Getting Down to the Bare Bones: Art Students Use Models to Learn About the Human Form

To the conservative, sketching nude models in University of Utah’s Figure Structure class can be considered pornography.

The more liberal might envision passionate students sketching the intricacies of the human body.

Both may be surprised to see a student’s sketchbook?the model’s body drawn with perspective cubes and the complete muscle structure, barely resembling the body’s outer appearance.

For the art student, the sketches are a way to acquire a skill or to explore a fascination with the human body.

Jim Keeler, who has modeled for the art department for five years, enjoys seeing art students learn about the human body.

“It’s a very rewarding means of part-time employment. I enjoy watching the students work, and their great progress,” he said.

Keeler has formerly worked in product development, marketing, and photography in the toy and hobby industry.

He has also worked as a part time actor in “Touched By an Angel,” as an extra in movies and as a model for special effects.

In comparing modeling for art classes to other types of modeling he has done, Keeler believes modeling for an art class is harder than most types.

“It doesn’t seem like hard work, but after 25 to 30 minutes of staying in one pose, you get muscle cramps. If you’re going to sneeze, you have to suppress it?especially for painting classes [where] your eyes have to remain in the same position. In sketching classes they draw muscles, so you have to keep in shape,” Keeler said.

Keeler finished his bachelor’s of fine arts in photography at Utah State University. He believes his artistic background helps him with the job.

“I do my own poses. I have a lot of experience doing that,” he said.

Keeler has previously modeled for figure drawing and painting classes at Weber State University, Brigham Young University, private drawing classes held in the Art Barn, Park City High School and a private high school in Sandy. Brigham Young required models to wear Speedos and the public high schools required a thong.

The cubic heads and perspective circles Figure Structure students draw look nothing like the posing model, but according to Professor John Erickson, who has taught Figure Structure for five years, it is the one of the first steps to learning about the human body.

“With figure structure, we try to build up from the inside out. So it’s more conceptual rather than observational,” he explained.

Erickson begins the semester talking about the cube, which is a review of what the students have learned in their first semester. Then the class learns how to draw the skeleton using two-point perspective cubic space.

Erickson teaches the human body form to students in sections, the three largest sections being the rib cage, the pelvis and the head.

As the students’ sketches suggest, Erickson emphasizes knowledge of the muscle groups.

Jason Gill, a junior in painting and drawing, agrees it is helpful to know not only where the muscles are, but also how they interact with the bones.

“In high school, I tried to do comic book drawings. I was really bad because I had no clue how the human body was,” Gill said. “I used to make up things rather than draw things from knowledge. It just didn’t look right.”

Gill plans to become a graphic designer. He now does Web design for the Latter-day Saints Institute of Religion. One of the reasons he is majoring in painting and drawing rather than graphic design is to gain an education in traditional art as well. He would like to continue painting and drawing as a hobby while working as a graphic designer.

Gill believes this class has helped improve his art altogether.

“I’ve always been more of a surface painter. It’s been really helpful for me to get into the structure. I look at some of my work now and realize how amateur I was,” Gill said.

Besides looking at figure structure as a tool to use in his art, Gill expresses a fascination with the human body.

“It would drive me crazy to go to medical school, but now I can learn about the human body through art,” he said.

Not all students, though, think drawing a model is the best way to learn about the human body.

“I prefer doing actual people rather than models because with a model, the pose is so contained,” said Tawnie Wilson, a senior in painting and drawing.

Wilson claims some of her best drawings are from when she took her sketchbook to a public place and drew the people there.

“Then you get a sense of how people really move,” Wilson said.

However, she agrees with the concept behind the class. She recommends taking Figure Structure in the sophomore year so you can utilize the skills the class teaches in Life Drawing, as well as other art classes.

According to Erickson, anatomy has been de emphasized since modernism.

“It’s sometimes rare to find a school with a good program. The U has a tradition of being able to teach that,” Erickson said.

The tradition of figure drawing and painting classes was left by Alvin Gittins, a professor and Artist-in Residence at the U from 1953 to 1981, according to Erickson.

Erickson appreciates the program because he believes in the strong development of fundamentals, which he says leads to freedom of expression.

“Figure drawing really has a benefit. It allows me to understand form and space. It gives me and my students tools to express personal visions,” he explained.

Sophomore Chelsea Bentley agreed.

“If you can draw the human figure, you can probably draw anything,” she said.

Keeler believes many students can also use their knowledge of the human body in their future careers.

“If you go into the industry, probably you won’t draw nude. But if you’re drawing for a club, you will have to know the muscle groups and body parts. You will draw clothes over it, but you still must know the body,” he said.

Keeler added that he will continue his part-time job as a model for as long as he can.

“A lot of people think artists’ models have a perfect physique,” he said. “But it’s important for students to draw a variety of bodies.”

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