Feeling the Form - Loomis and the Planes of the Head

Loomis planes of the head

This post is picking up a thread that I dropped in April 2007, the Loomis head drawings. Most of the drawings in this post come from the year of no posts, but I'll update the site with what this practice has lead me to now in the next post, and so bring at least this thread back up to the present.

One of my original ideas when I came back to painting was that I wanted to get back to portrait painting. I find portraits fascinating, and am often to be found skulking around the National Portrait Gallery. But all the portraits I've done in the past have been of the cheesy copied photo variety. When I was a street artist in my twenties, every now and again people used to ask me to copy poor quality snaps of their nearest and dearest, which I used to do quite happily for them. I couldn't say the work was particularly inspiring and the results were invariably awful, they were crimes against art for which I should have been excommunicated, but along with the change people threw into my hat they paid the bills.

Although I tend to do mostly still life these days, I'm still interested in other types of painting and particularly portraits. I haven't posted on this subject for some time, but a fair amount of my general practice time is still taken up with drawing heads in one form or another. At some point I hope to start devoting more time to it, but in the meantime I've been keeping it ticking along.

A quick recap: A while ago I started working through Drawing the Head and Hands by Andrew Loomis. Loomis was an illustrator who wrote some very useful art instruction books, most of which are out of copyright and can be downloaded here. Drawing the Head and Hands is a guide to drawing (funnily enough) the head and hands, but from imagination, and teaches a basic approach to building up the form of the head which I've covered previously here. Now, Loomis being an illustrator, I should imagine that it would be very useful to him to be able to draw a head from any angle, and the aim of the book is to teach you to do just that. Loomis' books are primarily aimed at budding illustrators and come from a time when there was perhaps more demand for that kind of work and Photoshop was still just an illustrator's nightmare.

Working from imagination is a useful skill no doubt. Although my own work has been, and will continue to be, a result of direct observation, it would surely be a sorry painter who had no imaginative facility at all. That said, it's my belief that learning only from a source like Drawing the Head and Hands without any recourse to direct observation would be inadvisable at best. The Loomis method of building a head from a basic ball is effective as far as it goes I think, but I'm pretty sure Loomis himself had done a huge amount of drawing from both life and photo reference, so expecting to be able to draw a head as well as Loomis does working only with this book would be a little optimistic I think.

What brought this into sharp focus for me was getting to the section of the book where Loomis starts to deal with the planes of the head. He simplifies the form of a head down into the main planes and proceeds to draw them from a variety of perspectives, and to draw them very well. Personally, I started to really struggle with the book at this point. It's pretty easy if all you want to do is copy Loomis' drawings, but that's not the point of the book. You're supposed to be able to imagine, and then draw convincingly, these planes from any angle. I found that to be next to impossible, to the extent that I began to wonder if I was missing the 'imagination' gene.

Here's a page from the Loomis book that shows how he develops the head up from the basic planes into something more complex:

Loomis - planes of the head

At first I thought that looked like a very good way to proceed, very sound. The Bargue approach stresses working from the general to the specific, getting the large shapes right first and then refining down. I know that principle works in practice, and at first sight Loomis seems to be following it here.

However, I think that these planes are too vague to be really useful except in very general, conceptual terms. The problem, to me, is that they don't fit together. Too many of the interlocking edges of the planes are undefined, even in the first drawing. What happens where the eye line meets the side of the socket going down to the cheek in the first drawing? How does the mouth fit into the planes coming down from the cheek bone to the chin in the second one? Perhaps I tried to implement them too literally, and Loomis meant them only as a general guide. But after the clarity and directness of the 'ball' approach, I found these planes to be confusing and poorly defined.

Here's a plate from the book showing how Loomis uses these planes when drawing heads from different angles:

Loomis - planes of the head in perspective

Now, call me a sceptic, but it appears to me that what Loomis is doing here is drawing heads in perspective, which as a professional illustrator with years of experience he was quite capable of doing, and then superimposing the merest suggestion of his planes over the drawings.

I have a lot of respect for Loomis and I think there's a lot of good information in his books, but I don't always agree with him. In the course of my value studies, I had to disagree with Loomis on one point of his 'form principle' at least. That wasn't idle speculation, it was a direct result of the practical exercises I was doing then. Likewise here, I haven't tried a couple of drawings using his 'planes' method, struggled, and given up. I've done a great many of those little heads now, and after a while it became unavoidably obvious that his method wasn't working for me. It just wasn't coming.

Time to get some of my own drawings out. Here's a bunch of drawings based on Loomis' planes:

Loomis heads
What I was trying to do here was to take the angles that Loomis was drawing his heads from and do my own from similar angles, but without copying Loomis' versions. They're pretty rough, I think it's obvious that I'm struggling. There were many much rougher ones before this set, too.

