26 March 2010

Bridgman Anatomy

I just finished an anatomy class taught by Erik Gist. Mention anatomy and the eyes glaze over...it's dry and challenging. But solid anatomy is part of good figurative art. The class was based on drawings from Bridgman's Complete Guide to Drawing from Life. These drawings are rendered in Bridgman's scratchy style, but contain all the information needed to understand anatomy.

The directive to students was to draw fully modeled images based on these loose sketches. Get input from other anatomy texts if needed.
Then, to reinforce the lesson, draw the same area using reference photos of athletes. We spent 2 weeks on each of 5 major areas (no head, hands or feet). As an example of the technique, see Bridgman's original leg sketch and my interpretation (below). I did about 40 sketches like this during the course. The approach is effective, and any motivated art student can train this way at home.

Our final assignment was to draw from memory. While my proportions were off (see below), I was surprised by how much anatomy I remembered. Still can't draw a perfect human form from memory, but next time I see a figure, I'll know the source of that bump or shadow, and draw it with more confidence.
One other technique I finally figured out after 2 years of art classes is the "before-and-after" shot of instructor demos. Most instructors work directly on student work to demonstrate ways to improve. Next time it's your turn, photograph your piece before the instructor begins the demo, then again after they are done. Voila, personalized instructions for improvement. Study the photos. Apply what you see.

The "before"
(left) and "after" (right) comparison below is from Erik's anatomy class. It shows me how to improve my shape definitions, especially obvious around the arm pits. Very helpful to know where I need to focus.


  1. Very interesting. I'll check out the book you were working from.

  2. Yay! Good for you Candace! My eyes don’t glaze over. I love anatomy. I used to pour over my dad’s anatomy books from his medical student days when ever I went into his study.
    I may not always know how to apply it the way you do but at the back of my mind I tend to think about the underlying structure of bone and muscle

  3. fascinating, thanks for this Candace

  4. Very interesting Candace! I've not studied anatomy. But I used to sketch a lot the athletic and muscled comic characters like Tarzan and superman in my school days which helped me a lot in rendering human figures and understanding the proportions of the body and that was so fun!!

  5. Very very nice interpretation of Bridgman sketch! I have one of his books...his style is so unique, yet one can learn from it what is most important in a given gesture, I feel.

  6. Wow well done !! nice anatomy work

  7. Thanks to all of you for leaving a message. That takes extra time and effort, much appreciated. This isn't a very pretty post, but it is important. I'm thinking of taking one more anatomy class, just to seal it all in. Best.

  8. Wonderful studies - I used to have abs like that. Then I had a six pack of beer, some fries and a twinkie.....

  9. Funny guy, John. Happy Spring.