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not quite a rant on drawing books
Remember a while ago back when I posted this scan of a kind of terrifying smiling Wolverine that was an example in the Wizard How to Draw: Heroic Anatomy book? Well, back when I first leafed through the book I was also pissed off at the chapters on drawing women (at some chapters more than others), but I couldn't quite figure out what exactly annoyed me so much, since it wasn't just straightforward sexism bothered me.

Not that that is absent, but it is a Wizard publication, and those chapters are explaining how to draw conventionally "beautiful" and "attractive" women for comic books, so it's not like I expected much in the way of feminist consciousness or anything. The mere fact that there are four chapters in the anatomy section on drawing women that have no equivalent for drawing men in their book is quite telling. The chapters in question are "Women" (by Joe Linsner), "Sultry Women" (by Adam Hughes), "Realistic Women" (by Terry Moore) and "Sex Appeal" (by Michael Turner). And yes, the one on sex appeal doesn't mention men at all. There's another one called "Superheroic Women" but there's also a chapter "Superheroic Men". Since the book is actually not that bad with including women as examples in the other chapters dealing with "regular" anatomy (hand, feet, faces, muscles, etc) compared to some other drawing books I've seen (like I mentioned in an earlier entry), it's unsurprising that the "special" chapters deal with women as sex objects.

I found the presentation somewhat bizarre in places, because clearly a lot of those sections were intended to come across as a bit self-mocking, only, well... I think an example will show what I mean. Here's a page from the chapter "Women" with the subsection for some reason called "The Triple Threat" (threat? wtf?!?), pointing out that main areas of interest in the blunt approach to creating attractiveness (from the heterosexual male POV) would be breasts, ass (they printed "butt" of course *eyeroll*) and legs. Duh. Who would have thought. I mean, that paragraph doesn't even explain anything about drawing any of these, so why include this? Actually Linsner explains at the beginning of the chapter that he's just going to explain what features he finds attractive in women, and is not actually going to talk about, you know, drawing these features. He continues for two more pages in a similar way, pointing out that eyes, hands, lips and hips were also attractive, and at the end I was mostly "whatever", but not all that aggravated.

That changed with the next chapter "Sultry Women", in particular with this page. The point this is trying to make about breast size and that larger breasts won't necessarily look better is fair enough, however it could have been done in a less offensive manner, that doesn't point to the example that fat women also have large breasts and of course "fat=ugly" is assumed as a given. I mean, in his chapter Terry Moore managed to draw examples that exaggerate the same problem (unrealistic breasts) along with some others, like here and here, and show how it doesn't really look good to draw women this way, without being that offensive.

But I realized that what aggravated me so much wasn't just the "fat is obviously ugly" aspect of that picture. While I'm not into the anorexic look and also think that what looks good in terms of weight, build, curves... whatever, depends a lot on the individual woman (or man), I'm not above conventional ideas of attractiveness either. I think what got to me is that she's a) eating and from the litter around her and the fact that it's not like she's sitting down for a meal it seems implied that she does so constantly (going with the cliche that fat people are fat because they have no self-control etc) and b) she's not even enjoying to eat, but looks very much unhappy. Combine that with the image that mocked the fanboy on the earlier page from Linsner's chapter which used "fat" among other things to evoke the impression of "ungroomed" and "unattractive" (though OTOH it also shows definite similarities with the artist, except for the hair-length, so there's the element of irony again), and you get this thread that fat is not just ugly, but comes with undesirable personality traits as well. Meh.

Anyway, this got me thinking about how bodies in general are depicted in drawing books, and I think often too little attention is paid to how different bodies look, when bodies are conceptualized in books on drawing humans. I mean, the obvious thing every drawing book will tell you is to study humans, draw from life, carry a sketchbook with you, blablablah, which is of course as true as it is supremely unhelpful. Nobody needs a book to know that to draw and study real people is good practice, OTOH drawing from life has also limitations, which is most likely the reason why you got the drawing book in the first place. Maybe the sketches from RL just won't turn out right and you want to figure out what you're doing wrong, or maybe you're at at a point when you need to "construct" and arrange a bunch of humans without direct reference to get the picture you want with reasonable effort. (Obviously you could try to convince a friend to crouch and jump with a fake sword while you study this or take pictures with a motion sensitive camera from exactly the angle you want, but you probably end up quickly with friends who get suspicious when you invite them over for "dinner".)

