The Human Figure

Marks on a page are as distinctive as each of our human form. There is something profound that becomes apparent when drawing another human being with only muscles and skin over their bones.  There is a trust and vulnerability for the model and also for the artist. I find that the drawing is as much about that relationship as it is about what the eye is seeing.

My husband, David Colussi, and I had been taking figure drawing classes for a few years in a row before moving to Mayne Island. We felt for sure that this was one of the things we had to give up when moving out of the city. But we were wrong. For the first time in three and a half years (and the first drawing David has done since his stroke just over a year ago) we went to class right here on our little island.

I have dispersed two each of our sketches of various lengths. If you run your cursor over the image it will tell you which one of us did the sketch and how long it took.  As the weeks go on, we will see if there are others we want to share.

Sprout question: What is your creative relationship to the human figure?

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From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada

20 thoughts on “The Human Figure

  1. working with the figure has been transformative for me as an artist. there is as always room for growth and it is evident that there is always more to learn.
    Working with the figure is more a striped down process of making art for me . It also connects me with the long history of artists working with models.

    • Your comment Jerry reminds me of something one of the Artist at the figure drawing class mentioned about how an instructor in a near city told her that life drawing had gone out of fashion for art student for awhile and that it was now back in. I found this a rather puzzling thought – that life drawing could go out of fashion. Like other fashion, it went by me completely unnoticed. Figure or life drawing is not my primary area of work but it has strengthened every other area of my creativity from writing, painting, and photography and even my relationship to other subjects… such as my landscape and seascape work. It is a mystery that I trust without completely understanding. As always, good to see you here Jerry.

  2. I don’t think a writer has the same relationship with the human figure as a sketch artist does. I reason, I am as a writer interested in the inner humanity –you as a sketch artist are interested in the outer humanity. Yes? No? Other thoughts, please share. However what unites us is our mutual interested in that which is human.
    Thank you for adding my blog to your blog roll.
    All the best,

    • Leanne it is a fascinating question you proposed and well worth taking the time to ponder. At first glance this may appear to be the case and possibly it is on some occasions. However, what we describe as our outer and inner humanity is an artificial separation. Our hand does not sketch from the distance of our fingers at the outer edges of our body. Our eyes do not see like a camera. There is this fluidity between our humanness and the humanness of the model before us. Let me give a couple of examples, if you were wanting to write about the sadness or loss that one of your characters were experiencing, the first place you know this is through your own body expression – feeling empty, crying, shoulders slumped and so on. Then secondly, you can observe how sadness is expressed by observing how someone else expresses it – bottom lip quivers, eyes are downcast, feet shuffling and so on. When we draw a naked figure our model allows us to experience her or his emotions without the buffer or additional layering of expression that clothes offer. So as a writer, I learn plenty about our inner humanness from sketching the human form. The set of the shoulders, the tilt of the chin, the clenching of the hands, the twitch at the edge of a mouth, the narrowing of the brow, the twist of the spin. These are all visible outer observations that provide windows and a glimpse into our inner worlds… not just the inner world of the model but also, and more significantly so, the inner world of the artist… or the writer.

      I hope this helps.

  3. Hi Terrill: I have been doing life drawing for over twenty years, on and off. I love working on perspective, and practicing proper alignment of features and bone structure. I win some I lose some and there’s nothing lost when a drawing comes out horrible. It’s just practice.

    As far as a sketch artist having a relationship more with outer humanity, I disagree. I once read a biography of a sculptor that she had deep insights into a person’s personality when they were posing for a bust sculpture. I have a copy of the book “Your face never lies” which explains how facial features actually describe what’s going on inside the person. And even as a people watcher I envision trying to draw the figures that are gnarled up and twisted from a long hard life and I find myself wondering what inner attitudes and outer circumstances got them there. So, from drawing the figure, one could tell a lot about the personality type of the model, and the drawing becomes a window to the soul just as the eyes are.

    • Jessica, how wonderful to have you drop by. I like that about winning some and losing some when sketching. It is so true, no matter how long we do it there is always more to learn.

