Because I'm working a seasonal job this year, lately I haven't have much time to draw (or blog). To make up for it, I've been rereading Robert Beverly Hale's “Master Class in Figure Drawing” on my breaks. I also have audio copies of his 10 lectures that I listen to on my 40 minute drive to and from work. These “work-arounds” keep me in the game.
Besides describing human anatomy from an artistic point of view, Hale talks a lot about how an artist approaches drawing the figure. Here are some of the things he repeats over and over again:
“Most basically, the act of traditional drawing is to create the illusion of three-dimensional volume on a working surface.” Drawing is an illusion. Once you realize this, you are freed from trying to copy what you see in exact detail. No matter how or what you draw, you are seeing something and then translating it into an two-dimensional illusion on a flat piece of paper. Therefore, there is no way you can copy what you see anyway unless you're looking at a two-dimensional cardboard cut-out.
Bony landmarks are the only ones you can trust. Hale repeats this over and over again. The way to be sure you have accurate proportions, is to put points down that mark the significant landmarks on the body. The most important landmark is the anterior superior iliac spine, or the front point of the pelvis, because from there you can go in so many different directions—down to the hip or pubic area or up to the rib cage. Others are the point of the shoulder, the bony protrusions at the elbow, etc.
Cast shadows destroy form. Cast shadows should not be copied exactly as you see them because, for example, if you draw a complete cast shadow around the eye or nose area, you won't be able to show the three-dimensional form with a highlight plane and a shadow plane, which is the only way you can do it. Along with this comes the idea that artists create their own light in general all over the form. In order to show a good knee you have to draw a lit front plane and a shadow side plane, so you should do this whether or not you actually see this on the model.
An artist should create his or her own secret figure: “From the point of view of traditional drawing, it is assumed that an artist cannot draw a form successfully unless he can draw that form from his imagination alone. In other words, when an artist draws from a model, he does not attempt the impossible task of directly copying every detail he sees before him. He already has in mind a full image of the human figure, its forms, planes, and proportions, decided upon according to his taste. He has patiently constructed this figure through study and observation. To a great extent, when the artist draws from the model, he visualizes and sets down the image he has long since created. Thus the artist's personal image of the human body, his secret figure, so to speak, becomes the implicit vehicle of his style.”—from Hale's introduction to “Artistic Anatomy” by Dr. Paul Richer.
If you count Albinus's anatomy, there are at least five books still in print by Robert Beverly Hale. There are also videos of his ten-lecture series at the Art Students League in New York. The video are poor quality and very expensive to buy, but you can get them from libraries, as I did, or watch clips on YouTube.