Depending on the focus of the drawing book it will more about the first or the second scenario, but in any case they usually break down humans in easier shapes, point out underlying functions, give a general sense of proportions, the usual, and as a part of that a more or less "generic human" tends to figure rather prominently in this. and unsurprisingly that "generic" human is usually a young(ish), white man, though young, white women appear too, and they are usually drawn in a way that is considered "well-proportioned" at the time, which fluctuates a bit, e.g in Georg Bridgeman's books (written in the first half of the 20th century) women are quite likely to have bellies that curve slightly outward, and are generally curvy (they'd probably count as "plump" these days).

Anyway, obviously when you look at this from a critical viewpoint this set-up is problematic to say the least, though considering the publication date of a lot of the "classics" I have in mind it's not surprising, but if you just want to use the book it's not that bothersome as long as your main "construction problem" is to arrage a body in space. A great example for this is Burne Hogarth's Dynamic Figure Drawing, which I own in a German edition (I don't think there are significant differences to the English one, but I'm not certain) and which is basically 170 pages explaining techniques how to arrange this "generic" human (obviously he's nude though not with detailed genitals, still some might consider the scans NWS) in space with the help of geometric constructions/visualizations like this one (it's kind of like virtually moving a ken doll). A couple of times a woman's body makes an appearance (while he has no distinctive face, she doesn't get a head at all in the bunch of drawings explaining how structures with women are different, mostly in the section on reclining poses, some in the sitting poses, none in the action poses...), but it's a negligible number of drawings compared to the male ones.

I actually like Hogarth's book quite a bit, like IMO he explains foreshortening really well, he explains how to draw humans from unusual perspectives, how you can draw human motion, and a bunch of other stuff that causes this book to be so widely recced. What it falls short on is the step to turn the ken doll you arranged in space into an actual human being with a distinct body. To be fair, I don't think it's the topic of the book, and I've never actually read all the text beyond that what was necessary to make sense of the constructions, so I have no idea whether or not he points out the issues of making bodies real.

A lot of drawing books seem to assume that that step, to make the human distinct isn't one that benefits from the same "constructionist" approach as the spatial arrangement, and that just observing enough different humans will work well enough to make the underlying principles clear. However, I found it rather helpful to have the ways in which bodies gain individuality laid out to me, because while that won't cover everybody either, it helps to make sense of the common variations. E.g. I wasn't aware that the area between the shoulderblades was all that noticeable in terms of body fat before reading this page (from Figure Drawing Without a Model by Ron Tiner).

OTOH with that book I frequently ran into the problem that rather dubious (or at least highly controversial) "scientific" classification systems from the 19th/early 20th century were turned into artistic tools without any reflection, for example the craniometry with its cephalic index (I didn't scan the pages applying those). I mean, it didn't bother me to read a chapter explaining about height/width characteristics of the human face and if he wants to use the terms "dolichocephalic", "mesocephalic" and "brachycephalic", okay, whatever, but considering that the book was first published 1992, it bothered me a lot that from just reading those paragraphs you'd think it was it was just an "neutral" anthropological measuring and classification tool, not invented to be central for a multitude of more or less racist theories, which construed skull measurements into all kinds of things. The same goes for the fact that he uses William Sheldon's somatotypes system (that was the basis for his strange anthropometry psychology, with things like predicting criminals from their body types and such) without finding it problematic at all. It's not that I didn't find the examples of body types somewhat useful (like here and here), and while I find it mostly silly to call them "endomorphic mesomorph" and such, I wouldn't care about that and just appreciate it that in this book not all bodies look the same, if there was some brief reflection that these body types weren't created to merely describe bodies, but that the system was created in a much more problematic context.

