Hello everyone, hope you’ve been drawing while I was busy elsewhere. As always, supporting those who wish to learn, here is the next instalment of the Common Mistakes series, both as a blog entry and of course, also as a video on the website. This episode is about an essential part of massing:
The Loss Of Volume
As you progress with your studies of the human body and the ways of drawing it, you will keep coming back to a very few of the basic principles. It is hard to think of them when one picks up the pencil and that is the reason for practicing drawing. When these principles become our second nature we no longer have to think about them, we’re just in for the ride. For the joy of it.
You heard me say this many, many times and I will repeat it still, it is so important. Massing is one of the cornerstones of figure drawing. For those of you who are new to the idea, massing is the way of converting complex shapes of an object – in our case the human body, into simple geometric shapes one is then able to think of. Once you can think of the shape, you are able to make decisions about it’s shape, size, orientation and relationship to the other shapes next to it.
You need anatomy. No question about it. The bones, muscles and tendons become part of your toolbox. But, when drawing a finger, one doesn’t start with remembering the boring anatomy lesson on how the first phalanx connects to the metacarpal via the articular facet of it’s superior extremity. If that was what artist are required to do no art would have ever seen the light of the day.
You start by simplifying. You imagine the finger as a cylinder. We all know what a cylinder looks like. (If you need to practice cylinders [very good exercise] lay down a bottle of wine and study the shape.) Seeing the finger as a cylinder, you can very fast determine which way it is facing, whether it is pointing at you or someone else. You can easily see it’s size. And then you lightly indicate this cylinder on the paper. Without any details, knuckles, nails, wrinkles….without any of those it immediately looks like a finger. Then you do the same way the next finger. Then the palm of the hand. With that one you might want to switch from the shape of a cylinder to that of a box. And so on. Once you massed your figure lightly, you can start remembering all those details you learnt in anatomy. But by then the essence of the figure, it’s proportions and expression is captured with lively speed. That is Massing.
Now that we have remembered and established that bit, we can focus on this episode’s content. We will continue with a very important concept which is part of the massing. The loss of volume.
The easy way to explain it, is through the rib cage. We place our observations of the body mainly on the bony structure because it doesn’t change. Muscles tend to shift and when not contracted they tend to (literally) hang off the bone. Rib cage is one of those bony structures we rely on. It is also the one that changes the most. After all it flattens and expands with every single breath we take. The change is very small so the rib cage remains just as reliable a road guide as any other bone in the body. The concept says that no volume can disappear from the body. The volume can shift, change shape, but it cannot disappear.
You can see in the following drawing by one of my students what happens, when you allow for the volume to be lost. The drawing is quite nice, there is a marked attempt at massing. The head is conceived as a ball in perspective, both of the deltoids are seen as balls and so is the left buttock. But then, traveling down the torso, the rib cage is suddenly not taken into account and this mistake gets passed on the position of the external oblique as well as the pelvis and the buttocks with it. Moreover the size of the pelvis gets distorted. From about below the scapulae it becomes a different drawing. There are now two bodies artificially joined.
From this point on to fix the lower part of the drawing you have two possibilities. Either you decide the left hand side drawing of the rib cage is correct and you change the right side or vice versa. Either way you reclaim the volume of the rib cage.
The following drawing is where loss of volume of the rib cage occurs most frequently. In the reclining nude. Various problems surface here, perspective, foreshortening, proportions getting away by the time we get to the right knee, however most of the problems disappear if the volume of the rib cage is reclaimed.
The video counterpart of this blog entry has extra content. Also some of the concepts can be understood better if you see them drawn. You can find it here.