I'm trying to define the planes more clearly in my drawings than Loomis does in his, because I wanted to know how they fitted together. I was trying to resolve the vague areas in Loomis' planes in order to be able to imagine them in perspective more clearly.

The method either works or it doesn't. My problem with Loomis' examples is that he hasn't given you enough information to fully realise the planes. I struggled on like this for a while, until, out of sheer frustration, I decided to make a head to finally figure out how those planes fitted together.

Firstly, I made a few small maquettes with Plasticine, a few inches high. They were fun to do, and instructive, but I felt the need to do something life-size in order to properly resolve the planes, so the final head was made from clay. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Arno:

Clay head

He's not exactly the epitome of classical beauty, nor is he much of a conversationalist, but despite his reticence he taught me a lot.

I'm not a sculptor by any stretch of the imagination and I don't think his construction was very sound. For an armature, I screwed a length of wood, 2 X 1 inches in section I think, to the board with a couple of metal brackets. I built up the ball of his head with screwed up sheets of newspaper covered with tape, and taped them around the top of the wood. But once I started building up the clay around the head, the weight of it started dragging the head down the wood which then started poking out of the top, resulting in that odd lump on the top of his head. But at least I got to finally resolve how some of those planes might be made to fit together.

But I still had to look a little further than Loomis to do it. Arno is an amalgam of the Loomis planes and a 'planes of the head' sculpture by John Asaro. Asaro was, as far as I can gather, a student of Reilly's, who was in turn a student of Frank Vincent DuMond at the Art Student's League in New York. Coincidentally, so was Loomis.

Asaro planes of the head

Here's a photo of the Asaro head. It looks like you can still get copies of this head from Planes of the Head, but I can't recommend them since I haven't bought one, and personally, I never, never, never buy anything from a web site that doesn't publish a phone number. Unfortunately I know very little about DuMond at present, but that's a situation I plan to rectify if I can. I wonder if this 'planes' idea comes from DuMond originally, or if it's much older. Regardless, it seems to me that Asaro has done a clearer job of resolving and describing those planes than Loomis has, with the result that my clumsy effort looks substantially more like Asaro's version than the Loomis drawings.

So what did I learn from Arno, and from his smaller Plasticine prototypes? Well, I did figure out a way to finally resolve the Loomis planes. But the real lesson was more far reaching and was also unexpected. After Arno, something started to happen to my drawings. When I was drawing a head, I had a new, much clearer conception of the three dimensionality of the form I was describing with two dimensional lines. I wasn't drawing lines any more, I was drawing lines which described planes. It's hard to put into words, the nearest I can come is that I started to feel the form as I drew, thus the title of this post. The most valuable lesson I learned was that sculpting something in three dimensions builds a three dimensional model of it in your mind, which translates directly, almost effortlessly, into drawings with a greater feeling of form. I can't recommend it highly enough and plan to do much more of it.

Mannequin head

I have done some drawings and painted sketches directly from Arno, but unfortunately he's fallen apart now due to his shoddy construction and the fact that I didn't fire him in a kiln. It's a pity, because he was a good model.

There was one other method I tried at about the same time which also proved to be quite helpful. I got hold of a mannequin bust from ebay and drew the main divisions of the planes on it. Here it is. The photo isn't good, but hopefully you can see the pencil lines describing the divisions of some of the planes. I've also marked the centre line, and the three main vertical divisions of equal size which Loomis recommends.

This head isn't much better proportioned than Arno's, and parts of it are decidedly odd, but it is very light which makes it easy to work with. I can lay it on the floor or put it up on a shelf and draw it from almost any angle. Interestingly, it follows Loomis' three main vertical divisions of the head, from the hairline to the brow line to the bottom of the nose to the chin quite closely.

What this head represents to me is a kind of half way house between an imagined head and working from observation. It adds an element that's missing from the Loomis method - drawing from a real head. It would undoubtedly be better to sit some poor unsuspecting soul down and draw the planes on their head with a magic marker, but in lieu of that the mannequin does pretty well.

Here's a couple of pages of head drawings done after Arno was made, and partly from the mannequin head:

Head drawings

I think there's a big improvement in these heads over the previous ones. The forms have more depth and three dimensionality to my eyes, and the planes are fitting together much more convincingly. They also felt a lot better under the pencil.

I don't want to give the impression that the Loomis book isn't worth working with. Firstly, I think it's excellent, it's just not enough on it's own. Secondly, I still haven't got very far with it since I went off on such a tangent at the 'planes' stage. There's much more to come that I haven't looked at yet, including the muscles of the face which I believe is the next chapter.

It may well be that when I get to that stage, I'll find myself wanting to flesh out the exercises in the book with some more in depth study of the anatomy of the head. Certainly I'd like to get hold of a good skull and spend some time drawing that.

