- Lesson details
In this demonstration, master artist John Asaro shares his approach to creating brilliant, lively works of art while painting a female nude. John begins with an analysis of student art, Old Master works, contemporary art, and his own pieces to illustrate his key concepts behind bringing life to his paintings.
- Reducing Glass
- Handheld Mirror
- Mahl Stick (or Wooden Dowel)
- Viva Paper Towel
- 3′ Square Cardboard Box Painted Black
- Green Gel
- Stretched Canvas
- Hogs Hair Bristle Brushes
- Artists Grade Oil Colors
- Linseed Oil
- Graphite Pencil
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I’m going to talk about the process, how I work. I’m also going to talk quite a bit
about what I consider good drawing and not so good drawing. I’m going to show images
of the old masters, images of my work.
So, let’s get started.
that flows nicely. When you’re looking at a figure or a form or arms or legs,
I want you to think about a center line.
Let’s say you have a form like this, and let’s
say the bone is here. This is like you cut right through a leg or an arm. I want you
to think about a center line. There is the center line right there. Right in the center
of the form. This is an imaginary line. You don’t draw it, but you’re always thinking
about it. Until you’re dying day you will think about that.
So let me draw some forms here.
I’m trying to make these as like a solid form.
All these forms are all wrong. You don’t want to ever see a form like this on a body
because the center line on all these forms is a straight line.
If you have a straight line that means that it’s stiff.
Even though I have all these curves, it’s stiff and it's wrong.
You do not ever want to have a straight line. Only in a skeleton, the backbone
in a skeleton looking directly from the front or behind, the backbone could be straight.
That’s your only straight line.
This center line is what I want you to be thinking about, always.
Okay, these next forms are the right thinking, the right way to draw. Again, it’s the right thinking.
Now, watch this. I’ll put a straight line here. Remember this is a form.
We're always talking about a solid form. So now the center line is curved.
This is obvious, this one. You can have a straight, the center line is curved.
The center line, again, is curved. It can have straight…
the center line is curved. This is all the right kind
of thinking. Remember, you’re always thinking about that center line, and the center line
has to be curved. It always has to be curved.
Now, I’ve asked some students to send in some drawings of somebody standing at attention.
I’ve had hundreds of students in my later years of teaching, when I finally figured
this out, to make these drawings on the first day of the class. I think out of 200 or 300
students, only one or two ever got this right, according to what I say is right or wrong.
Okay, the center line, somebody standing at attention.
That’s the backbone or through the center of the form.
That is correct. It would be straight.
However, this person drew the legs—the center line, as you see, is perfectly straight.
This arm here is, again,
way to straight.
Do you notice that there is a curve here and a curve going the same way? You’ve got two
curves going like that. You’ve got a center line that is straight, and that is wrong.
Down at the bottom you can see this shape here. Center line, again, is straight.
Now, this is a shape—you can actually have a straight line right here.
The center line now is curved.
Somebody who has perfectly straight legs...
the legs will touch at the thigh, the knee, the calf, and the ankle bones.
They have perfectly straight legs.
Think of a bow and an arrow. Think of the body as a bow but it’s this shape of a bow,
where the curved part is toward the top.
You see that line? It’s just way, way, way too straight.
Again, what is the center line? It has to be curved. It always has to be curved.
This person here, they got the legs correct. They did it correct. The center line in these
legs here are curved, very nicely done by this person, but this arm is straight.
This arm has a slight curve, but basically it’s straight. Both sections are too straight.
This is how I would have liked to have seen it—
that is way too straight. You know, we
have to exaggerate a little bit.
You can see this is way too straight. Curve, you’ve
got to curve. Curve things more than you actually see them. This arm could be like this.
If I were to take this test, I would have done this. I would have done this.
I would have done this. I would have done this, and I would have said this person got it right.
That’s a stick figure, and that’s how most people think when they’re drawing from
a live model whom I’ve never drawn. They think in sections. They think from here to
here, stop. Start, from here to here. Stop. Start, from here to here. Stop. Start, stop.
And then go out to the foot. This is the thinking you should have right here. It flows all the
way right to the fingers. This is the thinking of the inside—remember that inside line
you don’t see but you understand and you feel and you know this is what you’re drawing.
