American Artist

Drawing and painting a life-size figure: during a recent workshop at the Art Students League of New York, Francis Cunningham showed students how to draw a life-size figure and use the resulting charcoal drawing as a map for painting an anatomically functional human being.

FOR MORE THAN 30 YEARS, New York artist Francis Cunningham has been teaching and practicing a rather simple concept that seems to elude most artists: if they distort the anatomical structure of the human form in their drawings or paintings, the image they create represents a body that can not support its own weight. That is, if the images are developed while the artists keep their eyes fixed on one part of the model seen from one station point, all the other body parts become smaller and angled depending on their distance from that focal point. "You may have painted, drawn, or sculpted a figure, but it won't appear as if it could get up, move about, and take other positions," Cunningham explains. "If the goal is a functional nude that is seen in his or her completeness--in terms of the total emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical human being--then one has to consider how one represents a full-scale image."

The challenge of creating that kind of large, fully functional figure is a daunting one, but Cunningham spent a week with workshop participants at the Art Students League of New York (ASL), in Manhattan, helping them understand how to develop such a drawing and then use it as the basis of an oil painting. "I'm going to introduce tools of measurement that can be used to create a linear map that will in turn free you in your drawing, painting, or sculpture," Cunningham said during the first morning of the workshop. "We're going to be dealing with a particular person, not an idealized formula. We'll want to accurately record the head, hands, eyes, legs, and torso of the particular person who is modeling for us."

Before students arrived for the workshop, the class monitor taped 6'-x-3' sheets of tan-colored kraft paper to Masonite and secured them on easels arranged around the studio so that each of the IO students would have a clear view of the model. …

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