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Classic Human Anatomy in Motion: The Artist’s Guide to the Dynamics of Figure Drawing


Author: Valerie L. Winslow

Publisher: Watson-Guptill


Publish Date: August 4, 2015

ISBN-10: 770434142

Pages: 304

File Type: Epub

Language: English

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Book Preface

Classic Human Anatomy in Motion

From the beginning of my artistic pursuits, I’ve always felt strongly that the study of anatomy is vital for understanding the human figure. This was the main reason I was attracted to artistic anatomy—though I admit that I was also eager to take on the challenge of learning such a difficult subject. But as a teacher of figurative art, I realize that many artists are intimidated by anatomy’s sometimes overwhelming complexity. And so I feel the responsibility to pass on to others the knowledge that I have gained, and to present the anatomical material in an accurate yet easy-to-understand format accessible to any artist who needs or wants the information. That was the motive for writing my first book, Classic Human Anatomy, and it remains the motive for this new book, Classic Human Anatomy in Motion.

The English philosopher Francis Bacon said, “Knowledge is power,” and that’s certainly true for artists: Understanding something well gives an artist more power to create what he or she wants to create. Over the years, I’ve often known figurative artists who wanted to take their art in certain creative directions but who kept hitting a dead end because they didn’t really understand the basic anatomical elements of the human form. Then, when they acquired this knowledge—to whatever degree they felt was sufficient—their figurative work was transformed. For an artist, anatomical knowledge shouldn’t be an end in itself. Instead, it should inspire and enhance an artist’s creative work. When artists take the guesswork out of anatomy and truly understand the body’s structures and mechanisms, they can open up to a more intuitive level when solving certain problems in their figurative work.

Back when I was starting my art training, it was hard to find a course in artistic anatomy. Anatomy classes had been phased out of most art school and art department curriculums in the United States. The change started in the mid-twentieth century, when abstract expressionism and then pop art, conceptualism, and minimalism became the primary focus in art schools, replacing older artistic traditions. Yes, there were still ateliers that offered anatomy classes, but very few. I myself was scoffed at by teachers and other artists for trying to obtain knowledge of anatomy. They told me the subject was antiquated, too complicated, no longer necessary, and that I was wasting my time pursuing such an outdated topic.

This hostile attitude, however, ignited a rebellious desire on my part, and I continued, as best I could, to study the human figure in the classical way. I began collecting as many artistic and medical anatomy books as I could find, and I started a rigorous routine of reading the material and passionately drawing from live models to make all that information come alive in my work. I found that understanding the dynamics of form, structure, and movement gave my drawings and paintings an aesthetic edge. I wasn’t just “reporting” bio-mechanical information; I was using that information to enhance my art and take it to another level.

I was also grilling doctors and medical anatomists with questions whenever I met them. Opportunities opened up for me to draw and study from human cadavers, and this significantly increased my knowledge of how muscles and bones connect three-dimensionally. I realize that some people might consider the viewing of a dissected body to be morbid, disrespectful, or even sacrilegious. But for me, those sneak peeks beneath the surface of the skin into a usually inaccessible realm ignited a primal sense of wonderment. I found it miraculous that the body’s trillions of parts—from the macroscopic down to the subcellular level—all work harmoniously together in a synchronized system. The study of cadavers was a tremendous gift, allowing me to fully appreciate how anatomical forms interconnect and how the skeletal and muscular systems influence the body’s surface forms. Drawing from cadavers gave me a much fuller understanding of what I was seeing when I drew from living models.

Then, in the late 1970s, while in my twenties, I was offered the opportunity to teach figurative art. I jumped at the chance to introduce artistic anatomy to my students, since no other drawing teacher seemed to talk much about it. My students reacted with enthusiasm, and it was astonishing to see this change in attitude of young art students toward artistic anatomy. I was also noticing that new books on artistic anatomy were being published, and that the “oldies but goodies” books by Andrew Loomis, Paul Richer, and Stephen Rogers Peck were once again in high demand—and were even being reissued in new editions. Over the years, my students had often encouraged me to write my own book, and so I decided to take on that challenge, as well.

When Classic Human Anatomy was published in 2009, I thought my goal was accomplished. I was aching to get back into the studio and work nonstop on my paintings once again. After several months of painting and exhibiting my work in galleries, I finally began to file away the piles of anatomy books, research notes, manuscript pages, life drawings, diagrams, and skeleton bones that were still cluttering my studio. But in the process of doing that, I realized there was quite a lot of material that I hadn’t been able to fit into Classic Human Anatomy. So I contacted my publisher and asked if they would be interested in a companion book, one that would focus on the anatomy of the human figure in motion. When they said yes, off I went, creating new drawings and diagrams and—like a crazed squirrel—digging deep for any buried nuggets of information that I felt might be beneficial for figurative artists.

Since the publication of Classic Human Anatomy, I’ve been touched by the response from people all over the world—not just artists but people in medical professions, as well—who’ve written to tell me how much my book has inspired them. And I couldn’t be more pleased that the book is now considered a preferred anatomical reference book for artists. It is my sincere hope that Classic Human Anatomy in Motion, in addition to providing solid information, will likewise inspire artists as they continue their own unique creative journeys into the magical realm of the amazing and remarkable human figure.


Santa Rosa, California, 2015


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