The Figurative Artist’s Handbook by Robert Zeller (book review).

June 18, 2022 | By | Reply More

Considering the widespread taste of SFCrowsnest readers, not to mention likely talents, I do like to add in the odd artbook, as in this case, ‘The Figurative Artist’s Handbook’ by Robert Zeller. ‘Figurative’ means drawing or painting the human figure, often in the nude. The attraction to artists is its more interesting than just painting landscapes all the time simply because the positions of the body can be posed. In his introduction, Zeller points out that he has to get several books to cover all that is required for such studies and lessons and decided he needed to combine them into one.

So, what you have here is an art history from Ancient Egypt to modern day before getting into the art lessons themselves. Don’t knock the history because it shows how things changed over the generations. Zeller makes a good point that we’re aware of Greek statues yet their graphic art never survived. Coming up to the modern age, figurative painting lost out a lot until Norman Rockwell drew attention to it again, albeit clothed. Zeller’s 20th century doesn’t look at artists elsewhere in the world.

Generally, with most artbooks, you only get the author’s technique on how they draw. What Zeller does here is bringing in a selection of other artists and shows what they did as well. He includes and praises Andrew Loomis in all of this, so obviously my kind of guy, although later adds the comment that his work is for commercial art. I would have thought all art is commercial if you’re looking to sell it. The other artists also do some inspiring work will make you think you should be trying harder with texturing. Zeller also explores all the muscle groups and if you follow them through, there’s a fair bet that you’ll never have a smooth outline when figure drawing again.

There is even a section on painting so you do get the full class here. Did I say that Zeller is also an art teacher. Something he did remind me and which I’ve been falling behind on late is that its good to sketch and get some time in doing some. Whether or not I can do it on a daily basis remains to be seen and subject matter but I understand his philosophy. The more you do, the more  you will want to draw. If this book doesn’t encourage you of this then its doing its job.

To enforce this, there is a 25 artist section showing some of their techniques. Amongst these is Frank Frazetta, showing the design build-up for ‘Conan The Usurper’. Zeller points out that after the cover had been accepted and returned, he would repaint the entire painting on the same canvas although a shame he doesn’t line up both paintings for comparison.

Although I do think you would need some basic art skills to get started with this book, the inspiration level to improve what you can do with some knowledge of anatomy is significant. As I said, you’ll never draw a curved line on a figure again without thinking it needs to be broken up by muscles under the skin.

GF Willmetts

June 2022

(pub: M Studio, 2016. 304 page indexed illustrated large hardback. Price: I pulled my copy for about £22.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-58093-452-7)

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Category: Books, Illustration

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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