You’re drawing that inside line even though you don’t actually draw it. It’s in your head.
At least that is curved.
This person start, stop; start, stop; start, stop; start, stop; start, stop; start, stop.
So this line here should be like this. It should flow,
and this one here should flow like that.
Again, this is the inside line that you don’t see.
Then you worry about the outside.
It’ll be so much easier to draw the outside of the arm.
Let’s go over this.
I always think of the negative shapes also. Even though you don’t really draw the negative
shape, you’re really drawing it in your head.
All you have to do is curve that inside line, and you get a figure that is alive.
This drawing is pretty darn nice.
This is the center line. Curved nicely.
This is a little too straight here.
This person when they were thinking, they were thinking I’m going to stop at
the hand, and then I’m going to draw the hand. Do you notice that the arm is coming
down, and the hand turns right here on both of these.
I am getting a little bit ahead of myself, but it’s important that you understand this.
They’re coming down the arm here, and the hand is here.
She just comes straight down and hits the hand and then draws the
hand off to the side like that.
Before you hit the hand the wrist has to turn towards the hand because even though
if you don’t do that and you just go like this, and then you move the hand down here the eye
sees things so quickly that your eye will just run right off like that.
It just shoots right past it. It makes really, really stiff looking. Plus, the figure is not like that.
Here—there is the hand down here. You’re thinking like this and like that.
For me, this is a little too stiff.
Let me show you something about right here. About two-thirds down you should start coming
out towards the toes. When was I was Frank Reilly’s class we would go like that.
Here is the knee.
We would draw this because it’s you’re thinking that it’s all one flowing
thing. You don’t think you’re coming down the leg, and then all of a sudden you’re
coming out toward the foot. This is the thinking process.
Then you put the foot in, and you
put the tendon right there. The back part always is curving toward the toes. You never
want it to look like a tree like that, and then the foot is out like this.
You’ll drive a line straight through the floor if you went like this. The back part is curving towards
the toes. Remember, about two-thirds of the way down you start curving out towards the toes.
He called it the five lines. This would be the front of the figure.
Here is the waist through here. Then the legs would come off like this.
That would be a female. The male would be, let's see... like this.
The male would be like this. In other words,
The lower it is from the shoulders, the smaller the waist.
The higher it is from the shoulders, the higher the waist.
This was the idea. If you have somebody curved like that you would
draw these lines, and this was a way of getting the hips and the torso to work nicely together.
The problem with this is it only works from the front and the back.
It doesn’t work from the sides.
I’ve come up with a way of doing an upside-down egg. Now, as you think of an egg you think
about something solid. With Reilly’s it wasn’t a solid kind of thing. It was just lines.
This is an egg that’s solid. It is a solid thought. This is an upside-down bucket. Let’s draw center line.
Upside-down egg, upside-down bucket. This bucket here, let’s
just cut this part off straight like that and take a line from here and come up and
go around and back down. Here is the center line.
So now we have the rib cage here. Let’s redo that one.
We have the rib cage.
We have the iliac crest here.
From the side this would be like this from the side. Here’s the center line.
This would be somebody that’s turned to the left. You’re thinking in a solid
way of the rib cage and the pelvis. You can turn this any way you want. This is what I
would teach people to draw if they’re just thinking of the rib cage and the pelvis together.
I want to go over some of the old masters’ paintings. I just want to comment on the center line.
This is quite beautiful right through here, the way that center line curves.
And again, this quite nicely done right there. However, on this side it’s just too straight.
He should have bent this more like that, and should have bent the wrist out more towards the fingers.
See, the center line is going straight like that. The eye will just keep it going straight like this.
I would like to have seen...
the arm going like that because the eye wants to go up like that.
I’m surprised Rubens drew it that way. This is lovely.
Okay, this is lovely, just lovely. That’s the center line.
There is the center line on that one. Lovely.
You can see curves this way and then again this way.
This arm here is absolutely gorgeous. It’s exactly what I’m talking about.
I’m thinking like a tube drawing,
and the center line on this leg is very nice also.
This leg here, that’s how that works.
This arm, her arm is just nicely...and the center line of the body is nice. All these
center lines, they have to curve and bend. That makes the figure alive. Of course, he’s
not alive here, but you know what I mean.