But at the moment I'm still following the tangent I started going off on here, which has eventually led me back to old master copies by a rather circuitous route. Here's the beginning of it:

Head drawings

The first four drawings here, reading from the top of the page down, are pretty much in the same vein as the previous sheet. I think the first two were drawn using the mannequin head as a model and the second two were imagined.

The last one at the bottom right was something of an experiment. I thought it might be interesting to take an old master drawing and see if I could superimpose the planes on it, feel the form of the head rather than copying the drawing. This head is by Bernini, and I found the exercise interesting enough to try out a few more.

After this one, I did a series of copies of Sargent drawings in the same way, which proved very instructive. Sargent turned out to be the perfect master to try this on since he simplifies his forms quite strongly into planes and has a strong sense of form. I'll save those exploratory drawings for the next post though, which will lead me through a series of old master copies coming eventually back round to Bargue, and a new appreciation of the mastery of his drawings and of some aspects of the Bargue drawing course.

It seems that all these disparate threads start to join with each other eventually. Frank Vincent DuMond, who taught Loomis, had some training at the Academy Julien in Paris under Boulanger and Lefebvre, who taught at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. It seems oddly apt that I should start out with the Loomis head and hands book and end up, via Asaro, DuMond and Sargent, back with Bargue and the French academic tradition. All roads lead to Rome, as they say. Well, Paris in this case.

32 comments

Bob Lafond said:

Paul, Thank you for the link to the Loomis books. I enjoyed hearing about Arno.

Bob Lafond

Posted: 2008-12-30 01:02:23

Bob Lafond said:

The Planes of the Head site does publish a phone number, which you see when you click the "ordering info" button under "Head Model".

Bob L.

Posted: 2008-12-30 01:07:06

Paul said:

Hi Bob. I'd grown quite attached to Arno, but sadly he is no more. When bits started falling off him I broke him up and chucked him in the bin. Sad really. He had a very short but useful life :)

Thanks for the correction on the phone number, sorry I missed it.

Posted: 2008-12-30 08:47:58

Linda said:

I had a drawing teacher twenty years or so ago who made us draw the Asaro planes of the head cast for the first half hour of every class before we were allowed to draw the model. I think this practice helped me immensely. I own an old plaster version of the Asaro cast and it's a useful thing to have around. As an illustrator, Loomis would have found a planar system useful to figure out how light would have lit a head so that he could figure out relative values in the planes as they relate to the light source. But I think it's really good to have this kind of working knowledge of planes when you paint or draw a portrait subject who doesn't actually hold rock-solid still. If you don't keep your subject a little animated you run the risk of that look of pain, boredom or stupification that you sometimes see in somebody trying to hold a pose for a long time. So, if your subject moves, you know where that plane defines the form even if the contour line has changed a little bit. Think: planes first, contour lines later. I dunno. I'm still working out how Reynolds, Romney, Ramsey, Raeburn and Lawrence did it (sounds like a law firm :) ).

(I love this blog, Paul.)

Posted: 2008-12-30 14:02:16

Sharon said:

Wonderful idea to make the model. Sad to hear of Arno's demise.

I also found it difficult working with the planes in the Loomis book and became disheartened, but now feel inspired to try making my own head (in a manner of speaking!)

Your blog is great Paul and thanks so much for sharing your findings.

Posted: 2008-12-30 15:33:21

Paul said:

Hi Linda, thanks for the comment, some very good points you raised there.

The point about values is particularly interesting. I'm sure it would be possible, with practice, to pretty much work out what the value of each plane would be given a consistent light source. All my head drawings have been of the 'wire frame' variety so far, but tone will appear before too long no doubt.

>Think: planes first, contour lines later.
That sounds like really solid advice to me, and also fits nicely with the 'general to specific' principle.

>I'm still working out how Reynolds, Romney, Ramsey, Raeburn and Lawrence did it
Didn't they all work sight size? At least, I believe Reynolds, Raeburn and Lawrence did. Have you seen this article on the history of sight size? I know sight size is primarily an what you might call an optical approach, but I would have thought that it could only be helped by being used in tandem with say, knowledge of anatomy or a clear conception of the main planes.

Hi Sharon, I highly recommend you try a bit of sculpture. It makes an amazing difference to drawing I think. Hard to describe, but tangible. It might be a good idea to try a few little ones first though. Arno was no male model, but the first couple of prototypes looked more like space aliens.

It might comfort you to know that I gave Arno a moment of silence by the bin when he met his end. Not a very long moment though, it was cold out.

