Figure One…..

10 oct

The head painting class is going on and we are starting color, it takes time mixing the colors from the three primaries but I have a feeling it’s like riding a bike: it becomes part of you and is not a problem after a while.

Let’s talk drawing (that’s why you are here, right?). Studying with Glenn Vilppu is very much satisfactory because you are given a clear step by step way of seeing and doing things (along with the motto “no rules just tools” which Glenn truly believes in) and the critics of your work make thinks easy: he tells you what could be better applied, you do it in your next work and bingo move on to the next thing to improve.

Last week I said I would talk about figure drawing one (there are also a two and three figure drawing classes more on these later)

If learning to draw was a body, then figure drawing one would be the spine. It’s very much the content of the “drawing manual”, Glenn Vilppu’s book which is one the list of “must read” at Disney, Pixar and many schools of art around the word. By the way there is a new edition in full color with tons of added text and drawing, even if you have the original one it’s very very much worth it getting the new version, to get it just write to the contact on the main page of

When you are a beginner and you are facing a model you have to draw there is always a part of panic in your mind: where do I start? what is the most important? should I make the head and face perfect before working on the rest of the body? what about anatomy? what about perspective? What about contour? After all people in real life are not surrounded by a black line, we see where their mass start and end because they are surrounded by other things clearly not part of their body, how do I manage with that?

Without spoiling figure one for you (it would take more than a blog entry and a little grasshopper like me to do that) the first thing you have to learn is: the only thing that really matter is the gesture (yes “only thing” look at some political cartoons, their characters dont look humans in their anatomy but what they are doing – pointing, stamping their feet etc – is clear, at least in a good cartoon).

When Glenn Vilppu talks about gesture he doesnt mean the gesture of the person drawing (though feel free to draw while doing tai chi or the latest RnB moves the results could be interesting, I’m serious: dancing would stop you a little from thinking too much, a problem we all have). Gesture is that of the model what does they do? how do they feel about it? If your model is doing character work, meaning is dressed like cowboy and doing typical cowboy things (this type of model is common in animation school but you tend to find them in other situation too) it’s generally easy: the cowboy is suddenly realising there is someone behind him, is surprised, and is not happy about it but has an defensive reaction going for his gun (Im sure you see that pose in your head as you read this) the gesture in that case is the tense shoulders, the head turning but going away a bit from the bad guy, and all this can be summed up in one or several lines that will give you the gesture, the action, the whole, the story (it’s always about the story even in fine art).

If you have a nude (or semi nude) model taking random poses like legs in an elegant position and hands lifting their hair you will have to do a bit more of detective work (that’s my experience, not what Glenn says but I think that’s what he means). What is the gesture of this model? could be elegance and satisfaction with a bit of pleasant stretching, there could be a line that starts from the left leg and goes to the spine (not talking contour here!!!) in any case there is a gesture that you can sum up with one or just a few lines that often wont describe a human figure but just the gesture. That is the key, that is the hardest thing to do but if you dont get the gesture, however good your anatomy or shading is your drawing will look “meh” at best.

Dont worry Glenn Vilppu wont let you stuck at the gesture level until you get it (could take time) but he will give you tools ( not rules) to make a drawing from that gesture (while insisting about gesture gestures gesture….like he says himself: he sounds like a broken record about gesture! lol!

The tools taught in figure one are many, complementary, contradictory, but they work: spheres, boxes (dont fall in love with boxes – my advice they are so convenient but you get stuck) squash and stretch (an animation term that strangely Michaelangelo applied with passion and great taste – could it be all drawing art form are in fact about the same thing?).

I only quote a few tools. One I particularly loved was landmarks. Landmarks are where bones touch the surface of the skin (and are visible) no matter how fat or muscular or both the model is. Look at pictures of Arnold in his glory days: you could see his knee bones, and his colarbones! Look at the world’s fattest person (I’m sure there is one in the Guiness of records) you be able to the the same landmarks!

This is so helpful and of course will nudge you toward anatomy, but dont worry about anatomy for the moment, same this for perspective and proportions, Glenn will tell you when these are needed and how many spoons of them you should take (as he says: “are anatomy and perspective important? yes if you dont know them, no if you know them” they’ll become part of you, I suppose part of you subconscious mind and you wont have to think about them. But here in figure one – draw and stop worrying, you are going to be amazed at how your work changes and how you see the world differently. Like I said the critics of your work with draw over by Glenn Vilppu himself will work like magic if you put the work applying what he tell you.

The funny thing is I did figure one several times (50% off if you redo a class btw) and I would watch the lessons every single day (I’m dyslexic AND obsessive) and one day I was having breakfast with my computer playing the same lesson as the day before and the day before that and I stopped eating: gosh I got the wrong lesson playing because yesterday he did not say THAT….. well turns out he did, it’s just my comprehension that changed. This happened to me several times since, and when I told fellow students, thinking I was a weird person I found all of them had the same experience.

See you next week.

In the mean time draw a lot, dont judge your drawing, if one is bad who cares the next one will be better, and remember: you dont have to show your work to anyone so no shame, be daring! (if I were you I’d put the date on each page and if you can dont throw them away just hide them, next year you may find interesting watching them and comparing them with what you do then!

Stay safe


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