I’m not thrilled with this arm here. This part is bending here. This part is too straight.
It could be because of the way he put the cloth in, but it should be…
that’s how the arm should have been like this. Let me darken this here. That should be turning up.
Of course, this should be turning down. This back part of the leg here is heading too much
in that direction. It should have been going down because eventually your eye wants to
come out towards the toes. The wrist is very nice here because it’s turning towards the
hand. That’s exactly what you want to do.
If you cover up the hand like this, just the
part of the wrist here and here you can see that it’s turning down, so you know that
the hand is over here because the wrist is turning down towards the hand. The wrist does
not continue to go straight. That’s exactly what good drawing is all about.
This is a Renoir. Here is the center line. It’s pretty straight.
This is weak, weak drawing here.
We want the center line to do this. We want it to come up in the body.
Then it comes down and it should turn towards your next form. This is nicely done right here.
Again, because he made this so straight that the center line comes too straight.
You don’t have to do a lot to it. Just catch the edge right there.
As you can see, it feels—that’s what the eye will do. The eye will just keep on going even though you’ve got
the other part of the arm here. The eye will just go like that.
Now that I’ve done this you’ll always see the arm as being stiff.
This is Renoir. I’m not thrilled with the way he did this arm. Too straight.
This part here should have did more of this. You can curve around the breast, but you want it to
do—you want it to be heading toward the next part of the arm, which is over here.
You want the arm to do that.
This hand is nice, flows into the arm. This leg is nice.
This is beautiful the way this is done, and then it just curves, just turns. However,
over here it feels weak. This feels too straight. Again, the eye will continue.
We want the eye to do this.
I would have liked to have seen that go…
I’m kind of exaggerating this so you get that that’s the idea.
The problem is that right through here, where he’s got the drawing going this way, that’s the main problem.
You want a gentle S-curve because it’s turning down into the hand,
and this is turning up to the upper part of the arm.
I want to talk about Sargent. I just want to talk about the beautiful legs, the way
this nice, gentle curve, center, that’s the center line. Just lovely.
It's hard to tell, but the light here bends. It starts here and it bends a little bit this way.
When we talk about painting I’ll come back, and I’ll talk about this when we do the painting.
This leg is just lovely, and this one too.
That’s the idea. The center line is nice and curved.
Remember, when it’s curved it gives it life. When it’s straight—in fact, if you have
a straight line here and you add a weight this will break but faster than this. If you
hit this, this might bend a little bit, but this one will probably break. So a curve is
stronger. You’ll see athletes, dancers, their bodies, their arms are always more curved
than someone who is not quite as healthy. Somebody who let’s say has had polio or
can’t use their legs, then their legs are more straighter, and they are weaker.
A curve is stronger than a straight.
here, here, and this leg here, I find that the drawing is weak. He’s got a shape that’s
going like this, and then another shape is going like that. Like this to that. So basically,
he’s doing this and this and this and this. Creates a straight line, and the eye is just
burning right off the body like that, which is not good. We want this part of the leg
turning that way, and, of course, this part is turning that way also. This is where we’re
going. We’re going back down towards the ankle. The center of the leg—that’s the
center line—is doing that. In here, if you notice this leg is stiff also. This part is
fine there. But here he’s doing that, which is running the eye like this. Remember, just
because you stop a line that doesn’t mean that the eye is going to stop. This part here
is fine. Here he should have turned it up like this, or he could have done it this way.
He could have added that—then to that. That’s what we want. Also, on the wrist right there
this is too straight going like that. Should have curved it more like that
because we want the eye to do that.
Here’s another Lucian Freud. I don’t know what happened here, but basically he’s got
this to this, this to this, this to this, and this to this. What he’s doing
creates straight center lines, which is, in my opinion, extremely bad. The outside shapes
are correct. The inside shapes should be basically the shape, like that. The center line is doing
this, and the center line is doing that. Perfect legs are like that. The thighs touch. The
knees touch. The calves touch, and the ankles touch. That gives you beautiful legs, nice
center lines. This arm here is not good. It’s got this and this driving a straight line
right through the center of the form. This side should be more curved. You don’t want
to do that. This could be more straight, but we want to get the eye to go like that because
we are not drawing like this. This is what we want. That to that.