I received a fascinating email today from a forensic artist who read this post. Part of her job is to draw heads based on the descriptions of witnesses. How hard must that be? She raised the interesting, and I think very valid point that the Loomis method also tends towards standardised, ideal heads. I can imagine that that might result in drawing the same head, or a close variant of it, every time. That's pretty much what I did too. I was discussing this some time ago with a highly accomplished artist (David Kassan - check out those paintings!) and he voiced some doubt that learning schematics like the Loomis method could cause problems, since the schematic, once internalised, could force itself onto any head done from life and get in the way of observation. He may well be right. Any thoughts on that?

Posted: 2008-12-30 15:52:44

Linda said:

Interesting point made by the forensic artist. I had a life sculpture made of my own head once, you know, the kind where they put straws up your nose and cover you with some kind of gel. I was really alarmed by the plaster cast - I look so Cro Magnon - and put the thing in a bag and whumped it against the driveway. A true castoff. It has gone to meet Arno in the great hereafter.

David could be right. I see Caucasian artists drawing Asian subjects who keep insisting on putting in a chiselled nose bridge, or putting angled cheekbones on little children.But I still think the planar head keeps you thinking of a volume in space.

By the way, David Kassan is an incredible draftsman. I watched him stand maybe twenty feet away from his portrait subject and use binoculars for the details after he made accurate broad measurements. I am playing with this also since I got some binos for Christmas. Is this 'bino-size'? :) I'll let you know how this goes if I can get this to work for me.

Posted: 2008-12-30 17:00:13

Lisa said:

Hello, aforementioned forensic artist here! :^) I think learning Loomis' method is helpful for getting a feel for the structure of the face, and agree that it could cause problems if someone relies on it instead of observation. But, I think that would happen more with someone that was looking for a quick fix, like a "Learn to Draw Like the Masters in 20 Minutes a Day!!" sort of thing. I think someone that is in this for the long haul, and really wants to learn and progress will store the knowledge, and use it when needed, and toss the parts that don’t apply to their current task.

I can draw a comparison with the way forensic artists work when they do a composite. It is essential to know anatomy and the canons of facial proportion, period. But, some artists can’t be bothered with that, and will use a facial proportion template to do the drawing. And what invariably happens is, the artist will draw on top of that template with the oval face and perfectly spaced features, and tend to ignore that the witness described “close-set eyes and a high forehead.” Without that template they are lost, they don’t know what “average” is. You have to know average before you can depict something that isn’t average. In a composite drawing, we use the verbal description from the witness along with photo references of faces, so when they describe “beady eyes”, they can point to an image and say, “like that, but farther apart”, or whatever. It’s knowing where to place those features that is so important, and how to unify it all with the proper shading of the facial structure, but it’s lost when someone relies on a schematic, template, or formula, instead of having that knowledge stored in their head.

Knowing what an ideal face looks like in all views is great if you can use it to see how what you’re observing *differs* from that ideal. It’s the variances from the ideal that make the human face so darn interesting.

Posted: 2008-12-30 17:39:17

nick said:

I bought my wife some Sculpey for Christmas but after reading this post I might just “borrow” it. I had the same experience as you with Loomis Paul, and I too suspected that he first learnt how to draw and then subtracted these ideas after the fact. I found that I was trying to make my live models fit the planes instead of drawing what was actually there. Happy New Year to you and all your readers.

Posted: 2008-12-30 21:18:32

Paul said:

>I look so Cro Magnon
LOL! Well, I'd just like to assure our readers that I've met Linda, and she looks anything but Cro Magnon.

Interesting what you say about David's point. I've seen before people draw their own features on their subjects face, their own nose etc. I wonder if this goes back to one of those basic problems of drawing, drawing a mental image of what we see rather than what's really there. I think part of training observation is training ourselves to override the mental image we have of things so that we can actually see what we're looking at clearly - learning to see, you could say.

From that point of view, the Loomis 'ideal head' method could be seen as refining and correcting the mental image rather than overriding it in order to see more accurately.

I'm intrigued by David's 'Bino-size' technique, I've seen him do the same thing drawing from a painting in the National Gallery in London. It must be a very good way of ensuring that the large forms are laid in correctly first, and keeping from getting tied up detail too early in a drawing.

Please keep me updated on the Bino size technique Linda.



Hi Lisa, thanks very much for posting your thoughts here.

That's very interesting about forensics artists using a template, and, from the sound of things, allowing it to affect the drawing in the same way as a mental image can. The mental process must be very similar, although from what you're saying it sounds like the schematic is even more invasive.

>It’s knowing where to place those features that is so important, and how to unify it all with the proper shading of the facial structure, but it’s lost when someone relies on a schematic, template, or formula, instead of having that knowledge stored in their head.

That's an interesting point too. It strikes me that stuff like knowing where to put the shading etc. moves more into the area of being able to visualise how light affects form, how it affects the values. But without a clear understanding of the structure, that would be hard if not impossible. Have you ever done any sculpture Lisa?

