Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Three Steps in Blocking the Hand

The teachers of the Famous Artist's School correspondence course were good at drawing hands, especially Al Dorne, who I believe did these examples. 

They had a useful three-step process for approaching the challenge: 1. Gesture, 2. Construction, and 3. Refinement.

1. Gesture. The first pass shows placement and action, using curving or straight lines. This should be sketched lightly so that you can erase it later.

2. Construction. The second pass conceives the fingers as solid block-like forms. Be aware of relative size of forms.

3. Refinement. Add small forms using lighting that reinforces the structure. Don't lose the large gesture and simple forms worked out in the previous two steps. 

Here are some quotes from the course materials:

"It is helpful to think of the hand as being composed of three masses—the palm, the thumb part, and the mass of the fingers."

"The block method of construction is particularly useful in working out foreshortened views of the hand because it is easier to imagine what happens in perspective to a cube than a finger."

"The nail fits into the top plane of the finger and rises slightly toward the tip. Note how the top plane slants downward from the knuckle to the nail."

"You need never be at a loss for hands to study. Even when drawing, you have another hand to serve as a model at any time. If you place a mirror in front of yourself to reflect your free hand you will have an infinite variety of poses to choose from."
Copies of the Famous Artist School binders appear in the used-book market from time to time. The links below take you to a couple sets on Amazon. Make sure the editions of the binders are from the 1950s, as the quality of the drawings goes down in later versions.

Famous Artists Course 3 binder set
Famous Artists Course Lessons 1 - 24

Many of the same lessons on hands (and heads and figures) were reprinted in a single volume book: The Figure: An Artist's Approach to Drawing and Construction


Fabio said...

Would be great to be able to get those in europe!
I have a question for you James, though not strictly related.
How far do you think one can get with his own resources? Say, even if they are plenty, and well done, like this, even if there are plenty of online courses and videos, do you think one needs to take actual real life drawing classes/sessions in order to improve over a certain level? Since observation is essential, I mean.
I saw plenty of online courses, even well structured ones, but they all have the very same limit of using photographs, and I guess that does make the difference, doesn't it?

James Gurney said...

Fabio, I sympathize with the question, because I faced that when I was around 20 years old. I tried art school, but it was too expensive, and 90% of the teachers didn't know anything. Online didn't exist then (1980) and I didn't want to work from photos, so I got a membership to the zoo and the natural history museum and made myself a very ambitious curriculum, two classes per day, with most of my time working from life, and some of my time studying from these great old books (Loomis, Famous Artists, Rockwell, etc). I gave myself classes on animal anatomy, animation, cast drawing, things like that which weren't taught in schools then anyway. I believe that is the best way to learn, provided you are disciplined enough to follow a challenging routine.

Paul Sullivan said...

James—I faced similar problems to the ones you faced and I thank heaven for the Famous Artists Course. I started the course in 1954 when I was 15 years old. Art schools cost too much and in the 50s my college art classes did not teach any realistic drawing or painting. In those days most colleges focused only on abstract art. Also, at that time there were not that many good art instruction books on the market and videos did not exist.

The Andrew Loomis books, the Famous Artists Course and constant practice became my schooling. This was true of thousands of successful artists—especially those who grew up from the 1950s through the 70s. In my studio today, 62 years later, I still have my set of FA binders. Years ago I put selected pages in a large folder and still refer to them. To paraphrase Michelangelo, "Drawing is the key."

Today there are a multitude of books, videos and online demonstrations from which the art student can learn. Art education is not like an automatic car wash. You don't go in at one point and come out at another as an artist. Learning how to be an artist takes a love of doing artwork and the determination to see it through.

Fabio said...

Thanks for your reply (and Paul as well)!
Indeed, I think I will go for the solo challenge myself in the end. I've seen too many dispersive classes and the ones that really attract me (Watts atelier) are way too expensive because of the location, in addition to the fees.
I found that the Watts Atelier also has online courses, so I will probably use that in addition to specific self study (I wish I could find resources like casts and models more easily from where I currently still live)
Anyway yeah, I guess self discipline is the key, and I would also like to thank you for the amazing resources and expertise (with the blog, but also videos and books, I have them all) you share with us.

Laila Raslan said...

How timely, I've been doing hand and foot studies the past week (my own) and I've been extremely disappointed with the results. I think sometimes I need to have the idea of simplifying the tonal qualities to describe the general planes played back to me, because I will start to model the form, overdeveloping some areas and losing the relationship that defines form. It can be difficult to find the balance between putting that last stroke down, to the benefit of the work and placing strokes that start to destroy the underlying structure in an attempt to render the minutia-- the issue of losing the construction in the refinement I suppose. Glad you posted this!

Russell Dickerson said...

That block method for hands is exactly how I finally convinced my brain to do hands correctly. I found that it took a lot of the guesswork out, and made me more confident when it came time to put hands into the scene.

I wish I still had the links, but about a decade ago there were quite a few of the old books online as PDF files. This was before places like Titan Books started putting out good, and nicely inexpensive, versions of the books. I learned a lot from Loomis, the Famous Artists course, Living Anatomy by Burns and Colenso, Bridgman, Lutz, even Light and Water (reflections) by Pollock.

I'm still one to buy the books as they are rereleased in "good" versions, but I also have built a small library of art books over the years. If a couple of shelves counts as a library of art books, of course.

Drake Gomez said...

James, thanks for posting this excerpt from the FA course. I have a copy of the books from 1967 which I value greatly, but didn't realize the quality of the drawings diminished over time. Guess I'll have to find a copy from the 1950's to compare.

It seems the online equivalents of the old correspondence courses seem to gravitate toward either atelier-style or CG-focused instruction. I think both are great for students who are certain of the direction they wish to go. What was great about the Famous Artists course, though, is that it was mostly style-neutral. Though clearly geared toward the aspiring commercial illustrator, the instruction was broad and just as relevant for the aspiring gallery artist, graphic designer, and so forth. That's hard to find online today, unless I've just missed it.

James Gurney said...

I appreciate everybody's comments. Paul, I like what you said especially: "Art education is not like an automatic car wash. You don't go in at one point and come out at another as an artist. Learning how to be an artist takes a love of doing artwork and the determination to see it through."

Jim Douglas said...

In my humble opinion, any discussion of drawing hands is incomplete without mentioning Jerome Witkin. Check out the below link to view just one of the many masterful drawings he has made of his own hands:
"Jerome’s lithos show a variation on the theme-“Hands as Actors”. They are all single color prints from positive photo plates. The artist draws on frosted mylar with black pencils, crayons and or solvent or water tusches. The washes are usually strengthened with copy machine toner to give darkness and half-tones. When dry, the drawing is ‘shot’ on a positive plate and gummed down for printing. Each sheet size is 22″x 28″."

Tom Hart said...

Funny how a single insight from a teacher can impress you, and how the resonance varies from person to person - an individual thing to some extent. A figure drawing teacher of mine once reminded us to be mindful of the "swing" of the knuckles, the gentle arch that they make, as opposed to a straight line. That little tip (second only, perhaps, to the blocking tip) has been a great help to me.