Okay, this is Eric Fischl. Again, he’s generally a pretty good draftsman, but in this painting
here he has several areas of the arms and legs that are quite stiff. Here is one right
through here. Perfectly straight center line. That should be bent more like that. You can
see this arm here is perfectly straight—don’t like that. Remember, just because he stops
it here and goes this way, the eye continues off like that. Unless he drew it straight
because he wants the eye to go off like this, but I doubt it. This should be bent. I’m
exaggerating so you guys—that should be bent like that. This arm here, again, that’s
straight. This is straight. He has created an X. Unless that’s what he wanted—I doubt it.
That should be bent like this, and this should be bent like that. Again, here he’s
got a straight center line, straight center line. He’s got another X, which is not good.
That should be bent like that. That should be bent here and here.
Again, we want the center line to curve. The same thing here. Let’s say you put a straight
line there. As long as you got the back part to curve you can put a straight line there,
so long as this curves like that. Anyway, this is way too stiff, in my opinion. In fact,
he’s got it actually curving this way, which is the complete opposite direction that it
would be curved. The human body curves there, like that.
Again, I’m always thinking about that center line.
Even though I’m not drawing it, I’m always thinking about the center line.
Right here when you have one thumb going one way and a finger going the other way I
kind of decided I like the way the finger is better, so that’s my thinking there.
I just want to comment on the way I’ve really bent that arm like that.
You can see it; it’s almost like a tube.
I’m always trying to get one curve that works nicely against another curve.
This one here, it’s a feeling that I want to paint.
I want that feeling.
You can see the way I did the light on the leg. That’s how the light is going, and
that’s how the leg is going also.
I just want to emphasize the wrists.
You’re always turning at the wrist towards the hand.
It’s like driving a car. When you’re going to make a turn you don’t just suddenly drive
the opposite direction. You’ve got to think about you’re going to be turning, and then
you slowly turn, and then you turn quicker. You’ll notice that all the wrists are turned
towards the hand. I see a lot of bad drawing where the wrist comes down—
the wrist is here and the hand is off in that direction, and there is no connection between the two.
We want this feeling. You want to turn the wrist toward the hand. If you hide the hand
and just look at the wrist, you know where the hand is going to be. The hand is not going
to be over here because you can see the wrist is turning in that direction.
You know the hand is going to be over here.
You can see how nicely the arms flow.
Here is an S-curve right through here.
You can see right here at the wrist where I have turned towards the hand.
We can see this arm here going towards the hand this way.
You'll notice right at the last second I have turned this right through here like that because
this is where the eye is going. This is where the eye is going, like that.
The center line will be going like that.
You don’t want to just copy a photograph and draw exactly like the photographs because
the photographs aren’t necessarily well drawn, and we’re going to get to that.
You can see how I’ve turned all of this like this because the rest of the arm is back here.
We want to turn this way because that’s where we’re going.
Okay. The center line of this foot is like that.
The center line is like this.
I’m going to draw right through that muscle. It’s kind of like a tube. That’s what’s
happening. Then you could add the muscle on. But this is the center line. This is how the
eye will quickly look at something. When you have a little foreshortening here the curves
are even more exaggerated.
The fingers are also curved. All the fingers are curved.
Here is the center line.
You have the center line in the fingers also.
Got a nice curve on that arm there, and you can really, really see the center line on that arm.
So you have to kind of disregard all the bumps.
I look at some of the muscles as just a bunch of bumps on a curve.
The thinking is, again, nice curves.
You can see the way I did the hand here.
Just want to go over this leg. Again, with foreshortening you tend to get more of a curve
in something that’s foreshortening, so that’s more of a curve.
This arm is more or less like that. This arm is more or less like this.
There is the center line. It’s curved this way, and it’s curved that way.
I just want to talk again about the fingers.
You want to curve the fingers.
It’s a nice curve to the arm.
You can have these little valleys and bumps along the way, but you got
to always remember what is the center of the arm doing?
You want to get the wrist, again, to turn towards the hand,
so all of this here makes up nice curves.
I’m repeating on one side of the leg as I did on the other side. Let’s say I do
say I do that on that part of the leg. The opposite side usually is the same, same kind of a curve.