This is a very interesting discussion, thanks all for your comments. Personally, I'm leaning more towards the idea that an ideal schematic, whether externally applied or internally visualised, could very well get in the way of observation and may be a dangerous thing.

Posted: 2008-12-31 09:49:01

Paul said:

Hi Nick, thanks for popping in. A happy new year to you to, and to everyone else. Made any resolutions yet? Mine's the same as usual - find more easel time.

I've never heard of Sculpey before. but it looks cool. Must get some. Does it dry hard in the air do you know?

I found one place so far that sells sculpey in the UK, I'll have a hunt around and see what I can find out about it.

Posted: 2008-12-31 09:53:35

Lisa said:

Hi Paul! The only sculpture I've done was a practice facial reconstruction on a skull. I've been doing actual facial reconstructions in the 2D method, doing a drawing over photos of the skull, because that was the protocol for where I work. Now we are moving back to doing clay recons, so my New's Years agenda is to start sculpting! I think it's interesting that you said it helps with drawing, and visualing form, which is exactly what I want to master.

>>It strikes me that stuff like knowing where to put the shading etc. moves more into the area of being able to visualise how light affects form, how it affects the values. But without a clear understanding of the structure, that would be hard if not impossible.

Yup, that is the tough part for me. I actually had photos taken of that ebay mannequin head from all different angles and lighting setups so I could study just that! I'm getting all the pics organized now so I can study them and do drawings from them. Also, have you seen this book called "Heads" by Alex Kayser? It is a book simply of B&W phots of faces, all with the same lighting, all different ages and races of subject, and none of them have hair. It's a wonderful study tool, and I think it will help me a lot with composites, besides my off-work, "fun" drawing.

Posted: 2008-12-31 13:07:10

Paul said:

Hi Lisa.

I'd be very interested to hear if your experience with sculpture relates back to your drawing in the way mine did. For me, the effect was almost immediate.

That's interesting that you've had photos done of your mennequin head. A kind reader emailed a PDF copy of the booklet that goes along with Asaro's planes of the head sculpture, and there's a section just like that. The booklet looks excellent and I'd recommend it.

Thanks also for the tip on the "Heads" book, I'll check it out.

Posted: 2009-01-02 09:21:38

Erick said:

Great posting and discussion. Artists in the Renaissance, as everyone knows, were drilled in drawing, beginning with copying engravings or drawings of the eye in different positions (as Bargue follows, more than 300 years later!), and (again as everyone knows) through the keen and constant study of classical sculpture, internalizing an "ideal" that improved nature. While many artists did draw from life, and did work out problems in that manner--here's my point--it was expected that they could also compose figures from imagination. "Take the model away and he can't paint" was the criticism leveled at Caravaggio.

Loomis, clearly, could do both, work from sight, work from imagination. He was consciously expressing, I believe, what he termed an "American" ideal of beauty, not surprising given the patriotic tone of those decades. Sounds absurd, but I think American soap operas and blockbuster movies still work with the same ideal--Harrison Ford looks like he was drawn by Loomis. Loomis made living by advertizing, and his intructional books are giving lessons chiefly for that goal, imparting facility in expressing that "American" ideal. Admitting that limitation, the books are extraordinary for their thorough technical knowledge. I stand in awe of the number of illustrations.

Happy New Year to all.Erick

Posted: 2009-01-02 21:15:38

Paul said:

Hi Erik,

>"Take the model away and he can't paint" was the criticism levelled at Caravaggio.
I've read that he was also criticised for making his saints look to real and specific, too earth-bound and ordinary.

>Sounds absurd, but I think American soap operas and blockbuster movies still work with the same ideal--Harrison Ford looks like he was drawn by Loomis.
That doesn't sound absurd to me at all. In fact I think you're absolutely right. Very interesting and very pertinent points Erik.

Speaking of the difference between the ideal and the real, Darren Rousar who runs sight-size.com has started up a blog which looks to be excellent. His latest post is on this very subject, and makes very interesting reading, highly recommended:
The Real or Ideal.

Often you hear these two approaches described as classicism and realism, which is why I've always had a problem with the term 'classical realist', because it fudges this issue. But then, if you look at late 19th century French academic work, it certainly appears to be more true to life than earlier classical work, as if an element of realism was being blended with classicism. In the text of the Bargue book, Gerald Ackerman describes Bargue as having a foot in both camps, and attributes the success of the Cours de Dessin partly to this.

There's also an interesting essay by Jacob Collins in which he attempts to come to terms with the term 'classical realism', and concludes by saying that it actually describes the modern classical painters fairly well:
Reflections on "Classical Realism".

