Massing and the basic Structure

This comes back again and again in the class. The moment you forget about massing and the underlying structure, the drawing goes to pieces. If you follow the structure path first, a 60 seconds pose is long enough to make a drawing. If you abandon massing and focus on detail, no amount of time will be enough to make the drawing work. This is the underlying rule in figure drawing that needs to be observed and practised. Nothing happens in figure drawing without massing.


Free Lessons Continue

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.


Common Mistakes – 004 Deceit of the Shoulder Girdle

In this episode of Common Mistakes all of which can be easily fixed once pointed out, we will continue with a very important concept. It is the concept of the shoulder girdle. In order to understand what we deal with, we will need to endure a bit of anatomy. Now it’s not going to be a comprehensive coverage of the shoulder. We did all of that in the lecture on the shoulder you can purchase or alternatively you can watch the free 10 minutes long cutdown version of this 1.5 hours long lecture here.

The following drawing depicts the construction of the shoulder girdle which consists in terms of bones of the two clavicles in the front and two scapulae in the back. These four bones are not fused, they are joined and held together with ligaments and tissue. This allows for a great freedom of movement. Just what we need to assist to our arms to be able to reach almost anywhere.
image1Now that we have seen this, lets remember what we talked about in the very first episode of the Common Mistakes – massing is everything in figure drawing. Massing is King. No massing, no drawing.

We also mentioned in passing, that we usually start with large forms and then add the smaller adjacent forms as well as fill in the smaller forms embedded in the larger mass. This order is crucial, as any possible detail you see on the model is just that. A detail, and in the great scheme of figure drawing, whilst it ads embellishment, it is a slave to the larger mass and it cannot do anything else but to follow. So if you don’t get the large mass right, the detail will be in the wrong place anyway.

Ok, so we start drawing and we remember we need to do the massing of the large body parts such as the rib cage and pelvis. You do these two masses correctly and you’re half way there. So you may choose to start with the rib cage. Remember how we do massing? We look for clues and landmarks that will gives us reference as to the position of what we already know from anatomy – the shape, size and construction of the rib cage. And we just arrived at the common mistake. Most of us will try to determine the position, rotation and orientation of the rib cage with the aid of shoulders. This is the common deceit of the shoulder girdle. By nature, the shoulder girdle is a floating device that sits atop of the rib cage and a has a fluid life of it’s own very different to the semi rigid rib cage. Lets have a look what would be the right way to go about finding the rib cage in this model:
image2So there it is. Remember to orient yourself by the bony bits for landmarks and clues which will help you to reference what you already know from anatomy. The exception to this rule is not to use the shoulders to reference the rib cage.

The video counterpart of this blog entry has extra content which works better as a video. You can find it here.

Common Mistakes – 003 The Leg Is Not Straight

Continuing with the Common Mistakes series, in this instalment we will talk about the leg. The commomn misconception is that the leg which is not bent forms a straight line. This is not so. One of the ways that will help with understanding the body and therefore being able to draw it is thinking in mechanistic ways. The upper leg and the lower leg meet in a hinge. It allows for the leg to bend in one direction and stops it bending at a certain point in the opposite direction. For the hinge to work, it needs to have a solid constuction – that’s the job for the bones. They are formed in a way that supports the bending one way. Then the hinge needs to be secured in place so that the bones will not slip. That’s the job for some of the muscles. Another set of muscles then provides the force that will bend the leg. Lets have a look at the first drawing of some of my students from the Masterclass to see what I have in mind.

The model depicted in this drawing was not moving. The legs are in a position of an arrested stride. The problem we have here is that the upper and the lower leg form a straight line. This very rarely happens and when it does it is a result of an overextension. Instead, the lower leg is kind of offset. Have a look at the next sketch to see what I mean.

So the correct drawing of this pose should be like this:

Lets have a look at the next example. In this view a similar motion is shown from a posterior view. Again, the straight line the upper and lower leg form looks akward and very stiff.

In the next sketch this is corrected by showing the hinge like set up of the knee.

The video counterpart of this blog entry has extra content which works better as a video. You can find it here.

Common Mistakes – 002 The Arm On The Side

Hello everyone, here is the second blog entry discussing the common mistakes we all make and how to look out for them so that our progress can be faster and less frustrating. Most of these blog entries are accompanied by yet another free video resource you can find at in the Free Stuff section. These are especially useful to those who are doing it on their own and have nobody to bounce their ideas of.

In the last entry I talked about Massing, this one is about the position of the Arm. The simplest and most common mistake we all make as we learn to draw the human form is to separate the arm from the body and then re-attach it. That way the arm becomes quite unnatural in its shape and size in relation to the torso. Have a look at the following drawing.


