The study of the human figure has been an academic staple when it comes to learning to draw and paint. My own study of the figure in art began somewhere in my junior college years. In fact, it was the very first time I was exposed to live, nude models in figure drawing classes.
But even long before that, I had a fascination with bodybuilding. I think it was sometime in my high school freshmen year I discovered Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Modern Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding. This was a huge tome, showing many black and white photos of Arnold and other bodybuilding greats of his day.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to a point in my very early high school career when I wanted to be that big. It sounds crazy today, but I followed those real-life “superheros” on TV when I could find them and in the muscle magazines. Alongside the comic books I read back then, is it no wonder I am drawn to these muscular body types when creating my own artwork?
As it would turn out, I would be more of a dancer than a bodybuilder. I used to work out a lot in my 20s and 30s in public gyms. By that time, I figured out I don’t have the ‘gift’ of being able to get that big. But, I still paint many of my figures with these idealized proportions. For me, it comes down to the process of researching and studying the muscles in different poses for my paintings. It’s how perfect I can make these physiques in my paintings and how far I can push them as my creative vision takes me.
Proportions are sometimes exaggerated or adjusted as I see fit for my paintings. This is part of the fun I have when creating my art. I’m able to sculpt the type of physiques in these paintings that I once wanted for myself. For myself, wanting to look something like these incredible figures is not my goal these days. I’m well over that. Now, I’m content to do push-ups at home and use a pair of 20-pound dumbbells for my work outs to maintain my own shape.
There is a fantasy there, but it goes beyond the physical aspects of the figure in my paintings. By the time I combine light, shadow, color, and some narrative, I’m transporting myself to areas that focus more on composition as a whole. While these characters are the focal point, they are part of an overall composition.
As it is now, I’m still using photo references for my artwork, especially for the figure work. This new painting of Om focuses a great deal on the physique, no surprise there. But, I also feel I’ve taken a step toward getting a bit more abstract in my approach. For example, I was stuck when I finished this painting prior to adding the vertical columns of light behind Om. Once I added that element into the composition, the whole image came to life and I knew I was done with the painting.
Starting with a figure or character is still very important in my paintings. It’s integral to the reason why I paint art in the first place. But moving into a realm where I start to think more and more about composition could be a good thing. I see it as essential for myself to pay more attention to composition. This can make for an interesting transition in my art. Time will tell. Until the next painting…! ◼︎
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