I can't end here without linking to a description of the genesis of that odd term, or Darren will be having a go at me about it:
Classical Realism - a Living Artistic Tradition. The term was originally coined by Lack, a student of Gammell's.

I still don't like it though. I still think it fudges a very interesting and perhaps important distinction in between two very different ways of working. It's mainly the 'realism' part I don't like, because to me that refers to a particular group of 19th century French painters. Still, it would appear that we're stuck with it for now.

Posted: 2009-01-02 22:50:34

Lisa said:

Paul, when I get those photos of the mannequin head organized, I can send them to you. Now I wish I had a bunch of "average-Joe" or "goofy-looking-guy" mannequin heads, I'd get them photographed too. Gotta study the less than ideal, too! :^P

Posted: 2009-01-02 23:38:53

Paul said:

That would be great Lisa, thanks.

>Gotta study the less than ideal, too!
Oh I've got my own lumpy head for that :)

Posted: 2009-01-03 09:23:21

Erick said:

Paul, Thanks for your thoughts and the references to those sites, which I did not know and will begin to explore. I agree "Classical Realism" is pretty much an oxymoron; it inflates the word classical to allow two ideas, one the study of works of Greek and Roman antiquity, the other an investment of Realism with an elevated status (like a classic movie). Don't get me wrong, I admire and am inspired by the Realist Tradition immensely.

But I think acquiring the skills of representation, while difficult, is not enough (look at the thousands of copyists at Dafen in China!!!). One will makes one's choices, form a personal idiom, advance, but what will the content be? This is the bigger question.

To my mind, no one is looking at that question, which addresses the place of art and artist in society. Political Realism, about which Jacob Collins writes, was not just an academy debate, a reaction to the use of classical busts, etc. Politics is a much more capacious word.

Erick

Posted: 2009-01-03 13:05:15

arjuna said:

Hi Paul:

As you know i have been working with Loomis myself for the past few months and at this point have a whole bunch of heads done...Have not ventured into the planes yet...Was just wondering what kind of paper you use for doing these heads...I have been debating a move from newsprint to better paper in doing the loomis head studies...any ideas?

By the way the idea of not using tools like compass and ruler in making the spheres is seeming to pay off as i have developed somewhat of a capacity to make them by hand and am hoping to see them improve as i go along...

Posted: 2009-01-04 10:57:54

Manfred said:

If you find the planes approach as such helpful for your work, consider Jeffrey Watts. Here's his artist website: jeffreyrwatts.com, and here is his art school website: wattsatelier.com.

He also has published some learning-to-draw/paint videos, of which I have viewed one, "Drawing from the Model", which is available from Liliedahl Video Productions here: http://www.lilipubsorders.com/prodinfo.asp?number=698998810628

Watts is (some teacher-student steps removed and not a direct) student of Frank Reilly. He is a friend of John Asaro and uses the Asaro head in his teachings. In the video he talks about the Asaro head, shows a printed handout with the planes model, and then he draws and shows how he uses the planes approach to constuct the head.

If you find that Loomis' planes are not really constructed from imagination but layed over the drawings after the fact, you will maybe find Watts' instructions enlightening, because you can watch him and see how his method actually seems to work.

A printed manuscript by John Asaro that shows his planes is available for free from pinwire.com here: http://www.pinwire.com/pages/Pinwire-Books.html (they ask you to enter your email address and will probably spam you to death, but you do get a link to the book).

Posted: 2009-01-20 14:27:34

Deirdre Tessmann said:

Apparently you can order the Asaro heads directly from John Asaro himself by calling 760-942-3870 -- in Carlsbad, CA.

I have found that drawing a skull from a few angles before going to do a portrait helps a great deal.
Cheers- Dee at www.studiodee.ca

Posted: 2009-01-21 04:41:59

Paul said:

Hi Erick, sorry for the late reply.

The place of the artist in society, by which I take it you mean the role if the artist, is an interesting question, no doubt. But I'm not sure that there's a single, encompassing answer, no 'one size fits all.'

Looking at history, artists have taken many different roles depending largely on the social milieu they were a part of. I think the emphasis on self expression which we take so much for granted these days is a peculiarly modern phenomenon, and a hang over from the Romantic movement in many ways.

I suspect that many of the old masters that we revere now would have found our modern concept of 'fine art' a strange one. Renaissance masters would be as likely be to working on some objet d'art to decorate the home of a wealthy patron, a decorated tray or headboard for a bed, as they would on the great works we know them for. Their studios were often more akin to factories turning out product.

And of course we generally only read about the very greatest personalities of a given age, the exceptions. For every Michelangelo there were thousands of jobbing artisans.

The Dutch painters of the Reformation had to find a way to survive without the patronage of wealthy families like the Medici and the Church, they had to produce work targeted to a new market. So they specialised, producing still life, landscapes or genre pictures to decorate the homes of the rising middle class.

