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.