The bones are the structural core of the figure. Any artist looking to work with the figure will find a thorough understanding of the forms and functions of the bones indispensable.
We call the places at which the bones come closest to the surface of the skin, and are easily identifiable beneath it, the surface landmarks of the bones.These landmarks serve as clues to tell us all we need to know about the bones that support the figure: their orientation, shape and size. If we learn to identify the surface landmarks of the bones we will have a firm foundation for all our subsequent anatomical study.
From this masterful study by Poynter we can see how important a study of the bones was to the masters of the past. Students in the 19th century academies were expected to be able to draw any element of the figure entirely from memory. This requires a great deal of anatomical study. One of the best practices for this study is to draw the a skeleton in the same orientation as your figure study, as Poynter did. At LARA we encourage students to engage in this practice as it offers a sure path to a solid understanding of the figure and its forms.
When life drawing, proper observation of the bony landmarks helps us to get a good hold of the proportions and structure of our figure. The bones offer the truth of proportion. They don’t grow or shrink in size. If the proportion of the bones in our drawings is incorrect our figure will look strange.
If a model has larger or smaller muscles or fat pads, this will affect their ‘body type’. As we can see in the two wonderful studies below, though the body type of the two models may differ greatly, identifying and controlling bony landmarks remains of utmost importance. Both artists have paid close attention to the surface evidence of the bones and given them their proper emphasis. Using these landmarks we can estimate the orientation and proportion of the bones and add them in. When we have done this it becomes clear that, even in the case of these vastly differing body types, the size
and relative proportions of the bones remain fairly comparable.
left hand image: ‘Phil’ by Luca
We have seen how a proper understanding of the bones is paramount to any artist wishing to create believable and realistic figures. But application of this knowledge stretches further than purely academic, realistically proportioned drawings, paintings and sculptures. Take a look at the figure below by Egon Schiele, a master of anatomy. Note how, even through his clear abstraction of the proportions of the figure, he still considers the same bony landmarks. This understanding never failed Schiele. It kept his figures grounded in truth and believable, no matter how wild his abstractions became. Such is the power of a full understanding of the structural forms of the figure.