These days, I see on the one hand art that is made as kind of social questioning, more philosophy than anything else, artists acting (or at least purporting to act) as the social conscience of our times. I'm thinking here largely of post-modernism. Away from the spot light, there are also many more artists producing what might be thought of as more traditional work (paint on canvas or perhaps sculpture) that has more in common with the output of the Reformation painters. A large proportion of the smaller galleries, it seems to me, are selling work to clients who want something to match their sofa. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. It has a fine and long tradition. Artists serving that market are in the majority, painters have bills to pay too.

From my own perspective, as a painter trying to launch a career, I see the question of the role of the artist in society as an academic one to me, to an extent at least. I have much closer and more pressing concerns relating to the difficulties of simply making a living and continuing to paint. Perhaps that's why you see few painters looking at this question, as interesting as it is. I suspect that they're mostly too busy trying to make better work and trying to sell it! Perhaps such questions are of necessity more often left to people who have the time to address them.


Hi Arjuna,

I don't worry over much about what paper I use for practice work like the Loomis heads. I just use common or garden sketch books. For something like Bargue copies, it's more of a concern because you're aiming for such a high finish.

I'm glad you've progressed without using tools like a ruler and compass. The harder road is usually the better one if it means that you stretch your skills, I agree. But personally I'm a great believer in tools. I look at it this way: If a painter is doing a still life of a violin, say, is the painting any the worse if he or she used a ruler for the strings? Has the artist's integrity been compromised by that expediency? Not in my view. If the use of a tool prevents you from developing then of course there's a danger. An extreme example might be painting over prints of photos, which some painters do. To me, that's not such a great idea because it will prevent the painter from developing their observational skills and make them dependent on their method, unable to work without it. In the long run, it compromises the quality of the work. And it's cheating ;)


Hi Manfred,

I've had a look at the Watts atelier web site before, it looks interesting. Thanks very much for the links. I've got a copy of the Asaro booklet, which a kind soul emailed to me, but I'm not sure what the copyright situation is. Are you studying with Jeffery Watts?

Hi Deirdre,

Thanks for the info on the Asaro head. What is it that you've found useful about the skull study? I take it that it shows you the structure underneath, in the same way that the study of anatomy does? I'd like to get one.

Some artists, I believe Tony Ryder is one, think that the study of anatomy can get in the way and that artists may end up drawing what they know rather than what they see, resulting in a compromising of observational skills. I'll have to leave my opinion on that until after I've studied some anatomy. By which time it'll be too late if Tony is right :)

Posted: 2009-01-21 08:29:32

Marc Brunet said:

Where can I purchase a replica, head model by John Asaro?

Posted: 2009-01-25 19:00:19

Paul said:

www.planesofthehead.com

Posted: 2009-01-25 19:17:50

Kerry K said:

**THANK YOU!** You have added much to our lore of understanding and inspiration. The PERspiration is up to us!

Posted: 2009-07-01 21:42:00

ahlacebai said:

Hi Paul, first of all thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience. Made me recollect something -- bet you gonna like it too: http://www.uqtr.uquebec.ca/AE/Vol_11/libre/Neher.htm

There is one more thing aside from (quoting from your post) "The problem, to me, is that they don't fit together." -- think you will surely notice, so won't spoil.

btw, i bumped into your blog when googling for a phrase from "The Art and Craft of Drawing" by Vernon Blake:
"The form is never round,
its modelling always resolves itself into planes ; ' I forget who said this ; or rather it has been said, and with truth, many times."

Posted: 2009-09-02 00:27:50

sanjib paul said:

verry good

Posted: 2010-01-02 10:38:09

Roman said:

Quite nice and I agree - sculpt everything you draw first. Draw eyes - sculpt them first, draw nose - sculpt it first, etc.

There basically two clashing schools in arts training. One says contour is everything, use measuring tools. Bargue and such. The other says volume is everything. No tools, eye only. Volumes are made of planes. Planes are made of points connected by lines. Modern Russian school is all about volumes. Russians I think got it from the Germans in 1800-ds. And Germans got it from Masters of Italian Renaissance. BTW, Leonardo used to say "Compass must be in the eye".

Go to conceptart.org there is a big discussion on that topic.

Separately, just go to google and type in Russian academic drawings. Actually, conceptart.org has a bunch of them. IMHO, these drawings slap Bargue in the face, so to speak...

Good job with Loomis. I also think he is cheating a bit when trying to make us think drawing faces is easy. It is not. Folks spend years mastering it.

Anyway, good job. Try doing construction drawings of skulls also - big help.

P.S.
Would like to share my thoughts: ability to draw/paint/sculpt is ability to comprehend and understand. If you do not understand the inner structure of the subject, you can not convincingly render it, be it paper, canvas or marble/clay.

