Methods of the Masters

The ideas and methods presented here are mass conceptions that have proven to be useful in the construction of the human form. These methods were developed over the past several decades from study and absorption of works from many of the usual suspects. John Henry Vanderpoel, George Brant Bridgman, and Robert Beverly Hale form the core triad, but there are a myriad of others. Let us start with Vanderpoel, Bridgman’s senior who was a significant influence on Bridgman who wrote the following introduction to one of the editions of his book.

“Mr. John H. Vanderpoel approached nature in a direct and simple manner, his impressions faith­fully recorded are examples of his understanding of the human figure of which this book is a living record.
This insight into nature was the result of a lifetime of earnest, patient and persistent study. He analyzed and recorded the human figure both
in mass and detail; in good taste and discriminating judgment, with a closeness to nature that has never been equaled. The features; eyes, nose, and mouth will always remain a masterpiece in art.
Mr. Vanderpoel also had a clear and defined style, built up by infinite labor, as thousands of pencil drawings in existence show and illustrate his method of study.
The representation of these drawings will not change with time. Mr. Vanderpoel has left behind him great and powerful influence. True art is not subject to period changes.
– George Brandt Bridgman –

Vanderpoel and Bridgman both studied with Gustave Boulanger at Academie Julien in Paris. (though decades apart.)
Vanderpoel taught at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1880 to 1910, Bridgman at the Art Students League of New York for 45 years. First 1898-1900, then 1903-1943.

“Bridgman lectured exclusively on drawing, specifically that of the human form. As a talented anatomist, he taught methodically, using formulas he had devised that reduced the human body to geometric shapes and forms. Though the more creative types in his classes pushed back against this formulaic approach, Bridgman maintained that it was the best way to learn and delineate the complexities of the figure. He discouraged the use of color, often citing that “you can’t paint a house until it’s built.”

Over 70,000 students passed through Bridgman’s classroom at the League including Robert Beverly Hale who would take over Bridgman’s class after his death. Hale would teach at the League for an additional 38 years where he continued these academic teaching traditions which have a lineage that can be verified back past Gerome and Boulanger, Paul Delaroche and Antonie-Jean Gros thru the centuries to Michelangelo and beyond. So between Vanderpoel, Bridgman, and Hale, you have over 100 years of mentoring an estimated 150,000 students for over nine decades. The list of their prominent students is long and impressive, their manner of working extremely diverse

This trio of great educators produced many proteges and their books have reached millions, their total reach is inestimable. What sets this academic tradition apart from the mimetic verisimilitude currently taught at most of today’s leading ateliers is the is that no two students were expected to draw or paint alike and no two did. None of Bridgman’s students drew like Bridgman. You can verify this by looking at the works of Vanderpoel, Bridgman, and Hales students.

Building the human form in drawing, painting or sculpture, either from imagination or from a model, one must possess a comprehensive knowledge of figure structure. The human body, with its varied gestures, rhythms, angles, axes, tilts, twists, turns, interlocks, intersections, and dynamic oppositions, is very complex.
It is essential therefore that the apprentice, not only to have a working knowledge of its structural elements. They must also have a comprehensive understanding of its simplified mass conception.

The apprentice is initially concerned with the ex­ternal appearance of things. Drawing things that look like things is the customary starting point. They view nature based on its local color, light and shade, and its varying textures.

But getting back to our immediate concern, in order to draw the human form with success, they need the skill-sets necessary to express their knowledge of structure, and the understanding of what the model is doing. These things require a period of profound academic study.

“Drawing is like studying Greek and the piano-you can’t speak or play in your conscious, which is clumsy. You must get it into your subconscious, which is graceful but it takes time.” -Robert Beverly Hale-

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