Saturday, December 31, 2011

Artists' Lay Figures, Part 2

When Edgar Degas painted his friend Henri Michel-Levy in 1878, he included a lay figure sprawled on the ground below him. 

How did lay figures hold a pose? As we saw in the final illustration yesterday, lay figures could be held up with ropes attached to the extremities. But some of them also had adjustable screws in the joints.

For standing poses, the figure generally also had a support attached to the pelvis from behind. This wood and metal skeleton has many points of articulation, even separate radius and ulna “bones” in the arm.

In this one, the arms also pronate, and the knees can rotate outward. All the joints can be tightened with screws. It has sort of a pre-Steampunk (“wood-punk?”) mech vibe to it. Imagine an army of these guys with crossbows. 

This full size lay figure had sufficient bulk and volume to support the shape of the clothes. But such mannikins never looked completely natural, and artists were often embarrassed to use them, regarding them as a poor substitute for a live model. 

For this reason, lay figures were not often discussed, or if so, they tended to be disparaged. The Journal of the Society of the Arts in 1854 said that under pressing financial circumstances, a painter with a “mercantile spirit” might use a lay figure that “answers for both the male and female form,” which could lead to a disharmonious and incongruous figure. 


9 comments:

Poet Whale said...

Wonderful Post!
Thought I was seeing double as I also read the blog Nothin but Mech.
Every drawing/anatomy class should be required to make their own lay figure.

Olaf said...

"wood-punk" must be old indeed. Anything before that must be regarded as "stone-punk". Thanks for the article!

James Gurney said...

PoetWhale, my friend Dennis Nolan (art teacher at U. Hartford) has some designs for just that: easy to build lay figures for art students using materials you can get cheap. I'll ask him if he's ready to share those ideas. It was a conversation with him that got me started on this post. Thanks, Dennis.

Drew said...

Oh I'd love some designs for a lay figure. I built myself a little mannequin out of sculpey a few years back that was just the three primary forms simplified into geometric forms, with a thick armature wire running through them to represent the spine. It's turned out to be really useful in helping get the spatial relationships down, so I imagine something like this can be equally useful.

youngstudios said...

Imagine an army of these guys with crossbows

lol i think someone already did.

[img]http://nirahlee.com/iswwr/evidence/406px-B1-2_negtd.jpg [/img]

etc, etc said...

That last example seated in a chair looks interesting.

The Surfin' Squid said...

Those skeletons are amazing--I love the idea of "wood-punk". It seems to me like something one might see in the workshop of an eccentric Dinotopian inventor.

Rick Hansen said...

A lay figure design would be helpful to alot of folks that don't have ready access to people to pose for them. Hope Dennis is willing to share.

Pyracantha said...

I find these figures scary.