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]


Commonplace Book · Harvey Kurtzman · Here, Read

HELP! co-publisher and editor Harvey Kurtzman receives a pitch from Kurt Vonnegut…

October 18, 1961
West Barnstable, Mass.

Dear Mr. Kurtzman:

I have been a queasy fan of yours for a good while now. I would be enormously pleased if something of mine got into Help. Would the idea of shelter-hopping kits interest you? Families too big or too lazy or too poor to build adequate fallout shelters could buy from our company quite cheap kits guaranteed to open any shelter yet recommended by Civil Defense.

The cheapest kit, selling for $14.95, say, would consist of a World War Two surplus cylinder of Cyklon B, guaranteed by I.G. Farben, and a shaped charge for blowing the lock on any shelter door. More luxurious kits might include C.D. uniforms, all-clear signals; tape recordings of beloved family pets scratching to be let in, tape recordings of old A.B.C. speeches on the harmlessness of fallout; grenades, bazookas, flamethrowers, etc. We recommend that no informed person go anywhere without the basic kit, since the necessity of getting into a shelter is likely to arise at any time. We therefore package the kits to look like attache cases, lunchpails, hatboxes, shopping bags, copies of Dr. Zhivago, etc.

As a rule of thumb, we recommend that, for minimum safety during nuclear war, each person be equipped to take over three shelters. We say this, because there are bound to be disappointments—meagerly equipped shelters, shelters furnished in bad taste, septic tanks mistaken for shelters, etc. One town figured the appalling cost of building community shelters, decided instead to buy enough kits to take over the shelters of an adjoining town, thereby saving enough money to send the high school band to the next Orange Bowl game. With every order goes a subscription to our news letter, which tells who is building shelters where, what they are putting into them, and how the owners intend to defend them.

Etc. More details on request.


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.

Book/Magazine Covers (All) · Book/Magazine Covers (Jones) · Commonplace Book · Frank Frazetta · Here, Read · Illustration Art · Jeffrey "Jeff" Catherine Jones · Look Here · YouTube Finds · Zebra/Kensington Covers (Jones)

Louise Simonson on Frank Frazetta, Jeffrey Jones, and photo reference…

Below is a partial transcript of the above clip, with bold added for emphasis:

“Well, when Jeff did work for Warren, I wasn’t there [working for Warren] yet. I was, uhm, working in advertising promotion and, for another publisher, a magazine publisher in the city [New York]. Uhm, I think during this time Jeff may have discovered using reference? And it made a huge difference in his work. I remember at one point he, he, it suddenly occurred to him… okay, all right, back in the olden days there was a story that Frank Frazetta said that he never used reference and anybody who used reference was cheating. So a generation of young artists grew up thinking using reference is bad and cheating and this is, I don’t know, I don’t know why Frank did that because I know he used reference, I know he did. [Laughter.] Uhm, anyway, so I guess at one point Jeff just cracked and started using reference and his work got, it took a huge leap forward, so I do remember that, and I believe that was, maybe some of that might have been during the Warren period. Uhm, he just did a few things for Warren. He didn’t do that much.”

— Louise Simonson, Better Things Panel, San Diego Comic Con 2011

“My work looks the way it looks because I shoot reference.
I need that information, then I can play with it.” — Jeffrey Jones, in conversation with George Pratt



From my very own library of brittle old paperbacks:


To view all of the Zebra/Kensington editions of Robert E. Howard’s books with Jones covers that I’ve posted so far, click here.

Keywords: The Vultures of Whapeton.

Commonplace Book · Here, Read

Donald Barthelme on “the ugly sentence”…

“What I like about ‘Paraguay’ [from the collection, City Life] is the misuse of language and the tone. Mixing bits of this and that from various areas of life to make something that did not exist before is an oddly hopeful endeavor. The sentence ‘Electrolytic jelly exhibiting a capture ratio far in excess of standard is used to fix the animals in place’ made me very happy — perhaps in excess of its merit. But there is in the world such a thing as electrolytic jelly; the ‘capture ratio’ comes from the jargon of sound technology; and the animals themselves are a salad of the real and the invented. The flat, almost ‘dead’ tone paradoxically makes possible an almost lyricism. I think my Paraguay is an almost-beautiful place…. Every writer in the country can write a beautiful sentence, or a hundred. What I am interested in is the ugly sentence that is also somehow beautiful. I agree that this is a highly specialized enterprise, akin to the manufacture of merkins, say — but it’s what I do. Probably I have missed the point of the literature business entirely. But ‘Paraguay’ is for me a hint of what I would like to do, if I could do it.”

—Donald Barthelme (1931 – 1989), introduction to “Paraguay,” Writer’s Choice (New York: D. McKay Co., 1974) (via)

Commonplace Book · Here, Read

Geoffrey Hill on “difficult” art…


What comes up often in reviews of your work is the idea of an overly intellectual bent; in recent reviews of The Triumph of Love, often the word difficult comes up. People mention that it’s worth going through or it isn’t worth going through.