Posted: 2010-01-22 04:06:34

steve said:

I agree completely with Roman. Bargue drawings teach dependence on what you see, and the high "polish" of recent drawings coming out of academies is simply ridiculous if they did not understand what they were drawing. Jacob collins is bring back construction first guided by correct observation, butttt I still think his paintings look rather "dead", like perfectly rendered lumps of clay or something. Nerdrum is probably the best example of a recent painter who's mastered the construction approach and there is no way in hell nerdrum sat down and went through the classical realist schooling of Bargue drawings, but just look at his paintings from the 1970s. Highest quality stuff around. Also, painting not based on contour is so much more economical. Can't paint what you can't understand, sight is only part of drawing. "I don't paint with my hands, I paint with my head" or something like that is what Michelangelo used to say. And we all know what Michelangelo did......I've also read that Leonardo used to believe the contour of an object never changes even if you change the angle from which you view the object....huh?. exactly. it is because Leonardo's way of drawing is based first on mentally concieving the object 3 dimensionally, then slowing transferring that 3d mental image onto the canvas, so the "contour" is really just his way of saying the overall form of the object, which if you have a complete understanding of (which is incredibly hard to do i know, but that is why we see so many studies by the old masters based on anatomy of horses or bodies) then the angle or perspective cannot change that object. simply put, contours are incidental and the optical approach encouraged by bargue drawings, to me, is almost the equivalant to a lie, creating based on superficialities, and the artist is simply a slave with the "industry of an ant" mindless copying every contour and shape of the shadow or lights that he sees. there are plenty of optical realists, producing dead, lifeless work, and SO few artists working based on construction...why? because it is more difficult and takes a level of understanding that some may never reach. The optical approach is a quick fix, and if you have the patience can probably produce someting impressive right now, without much training. we draw in order to understand and make the viewer understand, not to impress the viewer with how smooth and accurate we can get our gradations in graphite, ugh. Tintoretto, Rembrandt, Nerdrum, Delacroix, Leonardo, Rubens, Wyeth even, all the best painters were basically the best of the best "illustrators". For one, the paintings are just more interesting, two, it is so much more enjoyable knowing what you are seeing and why you are transferring it (allows you to make other subtle decisions on how to convey the visual idea to the viewer) and three you can set up imaginative compositions and actually move beyond trying to impress the viewer with the degree of realism and get back to art that moves the viewer emotionally. Loomis is the beginners guide to construction, yes, you have to take it further. Study the skull, the muscles, copy the older masters, not "classical realists". Caravaggio understood anatomy, he wasn't a dim witted copyist. I acutally think Vermeer is the only exmaple of an old master who worked very, very optically, and this is because he worked from the camura obscura. How many paintings did Vermeer make a year? 2. 2 paintings a year,and they are tiny. Partly because he glazed a lot, but also because he only trusted what was down on the canvas if it was exactly how he saw it through the camera obscura. Trusts only his eyes. I am telling you, I know that the turn off to Loomis and this approach is because it seems illustrative, your results aren't as realistic as if you followed the bargue approach, but in the long run this pays off...we can all eventually find the contours of someting or the shape of the shadwows, but it takes a lifetime to understand anatomy and you cannot fake construction. The difference is not a matter of approach really, but a philosophy. The great artists often got "sketchy" because it took less for them in order to UNDERSTAND what they we're painting or drawing, they didn't need to complete render it in order to. It's the difference between the artist as an intellect, searching for truth and understanding, and artist working as a camera, living only for the tiny, incidental observations of color, value, contour, ect. Yes, the tiny observations are important, but you should search for why they are there. This is also why sight size is garbage.

Posted: 2010-07-29 18:46:12

John Burnett said:

I tried to sculpt Loomis's planehead and became convinced that it was impossible. He just didn't have enough edges defined. Thank you for the post. It was nice to learn that I wasn't the only one who had trouble.

A photo of my small Sculpey head.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/25024833@N07/5095020693/

Posted: 2010-10-19 03:25:14

Keith said:

Also struggled with the Loomis head drawings and eventually left it at that, thinking it was something I didn't quite get. Up to now haven't come across a better exposition (not sure if it's the right word here, but anyway) than that of Frank Reilly via Jack Faragasso's book: Mastering Drawing the Human Figure. It takes some practice (a lot, in fact) to get used to, but it fits like the pieces of a beautiful dream (to me, at least).

Posted: 2012-03-05 18:51:33

Paul said:

Hi Keith,

Thanks for letting us know about the Faragasso book. I'll check it out as soon as I can.

>It takes some practice (a lot, in fact)
I don't think I've found anything worthwhile that didn't!

thanks again for popping in and commenting.

Posted: 2012-03-05 20:13:15


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