I mean, I like Tiner's book, it has a bunch of insightful observations and useful stuff, but as it was, my reaction was WTF? a lot as well, only over more complicated issues than say in the Wizard How To book. Clearly drawing books are bound to be aggravating in one way or another.


2005-12-11 06:40 am (UTC) (Link)

Oh, man. That's just awful to have to put up with. *oy*

Surely there are some drawing books out there which aren't painful...?

*wonders what sort of thing she'll be buying her eldest nephew, who's starting to *really* get into art*


2005-12-11 03:11 pm (UTC) (Link)

I'm not sure how representational the ones I own are. The thing is, many of the classics on drawing humans have been written quite some time ago, and they are still widely recced for the basics in newer books on specific subjects, because from a drawing standpoint they're quite useful. I mean, for example both the collection of Georg Bridgeman's main books and Burne Hogarth's Dynamic Figure Drawing are suggested as reading in the Wizard book.

But it's not surprising that for example Bridgeman's book "Complete Guide to Drawing from Life" you won't see any black people, because the collection has been first published 1952 even though my reprint is from 2001, and it's based on books originally written 1920 to 1942, but mostly in the 1920s. Based on the section of facial features you'd never guess that there are non-Caucasians out there whom you might draw. Which in a way might be better than having a 1920 book classify facial features and include different ethnicities, I don't know.

I expect that there are newer books on these subjects, which are better with these issues, but I don't own any, and I never got the impression that was much awareness about sexism and racism in art books when it came to recs, it's usually more about whether or not the techniques work for the reviewer. Then again, since I have always been mostly interested in drawing comics, I usually bought books recced by comic artists I liked, and drawing people for comics has a bit different issues than doing portraits from life, so it's not surprising that the same titles are recced repeatedly.

Also obviously the main selling point of any drawing book is whether the examples, and useful techniques described work for you, which depends a lot on the ways in which you use such books. I mean, I have never bought a basic "Learn How To Draw" book, since I was never interested in learning or following any particular "method". I mostly use books when I run into a problem, or want to learn something specific, and leaf through them to see of any of the techniques or drawings might be of any help.


2005-12-11 07:25 am (UTC) (Link)

That... says so much about the artists, really. I may have to go out and buy Terry Moore purely for doctinal reasons. (I mean, yes, I know he's good, but I was going to get it out of the library.)


2005-12-11 07:37 am (UTC) (Link)

Man, I just love those two pages of his! [she says, coming back to blither more] It's like nineteen different rants I have, condensed down and presented without bitterness.


2005-12-11 03:19 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yeah, I had seen Terry Moore's chapter on drawing real vs. the superheroine look before, and it's funny and poignant.


2005-12-11 03:42 pm (UTC) (Link)

This reminds me of the one really good children's sex ed book I have, called "It's Perfectly Normal" (illustrated by Michael Emberley). It's got pictures of nude people--of all shapes and sizes, standing and sitting in a wheelchair, male and female, different colors, etc. It's amazing, really, because Emberley was really thinking about this, and it shows in the whole book's approach to sex--to normalizing diversity as part of that, and helping to present sexuality as something common to all people, not just a thing associated with looking like a generic, thin, well-endowed male or female model. Emberley's drawings aren't like those you see in some graphic novels where yes, a range of body types are displayed, but where the fat ones are usually drawn as grotesques, with lots of class markers associated with them (re: your fanboy, for instance, or the superhero with litter).

I keep thinking, also, about fan art of the kind usually found at cons (and now online). Most fan artists--even the good ones--seem incapable of drawing from life, or taking a clothed body in a still shot or screen cap and extrapolating a nude body underneath that in any kind of realistic way. So most fan art is either wildly wrong about proportions, or is so proportional as to be ridiculous, with the body a line by line copy of some gay porn still, post-airbrush, with the TV actor's head sutured on.

I've often thought it odd that fans are often so rigorous in critiquing the characterisation of characters in the written word, but take it for granted that fan art men should all look so clean, sanitized, airbrushed, unreal, all well-articulated muscles (but without any of the distracting realism of bulging veins or skin pulled tautly across muscle. No stretch marks at the hips of these men (though men often have them there from when they suddenly shot up), no body hair in inopportune places (even when we see it onscreen), either, or moles, or any of the human qualities of skin.

