Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Expressive Figures

"Whoops! (after Dorne), graphite, 2015
The human form is one of the most challenging subjects for an artist, mostly owing to the complexity of anatomy. But it's also difficult to draw believable figures without knowing a bit about an area of psychology known as kinesics also popularly known as body language. Whether we know it or not, most of us are adept at reading the posture and other cues in the bodies of others. (So are dogs.) For example, a person with arms tightly crossed, and brows knitted into a V is likely to be angry, and we can see that without a word spoken. In a two person tableau, a woman with crossed arms, turned away from a man with spread hands is not only angry, she's angry with him.

Artists exploit our understanding of body language in every kind of visual realism, from history painting to video games to anime. Figures are part of the world of realism, so a dedicated realist painter needs facility in making them believed. Body language is certainly one critical part of drawing or painting believable people. The drawing to the right is a copy of a drawing by the great Albert Dorne a renowned illustrator of the mid-20th century and one of the founders of the Famous Artists School (Norman Rockwell was another). In the Dorne copy, the elderly woman has been surprised and is reacting with surprise and shock. Mr. Dorne gave us all of that with her shoulders and elbows back posture and astonished expression.

"Nocturne, oil on panel, 2009, private collection
It seems a natural for any artist who wants to improve skill with any medium from charcoal to pixels to practice figure drawing but also to think deeply on expressive postures--body language. That is part of my practice in figures. My painted figures begin with sketches, but sometimes simply evolve during painting. Here, in "Nocturne" (oil, 2009) the painting progressed organically from a single figure to two. Further, my two protagonists are at a point of poise--action stopped but perhaps about to resume--perhaps they've been talking, perhaps not. She is turned away from him and toward us, the viewers. He is down a narrow hallway, in the background but framed by a bright overhead light. My intent was to make him look suddenly stopped, even surprised, while she looks down and away, apparently sad and dejected.

"Despair," digital study, 2012
Figures can express happiness, joy, despair, and nearly any combination of emotions, simply with postures. Here in a digital sketch my intent was to show a person in deep sadness--despair--by posture and composition alone. This is a digital study done using ArtRage in emulation of oil paint. The figure is dark against the lighter background, flooded with brightness. Hands on face and slumping suggest sadness. The world, and light, are blocked by the darkness of the figure and the wall between us. So far this one has yet to make it to canvas, but may yet prove to be a subject.

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