Life Drawing Lesson 2

Finding and Depicting Subforms 

In this lesson, we will develop figures drawn from life further by adding "Subforms" (the "lumps and bumps") to the general masses that we have been exploring as shapes and volumes in space in Lesson 1.  The notes below go into some of the main ways you can use line to explore these subforms.  This is very important to taking the knowledge from the anatomy course and applying it to figure drawing - which is the ultimate aim.  How so? Well, the more that you know about anatomy, the more that you understand what these surface subforms come from, which ones matter, which ones to exaggerate to tell the story of the gesture, the action of the model.   And this sense of prioritisation is what the language of drawing is really about.

To explain this further, lets consider an example. When you identify and notate, over many drawings,  the location of a particular bony landmark, such as an epicondyle of the humerus, you add to the database in your mind what that landmark looks like from various positions.  You develop a sense of what the position of that landmark means for the orientation of the whole mass of the upper arm, and for the surrounding soft tissue.  You become friends with this surface bump - it helps you find what is going on, and your notation can grow in authority, your drawing becomes more vital, more compelling, more three dimensional, more accurate.   You begin to look for this landmark and others to grasp the essentials of the figure rather than merely replicating the edges or patches of tone.  The question we turn to in this lesson is how to notate that lump and the ones surrounding it efficiently and with consideration for the whole form.

Notice how Michelangelo uses lines to define the extent of subforms in the left drawing of the shoulder - the overlap of masses is implied by the t-intersection of lines.  These plane breaks are defined with rendering in light and shade in the right drawing of the shoulder.  Both drawings were no doubt important for his analysis of this paritcular piece of anatomy.

1. Valley plane breaks - loop around subforms.  

Subforms could be defined as the convex volume between two valley plane breaks, and usually show up in our observation of the figure as more abrupt changes of half tone.  

For example, in the linear study by Michelangelo of the Libyan Sibyl, the bottom edge of the deltoid is shown as a line following the lowest point of the valley before the Triceps begins.  In the more rendered drawing, this line becomes the lower edge of a region of tone.  In both cases the valley plane break is depicted with subtlety - it varies in hardness or softness along its length, as the surface varies. 



2. Peak plane breaks and cross contours of subforms

Just as you did with the main plane breaks and cross contours of the main masses, you can also define the subforms with equivalent lines.  This will often show how the subforms vary in spatial orientation to the mainforms.




3. Hierarchyof lines to define form


Having notated: 

-the orientation of the main masses

-the location of the subforms by looping through the valley plane breaks that define them

Notice how Leonardo uses the difference between the heavy weight of the edge/horizon contours and the lighter weight of the plane breaks inside the lines of the figure. 

-the planes and cross contours of the subforms becomes more clear how one horizon contour runs in front or behind another.  Notating this overlap, particularly when one is careful to make the strength of these overlaps appropriately subtle or strong is a very powerful way to communicate form through line. When these edges are defined more darkly than the cross contouring and plane breaks they work in unison.  Sometimes a horizon contour can be made to flow into a cross contour or valley plane break between subforms to powerfully and simply define form.


- Heaviest : Horizon Lines 

- Slightly lighter: creases/ and also at T-intersections where horizon lines are fading into valley plane breaks, or where an horizon line is tucking behind another.

-Medium to light lines: valley plane breaks - the deeper and more distinct, the stronger the line should be - but never as strong as an horizon line

- Light: Very subtle valley plane breaks, peak plane breaks (where the plane break is external such as the front to the side planes of the nose.)

-Very Light: Cross contours, also centrelines where they are not distinct on the figure


What is the point of all this?

The process of cross contouring and investigating the way lines overlap, as well as weighting lines according to their significance as horizons or relative strength as valley plane breaks, trains you to “feel form” with your lines, and leads to better line quality.  Line quality here means the power of your lines to describe form.  Over time this can lead to a very efficient, sculptural description of form in line.  To see the difference, turn to the next two diagrams  and compare the blocked in stage to the final linear description with weighted lines.  Note that with practise it is possible to draw this stage quite directly, resulting in a very direct engagement with form.

Note that this does not mean that you are limited to a linear depiction of form - rendering can be gradually added to a well orchestrated linear drawing so that lines defining valley and peak plane breaks gradually become lost and their position is defined by patches of rendering instead. This means the drawing gradually begins to look more tonal, and relies for the depiction of form more on tone than on line.   

You can see how this kind of linear depiction of form can then inform work begun more tonally as well.  Therefore it is wise to practise both ways of beginning a drawing.

In later lessons, we will explore methods of rendering further.