Figuring it out

Students experiment with the art of figure drawing


Photo courtesy of Heather Sulzen

Senior Matthew DeHass observes the model as he draws her face.

Gage Rabideaux, Staff Writer

An artist must be bold when preparing for figure drawing. When tracing the form of another human on a piece of paper, the line cannot be shaky, it cannot show hesitation. Instead it must be confident. Not only are these strokes daring and poised, but so are the artists behind each drawing.

While there are many subjects an artist may draw, these competitive artists have taken a special interest in drawing the human form. This type of art is called figure drawing. Student artists won an overall third place at a Nov. 30 art competition at Ray-Pec High School that included this unique art form.

Junior Ashley Johnson has developed a love for figure drawing since she first tried it last year, though she has been an artist since she was young. Even as a six-year-old, she had a passion for drawing on her own wallpaper. Now she takes her art more seriously and strives to improve.

“I think that it [figure drawing] is interesting. I think it helps my artistic abilities because I get to see people in different poses,” Johnson said. “It’s not just seeing somebody just sitting or somebody just standing. It is cool to see how the human body works, different kinds of body styles and types.”

Johnson is not the only artist who has found her calling in figure drawing. Senior Matthew DeHass has also learned to appreciate the organic shapes and forms often found in figure art, saying figure art is natural, while other art forms tend to be more artificial.

“It’s a thing where you just sit down and go. It’s not a long drawn out art piece where you have to work on it and it takes a long time while you sit, look and draw,” DeHass said. “I think it gives an opportunity for things to look nice. When you draw things that look like objects, it’s something people can recognize and enjoy.”

Even alumni still pursue their artistic craft through figure drawing. Former student Gardner Littleton graduated in 2016, but he continues to take figure drawing classes at Metropolitan Community College to earn an associates in arts. His goal is to transfer to the Kansas City Arts Institute and major in the animation program.

“Figure drawing can be cool because as an art form it’s very quick and you don’t have too much time to think about the end product – only getting lines and shapes,” Littleton said. “Sketches can go from 30 seconds to 30 minutes, so intensity is another thing; it pushes you to make something quickly. Only sometimes does it come out looking nice.”

Because figure drawing tends to be intense and requires the artist to work quickly and effectively, Littleton recommends figure art to blooming artists to aid them in their endeavors so they may advance their skills.

“For beginners, I feel it’s a required activity, helping you not only draw faster, but to understand form and movement within a figure,” Littleton said. “In the end though, being able to register what’s in front of you quickly and efficiently is essential, and figure drawing does just that.”

Oftentimes, figure drawing is done using nude models as a way to study the human form in a natural state.While this may be normal for art students like Littleton, other students often find the images of nude models to be odd and uncomfortable. According to Johnson, although drawing models this way benefits her by improving her artistic skill, she receives push-back from peers who have not figure drawn.

“Generally, people are really squeamish when they see naked people. In our society, you don’t go outside and see somebody naked,” Johnson said. “I showed people my drawing and they got really weirded out. To me, it’s not weird. I walk into the art room, and everyone thinks it’s really cool. Nobody looks at it and says, ‘that’s weird, and you shouldn’t be doing that’ because we’re all used to drawing like that.”

For DeHass, figure drawing is about finding form and movement in a figure.

“It’s all about society wanting people to be clothed. The making of the art- what it says about the artist and what it says about the form of the human body- is different than just creating images of naked people,” DeHass said. “I can see why it’s seen as taboo, but I think it’s only seen that way because people don’t think about it the way an artist would.”

Although Littleton draws nude models on nearly a daily basis, he still understands why the drawings may be perceived as taboo among those who do not consider themselves artists.

“It’s [figure drawing] something artists use to deeper understand anatomy and form of the human body so normally it’s just nude,” Littleton said. “Of course it depends on how the artist draws the subjects, some people just exaggerate details like that, changing the idea of the image. It really comes down to the fact that people get uncomfortable with the naked human body. It’s not ‘normal’ to see on a daily basis for most.”

Students are not the only ones who are passionate about figure art. Art teacher Heather Sulzen takes her students on figure drawing field trips as she believes it is important for them to learn how to draw from observation.

“Figure drawing, just like any sort of drawing from observation exercise, is going to make any artist better at drawing because you are training your hands to do what your eyes are doing,” Sulzen said. “You’re tracing over the figure with your eyes, so your hands should be moving in that same direction.”

Sulzen teaches her students that figure drawing is essential for students because it teaches them to appreciate beauty in all natural things so they may find the form and movement in a drawing.

“If people could learn to look past the human body as something sexual, and learn to appreciate the beauty in every human form, figure drawing would not be seen as taboo,” Sulzen said.