      I would like to push a wee bit harder on this idea that we learn about the personality of the model when we sketch. I suggest that we learn as much about our own inner selves as we do about the model – and maybe even more so. From your experience Jessica, you will have noticed how 20 people can draw the same model and the drawings all look different. Some will have the person with a large head or older or younger or heavier or slimmer and so on. I believe these variations are not just the hand not doing what the eye sees but the hand interpreting what the artist is experiencing about themselves – feelings, values, beliefs all coming into the marks that end up on the page of the artist’s sketch.

      Here is an example that is visible in the first sketch that I posted. Art instructor Glenn Howarth use to tell us that the artist has a tendency to draw what is not in use or not valued as smaller or less developed. In our culture, we value intellect so heads are often drawn bigger than they really are on the body. When the model is sitting the legs are often drawn shorter and so on. Now if you look at my first sketch the right arm and left leg are less developed. Even though both would have been visible in great detail when I was drawing the model, neither is supporting the model to stay seated on the edge of the chair. I did not do that on purpose. It just happened. I was impressed with the physical strength and beauty of the model. I could tell you that the model values her physical strength and beauty but I don’t know that for sure… what I do know is I value her physical strength as I do my own. This is one way I find inner-confidence expressed on the out layer of our human form. Again, there is the movement from inner to outer self and then from outer to inner of the other… over and over again as each mark is placed on the page.

  4. Terrill – The drawings are wonderful! And done so quickly — I can’t even begin to imagine. I very much appreciate your observation, “I find that the drawing is as much about that relationship as it is about what the eye is seeing.”

    Sprout question: What is your creative relationship to the human figure?

    As a practitioner of energy medicine, my hands are in regular contact with the human body. Often working with my eyes closed, I imagine it’s a bit like reading braille. The “creative” aspect comes in conveying what I’m “reading” in a clear and understandable manner to the recipient.

    Leanne – I would have to disagree with your statement (this coming from a person who can barely draw a stick figure). In the drawings above, Terrill and David both captured way more than the human form. Each drawing portrays joy, turmoil, aspiration, and angst — essence.

    • Laurie I do agree with your assessment about capturing essence in figure drawing. In order to breathe life into the figure sketched on the page, we must leave some of ourselves behind in the marks we make. Like writing, sketching can take us deep into human character. And like writing, it can also be lifeless, and simply informative. Instructions on how to buy your subway ticket and an anatomy drawing of a foot are still both writing and drawing but their purpose is to inform the viewer with specific information for a specific purpose. In figure drawing I learn about anatomy but that is not the purpose of my sketch. My purpose is finding deeper paths into myself through my experience and observation of another human being who has so graciously posed naked. In this sacred relationship between artist and model, I learn and will continue to learn for as long as I pick up the charcoal and make marks on the paper.

      Well, Leanne, Jessica and Laurie I had way more to say than I thought I might… thank you for indulging me.

  5. “My purpose is finding deeper paths into myself through my experience and observation of another human being who has so graciously posed naked.”

    This is it Terrill – this is precisely it.

    • Oh good Laurie. I had to write it long hand before getting to this key perspective. Funny how it is so hard to explain. One would think that the act of picking up a piece of charcoal and making marks on paper would be rather straight forward.

  6. Hooray! I am so happy to hear that you and David have rediscovered drawing (together!) I look forward to having David show me his sketches in person. 🙂

    • I know Jose… it is so exciting! Good to see you are home safely and back online. I am sure by the time you get over to visit David will have a portfolio of new sketches to share. We are hoping the class goes all winter.

  7. These are all magnificent, and knowing what David has gone through, deeply inspiring. It’s great that the move from the city did not dash your hopes to continue in bringing out this incredible talent. I always marvel at how the human hand can produce such profound beauty, but you (and David) never stop producing the proof.

    Because of recent ailments, I’ve known just how creative one must be in bringing their bodies back to fuctioning order. The creativity is a kind of adherence to do what has to be done.

    • Keep at that creative effort for health and wellness Sam! Our enjoyment of each day intensifies with good health. Sometimes our health goes sideways against our best efforts. However, how we manage these events can be the life changing motivation we need. I am sending a wish for resilience and self care to you. I imagine you working with someone like Laurie to optimize your creative strategies until you are glowing with strength and energy.

  8. Hi Terrill & David,

    So glad that you and David received so much from the Life Drawing class. I certainly loved it so much in Calgary that I wanted to continue on Mayne Island. We will certainly continue through the Winter as long as we have a great model like Danielle.

    See you both on Monday!

    Best Regards,


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