I’ll concentrate only on the arms in the image above. Both the arms are placed outside of the body. That’s what is causing the too much muscle on the arm on the left and positions too far away the arm on the right. This also creates the unnatural horizontal line on top of the right shoulder.
The best way how to explain this is to show you the position of the humerus bone (upper arm) as it connects with the scapula looking straight down on the body. As you can see in the image below, the scapulae which are part of the shoulder girdle just glide over the rib cage allowing for a great range of movement for the arm. The humerus meets the scapula in a shallow housing which is positioned to the front and to the outside rather than to the side of the body.

The next quick sketch shows what should really happen in the previous drawing:


Lets have a look at one more drawing. This one depicts a sitting person viewed fron the front. The same problem presents itself and the solution results in the same mistake. The arm on the left is already positioned quite far towards the outside of the body as the extremely prolongated top of the shoulder shows, yet, it doesn’t seem to be far enough as none of the muscles can be fitted on the arm which therefore becomes extremely slim. We are facing a dilema. If we position the arm further out to the side, the shoulder becomes too long. If we correct the length of the shoulder, the arm grows even more emaciated.


The solution, again, is in the correct position of the arm, which in this view would be sitting to the front and to the outside, rather than just be attached to the body from the side. Have a look at the following quick sketch that rectifies this problem.


So the next time you draw an arm, remember that it is not attached to the side of the body. It is part of the body and is placed to the front and outside. Remembering this will solve quite a few challenges.

If you a minute to spare watch the video counterpart of this blog entry as well, there are a few more examples shown. You can find it here.

Common Mistakes – 001 Massing

Hello everyone, as I said a few days ago I’m working on a new series of videos which will talk about the common mistakes we all make in figure drawing. These can be easily fixed if someone is kind enough to point them out to us. Some of these may have extra information in the form of text and photos as it is below. The video for this episode 001 Massing will follow in a couple of days. All this is free to support your efforts in drawing. Here it goes:

Common Mistakes – 001 Massing

I want to say a few things about massing. There are a few basic rules in figure drawing that will deliver results. But underlying them all is massing. If you cannot master massing, no matter how much you know of all the other elements of drawing, there will always be something missing. Somehow it just will not be quite right. So if you’re not already versed in massing, give it your best and results will follow almost immediately.

What is massing? To force images turn into words, massing is a simplified visualisation of a complex form brought about in order to be able to make educated decisions about the form’s basic properties. These properties are absolutely necessary to know if we wish to draw the form. They are the size, shape, position in space and it’s relationship to other forms.

All of us who tried to learn to draw the human figure have been repeatedly puzzled how can it be so hard to draw something we are so familiar with. We wear a body ourselves, we see the human figure from the moment we open our eyes in the morning, all day long and then we probably dream of it too. The answer  to this puzzlement is simple. The figure is so complex and constantly changing that it is not possible to observe and capture each and every detail needed to convey our relationship to it on a piece of paper. The thing to do is what we always naturally and effortlessly do when something is too complex. We simplify.

The great masters knew this and worked out a good system which works really well. They have discovered that we can fairly easily relate to simple geometric shapes. A box a ball and a cylinder have become the artist’s greatest aids in his effort to comprehend the human form. Turning the complex form into something manageable, something which low level of complexity would still allow us to make conscious decissions about the form’s size, shape, position and the relationship to other forms on the paper.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Albrecht Durer, one of the artistic giants of German Rennaisance left us his drawings capturing his process of simplifaction. Working out proportions was one of his obsessions. And proportions are nothing else than the relationship one form has with another within the sheet of paper.

















In the image below Luca Cambiaso used the same method to work out his composition. The simplified figures are fast and easy to draw. The drawing easily becomes the narrative as one doesn’t need to pause a thought till a portion of the image is drawn. Changes are possible and fast. If you look, you’ll see the same simplified geomeric solution in all the master drawings. Some of them are more hidden, some of them only make a dot where others would place a line but the principle is the same.














To demonstrate the above in a very practical way, compare the following two drawings. They are drawings of my students. The first was made during the first session of an eight week long course, where each week has only one three hour session. The second drawing was made towards the end of the course. Both drawings were made as a part of a series of “warm up” one minute long poses.




The immediate impression of the first drawing is that it is very flat. Despite the three quarter position of the figure. The second drawing is quite the opposite – presents clear and lively volumes despite the pose of the figure turned flat with its back to the artist. Neither drawing has any detail, shading or elaboration. The lack of time did not allow for this and so we are in luck to observe the stripped down construction or lack thereof.

Since the geometric approach was already explained when the first drawing was made you can see the attempt to apply this knowledge in the first drawing as well however the results two dimensional and lack vitality.

Applying the same approach only after a few hours of practice and guidance results in a great construction ready to be developed into a nice drawing. And of course, the smaller details within the larger mass would have been approached using the same technique. Massing is all when it comes to understanding the human form.