Like a Victorian wedding night, yes. Let’s take difficulty first. We are difficult. Human beings are difficult. We’re difficult to ourselves, we’re difficult to each other. And we are mysteries to ourselves, we are mysteries to each other. One encounters in any ordinary day far more real difficulty than one confronts in the most “intellectual” piece of work. Why is it believed that poetry, prose, painting, music should be less than we are? Why does music, why does poetry have to address us in simplified terms, when if such simplification were applied to a description of our own inner selves we would find it demeaning? I think art has a right — not an obligation — to be difficult if it wishes. And, since people generally go on from this to talk about elitism versus democracy, I would add that genuinely difficult art is truly democratic. And that tyranny requires simplification. This thought does not originate with me, it’s been far better expressed by others. I think immediately of the German classicist and Kierkegaardian scholar Theodor Haecker, who went into what was called “inner exile” in the Nazi period, and kept a very fine notebook throughout that period, which miraculously survived, though his house was destroyed by Allied bombing. Haecker argues, with specific reference to the Nazis, that one of the things the tyrant most cunningly engineers is the gross oversimplification of language, because propaganda requires that the minds of the collective respond primitively to slogans of incitement. And any complexity of language, any ambiguity, any ambivalence implies intelligence. Maybe an intelligence under threat, maybe an intelligence that is afraid of consequences, but nonetheless an intelligence working in qualifications and revelations . . . resisting, therefore, tyrannical simplification.

So much for difficulty. Now let’s take the other aspect — overintellectuality. I have said, almost to the point of boring myself and others, that I am as a poet simple, sensuous, and passionate. I’m quoting words of Milton, which were rediscovered and developed by Coleridge. Now, of course, in naming Milton and Coleridge, we were naming two interested parties, poets, thinkers, polemicists who are equally strong on sense and intellect. I would say confidently of Milton, slightly less confidently of Coleridge, that they recreate the sensuous intellect. The idea that the intellect is somehow alien to sensuousness, or vice versa, is one that I have never been able to connect with. I can accept that it is a prevalent belief, but it seems to me, nonetheless, a false notion. Ezra Pound defines logopaeia as “the dance of the intellect among words.” But elsewhere he changes intellect to intelligence. Logopaeia is the dance of the intelligence among words. I prefer intelligence to intellect here. I think we’re dealing with a phantom, or as Blake would say, a specter. The intellect — as the word is used generally — is a kind of specter, a false imagination, and it binds the majority with exactly the kind of mind-forged manacles that Blake so eloquently described. The intelligence is, I think, much more true, a true relation, a true accounting of what this elusive quality is. I think intelligence has a kind of range of sense and allows us to contemplate the coexistence of the conceptual aspect of thought and the emotional aspect of thought as ideally wedded, troth-plight, and the circumstances in which this troth-plight can be effected are to be found in the medium of language itself. I could speak about the thing more autobiographically; it’s the emphasis where one is most likely to be questioned, n’est-ce pas?

SOURCE: Hill, Geoffrey. Interview by Carl Phillips. “Geoffrey Hill, The Art of Poetry No. 80.” The Paris Review. Web. 10 January 2012.

Commonplace Book · Here, Read · Obituaries

Christopher Hitchens on writing and the “will to live”…

“I am typing this having just had an injection to try to reduce the pain in my arms, hands, and fingers. The chief side effect of this pain is numbness in the extremities, filling me with the not irrational fear that I shall lose the ability to write. Without that ability, I feel sure in advance, my ‘will to live’ would be hugely attenuated. I often grandly say that writing is not just my living and my livelihood but my very life, and it’s true. Almost like the threatened loss of my voice, which is currently being alleviated by some temporary injections into my vocal folds, I feel my personality and identity dissolving as I contemplate dead hands and the loss of the transmission belts that connect me to writing and thinking.”

— Christopher Hitchens (13 April 1949 – 15 December 2011), “Trial of the Will,” Vanity Fair (January 2012)

Christopher Hitchens died yesterday, 15 December 2011, at the age of 62. The cause of death is reported to have been pneumonia, a common complication of the esophageal cancer for which he had been receiving treatment.

“In whatever kind of a ‘race’ life may be, I have very abruptly become a finalist.”
— Christopher Hitchens, “Topic of Cancer,” Vanity Fair (September 2010)

Continue reading “Christopher Hitchens on writing and the “will to live”…”

Charles Schulz · Commonplace Book · Here, Read

Charles Schulz on the process of drawing with one’s eyes…

“While I am carrying on a conversation with someone, I find that I am drawing with my eyes. I find myself observing how his shirt collar comes around from behind his neck and perhaps casts a slight shadow on one side. I observe how the wrinkles in his sleeve form and how his arm may be resting on the edge of the chair. I observe how the features on his face move back and forth in perspective as he rotates his head. It actually is a form of sketching and I believe that it is the next best thing to drawing itself. I sometimes feel it is obsessive, but at least it accomplishes something for me.”

— Charles Schulz

Commonplace Book · Here, Read

Jonathan Lethem on the universal triumph of “Canadian” lobsters…

“I lived for a time in Canada, and found myself fascinated by the slavish pride of a culture basking in a self-recriminating joke. ‘A lobsterman turned his back on three catches in an uncovered bucket. A bystander worried the lobsters would escape, but the lobsterman waved him off, saying, “No problem, these are Canadian lobsters. If one reaches the top the others will pull him back in.”‘ Yet who, lately, seeing how transparent the Internet-comments culture has made our vast leveling rage, our chortling conformism and anti-intellectualism, our scapegoat-readiness, could keep from thinking: ‘We’re all Canadian lobsters on this bus.'”

—Jonathan Lethem, “Advertisements for Norman Mailer: Salvage from an Infatuation,” Los Angeles Review of Books