And that's just the men.

It's like--in fan art, all the men are superheros, in the worst way.

I almost wish Emberley did slash fan art, because I'd love to see some of these men's bodies drawn in ways that feel real, y'know?


2005-12-11 04:37 pm (UTC) (Link)

Hmm, the fan art I draw and most of what I look at is of course displaying actual superheroes, so I'm not sure how much realism applies.

I've never been interested in slash art for tv fandoms, especially not done in a realistic style, partly because of the realism issues you mention, and partly because realistic fanart for tv fandoms is too close to the actual actors' bodies for my preferences. The only non-comic fandom where I like fanart is HP, and I like the artists who have an illustration style that's more comic or book illustration oriented rather than very realistic, and I found that bodies aren't necessarily drawn as perfect in HP slash art. I mean, it really doesn't look like Snape with body builder look. g*

OTOH a lot of HP artists like the manga/anime look which personally I can't stand and which also produces "perfect" bodies just in a very stylized way. HP art can be very explicit (frighteningly so sometimes, I mean somehow seeing more or less common slash kinks like sexual torture/rape, bestiality, or chan drawn explicitly is different for me than just reading them) and also hot without being realistic in its style.

I may be opening myself up for the deathblow, but...


2009-08-25 10:13 pm (UTC) (Link)

This may be just my opinion, but the reason women are depicted as sexy rather than men is probably because men are NOT sexy. (or rather they are rarely sexy) and if you think otherwise, I'm sorry, you're gay.
Think about it, Men are hairy, violent, and to muscular, It's just the way it is! Women on the other hand are sleek, curvaceous, and NOT hairy. Hairy is a turn-off for most people.
This is probably more of a politically correct thing you are expressing rather than a true thing. Which is what I am observing in today's world. Frankly, sickens me. Political correctness is more important than truth.
That statement is just wrong.
I'm sorry if the world hates me for my opinions, perhaps they are old fashioned, but the world has MUCH bigger problems than sexism.
Women should be proud to be so admired by men. Men IDOLIZE women, and it's like, no matter what we do, how hard we try, it's never good enough.
(I'm speaking from a heterosexual male's point of view btw)
Anyway, If women what women want is to stop being sought after, fine by me. (not really)

Re: I may be opening myself up for the deathblow, but...


2009-11-03 03:37 am (UTC) (Link)

That's very true in most all senses. In nature, the male is most often the one sought after. He is the desirable one. As such he can have as many women as he wants (and thinks he can handle). Males are made to fight and reproduce. Females are made to care for and nurture. This is natures law.

But when it comes to humans, we're dealing with (debatably) moral creatures. The Western norm is for one man, to have one wife, for life. This is why the roles have been reversed. Women are the desirable ones. This encourages monogamous relationships.

Don't take it as though I'm implying that all women must be caring and gentle and subservient. Nowadays women can take the role of breadwinner. They can go out into the world with strength. They can shatter that glass ceiling with pride and gusto. Most men will want to 'conquer' them, as is in their nature. But there are a select few who will humble themselves before this women who defy the standards that have been set for them. And not just skinny skrawny guys, but big strong strapping men who just get a kick out of having a women boss them around and know that the women wears the pants in the relationship. Some women get a kick out of wearing the pants.

It effect, it all balances out. I can neither condem nor congradulate this 'someone' nor 'ratcreature'. Such is humanity. If all women were 'gentle' and all men were 'harsh', then our world would be a tedium of chaos. It takes a strong women to put a man in his place.

Re: I may be opening myself up for the deathblow, but...


2010-02-04 06:56 am (UTC) (Link)

"This may be just my opinion, but the reason women are depicted as sexy rather than men is probably because men are NOT sexy. (or rather they are rarely sexy) and if you think otherwise, I'm sorry, you're gay, or a straight woman."

