — a customizable, timed slide-show of animals designed to help you to practice gesture drawing; please note, however, that the images are copyrighted and as such cannot be used to create derivative works. They’re offered for private practice only.


Art Instruction Blog > A Direct Approach to Acrylic Painting by Greg Biolchini — watch as Biolchini maps out a painting, in detail, with charcoal on canvas and then elaborates and finishes the image with layers of transparent and opaque acrylic paint. Don’t worry about whether or not you like Biolchini’s style; it’s the order of operations that’s important.

John Singer Sargent’s Painting Process (PDF) — compiled from various sources by Craig “Goodbrush” Mullins. Here’s a snippet that will surprise many who’ve been taught to do the exact opposite: “If you see a thing [such as a shadow] transparent, paint it transparent; don’t get the effect by a thin strain showing the canvas through. That’s a mere trick. The more delicate the transition, the more you must study it for the exact tone.”

The Pictorial Arts > Russell Flint’s Technique — if you think of watercolour as inflexible and unforgiving, you need to read this account of Russell Flint at work. Here, in a nutshell, is the secret: “it is an essential characteristic of Flint’s method that, though the successive washes are put on with all the freshness, sparkle and purity of which he is capable, they must be absolutely dry, stage by stage, before the drawing is proceeded with.” Choose overly absorbent paper, use mostly staining colours, overwork the washes, don’t let them dry thoroughly between applications, and lifting/corrections will be impossible. > Scott Burdick: Demonstrations – nine in oil, one in watercolour. Even if the subject matter is not to your taste, you can learn something here about the traditional alla prima method of working out a painting in oil from the initial block in to the final flourishes.

Sovek: The Art of Charles Sovek > Lessons from the Easel – The Basics by Charles Sovek

UNBORED > Gary Panter’s drawing tips by Josh – ten simple ideas to free your mind and your hand.

OTHER “HOW TO” INFORMATION: > Build Your Own Easel! – Free Easel Plans by Benjamin Grosser.

lines and colors > Pochade Boxes by Charley Parker — includes a lot of interesting and useful information as well as links to both commercial and do-it-yourself options.

WetCanvas > Making a Canvas Board! by Larry Seiler


Blender — a free open source 3D content creation suite, available for all major operating systems under the GNU General Public License.

GIMP — the GNU Image Manipulation Program. GIMP is a freely distributed piece of software for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition, and image authoring. It works on many operating systems, in many languages.

IrfanView — a very fast, small, compact and innovative FREEWARE (for non-commercial use) graphic viewer for Windows 9x, ME, NT, 2000, XP, 2003, 2008, Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8.

Microsoft Image Composite Editor (ICE) — Given a set of overlapping photographs of a scene shot from a single camera location, ICE creates a high-resolution panorama that seamlessly combines the original images. The panorama can be saved in a wide variety of image formats, from common formats like JPEG and TIFF to the multiresolution tiled format used by Silverlight’s Deep Zoom and by the HD View and HD View SL panorama viewers.

Photoscape — a free and easy photo-editing program that enables you to fix and enhance digital images.

Art Instruction · Artistic Anatomy

Anatomical Reference Sheets

Nick Zuccarello put together a set of six anatomical reference sheets for a class he was teaching, and he has kindly made those plates available on his blog for others to download. The drawn diagrams are from one of Zuccarello’s “favorite anatomy books,” Strength Training Anatomy by Frederic Delavier, and the photos are from the 3dsk site. The sheets, which cover the basics in extremely condensed form, focus on the torso, legs, and arms, and at the very least, will give you a preview of what the diagrams in the Strength Training Anatomy book are like.

UPDATE (25 November 2010):

Here are seven anatomical charts from the first edition of the book, Human Anatomy for Artist Students, by Sir Alfred Fripp and Ralph Thompson, with drawings by Innes Fripp; sorry they are such low resolution images, but if only one impoverished artist out there finds them useful, it will have all been worth it:


Funny thing is, Human Anatomy for Artist Students is NOT currently out of print. Of course the book has long been in the public domain, so anyone could potentially publish a new edition. The only company that has done so, however, is Dover Publications (see ISBN-10: 0486447715, ISBN-13: 978-0486447711). Ah, Dover! I do love you so!

Art Instruction · Artistic Anatomy · Download Here

Download Here: “Constructive Anatomy” by George B. Bridgman

Here’s a classic art instruction book by George B. Bridgman (1864-1943), first published in May 1920 and now in the public domain (see Wikipedia: “According to s. 6 of the [Canadian Copyright] Act the copyright of a work lasts the life of the author plus 50 years from the end of the calendar year of death“; “In the United States, all books and other works published before 1923 have expired copyrights and are in the public domain“), available from Ragged Claws Network as a free download (click the cover image):


Here are some teaser images:

Andrew Loomis · Art Instruction · Artistic Anatomy · Download There · Drawing · Illustration Art

Download: Six Books by Andrew Loomis


UPDATED (08 April 2013; 27 May 2019):

Just noticed that that distribution site for Loomis’s books that I originally linked to here is no longer in operation.

The good news, however, is that Loomis’s books have long been available in PDF format via Alex Hays’ Save Loomis! page.

AND they are available via the Internet Archive.

(The books used to be distributed via the Illustration Age site, but that’s no longer the case. The explanation offered is as follows: “Out of respect for the Andrew Loomis estate, Illustration Age has removed these out-of-print books from our free collection.” Previously, however, Illustration Age site claimed that Loomis’s books “are free to distribute because of their public domain status.” My view is, if the books are in the public domain, they’re in the public domain. Too bad for the estate that they didn’t give a shit about the books when they could easily have protected the copyright. But what’s done is done. In fact, the free PDFs are what prompted me and others to buy the lovely the hardcover reprints a few years back. Free e-Loomis for everyone!)