You do not want to do that, because you’ll end up with a straight line.
So if one side of the leg is curved like that, the other side usually curves the same way.
On somebody who has a really nice figure, the way the great architect designed us to be,
like this leg here. Basically, that is what it’s doing. Whatever this is, the opposite
side of the leg will repeat itself. Then you have these little bumps and valleys along
the way, the muscles here and there. That’s the thinking. You get that center line, nice center line.
Look at the way I did the wrist right here. Here’s the hand. You can just see how I
really bent that wrist right there because we want to come up into the hand just right there.
That’s what’s happening here. You can make the bumps and the valleys when you’re
painting, how you run the light across the form. You can get things to turn more, and
I’ll get to that and talk about that when I do the painting.
Hands, all the fingers are curved on the hands. These two are generally curved towards each
other, and these two are turned like that. Some are S-curves, but you want to curve all
of the fingers. They could curved towards each other, or they could be parallel curves.
Now, I’ve curved this arm a little bit different. I went like this, like this, then again like this.
So that is an unusual curve to do this, but it works out. I like the way it—it has
a nice feel to it. You can see how I have curved the wrist right into the hand like that.
Even though I have this bump here or this muscle coming down, still the way I’ve
modeled the light, this is the curve I want. That’s going up. That’s going like that.
but as artists we should go beyond the photograph. We should realize that it could be a bad photograph,
that the arms are awkward looking. Let’s look at this part right here. This is too straight.
If I was going to paint that arm I would bend it like that.
This arm here, this is what we want it to do.
It’s turning into the shoulder, and then it’s turning down into the lower part of the arm.
This part here is okay because this is a nice little curve here. This part of the arm is too straight.
We want the back part to go like this, and we want this part to do the same thing.
Okay, now look at this one over here.
Again, that’s what we want. This is really bad here and here and here.
This is what the eye sees even though you’re not aware of it.
You can see how straight that is right there. I would turn that like that.
You can show that muscle. This is so foreshortened that I would almost do that.
So the inside line is doing that.
If you were to paint this the way you see it you have stick figure.
I’m going to exaggerate this drawing because I want you guys to see how I see things.
This is what I would do.
The center line is doing this, and it curves right into the fingers.
Again, this is too straight, and that is too straight.
That’s how I see it. This is how I would be painting it.
The ankles here, instead of going like this…
I would turn—this is going like this. This is what you want. I would turn right at the bottom, make sure that
that’s the drawing you want. Then you could add the heel.
You want your lines to flow. Then kind of add the bumps or the muscles and tendons, things like that.
This is a good example of a bad photograph.
You could do that.
Or, you could do that, but you have to bend it.
Right now it is too straight.
This is what I would have done. I would have done this, bent it like that.
You can see the fingers here. We know it’s turning towards the lower part of the arm.
You can see this little shadow. See that shadow right there? It’s kind of going this way.
This is the lower part of the arm here. I would have made that shadow going the opposite direction
because this is where it’s going. The arm is bending towards the lower part of the arm
where the hand is right there. So I would make that shadow edge like that.
This arm here is okay in this photograph. Here it is too straight.
The back part of the arm is okay, but this part should be like that so you get
this to this. Then it goes like that.
Again, we have a big problem with this arm this way. It really looks funny.
This is what we want to do. We want to curve it into the upper part of the shoulder and then turn it towards
the lower part of the arm here.
Let me erase it—you’ll see now how it looks too straight and stiff.
This here is going off like that. That’s what the eye does.
You’ve got to turn it down like that.
Eventually it’s heading over here.
Just these two little marks you can see.
The arms are way too straight here. It should be really more curved like that.
Yes, I would curve them that much.
This is a nice photograph the way all the muscles are put together, except here to here.
You can see this shadow, how straight that shadow is.
This part of the arm should be turning like that and down here,
and down here should be turning like that.
So, think of a tube.
That’s how it should be.
Now doesn’t that look better than that?
So if you don’t really understand drawing you would paint it stiff.
These fingers—curve them.
I don’t care how you curve them, but make sure they are curved. Everything is curved.
In fact, right here—see how this shadow is heading just like that?
The eye will continue that shadow off like that.
I’d just turn that down a little bit because that’s where we’re going.