Fixed. I'm sorry, I appreciate cheesecake as much as the next person, but I definitely appreciate being thrown a little beef here and there; strictly speaking as a female comic-book reader.

Not all women are sleek, curvaceous, and not hairy. There are men who are sleek and not hairy, as well as curvaceous, just not in the same sense.

I would rather not be put on a pedestal (read: be idolized), it's a narrow, confining space that limits what I can do. Thanks, but no thanks.

Speaking from a female point of view.

Re: I may be opening myself up for the deathblow, but...


2011-02-21 10:36 pm (UTC) (Link)

I know this is an old post but hey, you might still be around:

"This is probably more of a politically correct thing you are expressing rather than a true thing. Which is what I am observing in today's world. Frankly, sickens me. Political correctness is more important than truth."

Really? Because being 'un-PC' doesn't automatically make what you're saying truthful, either. Because what I'm observing is people who have an 'un-PC' opinion getting on their high horse and acting like they're being censored when people are just disagreeing with them. But it's much easier to cry PC censorship than actually have an honest debate, isn't it?

"This may be just my opinion, but the reason women are depicted as sexy rather than men is probably because men are NOT sexy. (or rather they are rarely sexy) and if you think otherwise, I'm sorry, you're gay. "

And this statement is making me think that you're trolling. As the other poster said, gay OR A STRAIGHT WOMAN.

The trouble with idolising women is that we're fallibly human - and things tend to turn nasty when we don't live up to your fantasy image of us. We don't want to 'stop being sought after', we want to be seen as PEOPLE. Why is it so difficult for some men to see the difference between finding a woman attractive and OBJECTIFYING her?

Seriously, if most of the males YOU saw in the media were over-sexualised in an idealised way to pander to straight women's fantasies, then you would not be whining about the 'PC thought police'.

"(I'm speaking from a heterosexual male's point of view btw)"

No shit, Sherlock. *rolleyes* You're speaking as if that's the only point of view that could possibly be important.


2010-01-08 07:37 pm (UTC) (Link)

I know that this post is very old, but I thought the point of the fat guy this page was not to show him as ungroomed, but rather to show a male and a female with the same sized 'boobs.' Having them be the same size emphasizes that the presence, absence, or size of the breasts doesn't indicate the gender of the individual. The fatness of the man was simply there to provide a realistic situation where a man would have 'boobs.'


2010-01-08 07:48 pm (UTC) (Link)

That interpretation had not occurred to me. I can see it illustrating that, though even with that I don't think it is a neutral depiction of fat bodies, especially considering the other examples.


2010-01-08 08:32 pm (UTC) (Link)

Oh yes, I'm not saying that all depictions of fat people are neutral (even in this book). However, I really think in this case it was the irony of the man having the same size (or possibly larger) boobs than the woman and saying that the D-cup makes the woman!

Thank You


2010-07-14 12:10 pm (UTC) (Link)

All of your knowledge and experience with art has helped my own drawing to take even more shape and life. I have always enjoyed drawing and art work and I hope to see more of your drawing in the future.


2011-08-28 05:06 am (UTC) (Link)

May I suggest to you the Andrew Loomis books. yes they were written a long time ago but the information is still the best out there. Also, if you learn the basics correctly and understand proportion then you can exaggerate and make super heroes much better. Most comic artists and cartoonists will all recommend if you are going to use a book, use Loomis to learn. Learning from books about comics or cartooning end up jipping you in the end and giving you just this problem.

Also, I am right there with you on these thoughts, very interesting read.


2011-08-28 05:38 am (UTC) (Link)

I am familiar with Loomis' books, which are okay, though it is rather wtf that he insists on drawing the naked sample women still in high heels, iirc. I'm also familiar with Bridgeman and any number of other anatomy drawing books. My main problem of the classics is their implicit racism, since you won't see a single non-white face or body in them.


2011-08-28 06:10 am (UTC) (Link)

yes there is that problem I will agree, though I have learned once I got the basics to then move from drawing books to live models and photographs to work from. I find once you pass the basics you no longer need a book to tell you how to draw, you draw the shapes and move on.


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