Friday, March 21, 2014

Studying Bridgman properly

He trained under Jean Leon Gerome. He bases much of his approach off a close study of Michelangelo. Pros: Very structural, planar. Good at simplifying masses and getting the 3d blocky qualities. Cons: Head construction is a bit weird, in general more suited for male figures, sketchy approach can be hard for some beginners to decipher, not a lot of gesture emphasis. Notes: Do not buy his Complete Guide to Drawing from Life, it is a mash up of his other books but missing a lot of diagrams and the order it is put in does not progress well. Instead buy a few of his other books, they are cheap and very good. Also do not worry about accuracy too much when copying his drawings since he drew them using a piece of charcoal on the end of a very long stick in live demos, in which he was usually drunk (he was a famous functioning alcoholic).

One of the most recommended books on anatomy is Bridgman's Complete Guide to Drawing from Life. While admittedly a great book, it can be a bit hard to follow. From Bridgman's chaotic, yet beautiful linear drawings, (made all the more difficult to follow by poor reproduction) to the somewhat erratic presentation of the text (due to the book being little more than a cobbling together of notes from his students) it can be very intimidating to the novice artist. The way I was taught to study Bridgman by Jeff Watts was a three tier process.
First: Read and understand the text as best you can (I like to have Human Anatomy for Artists: The Elements of Form close at hand to shed light on anything that is not clear)

Second: Translate and copy Bridgman's drawings into a tonal representation (this forces you to understand what you are drawing rather than just copy his marks) 

Third: Find photo reference similar to Bridgmans drawings, and draw from them while trying to identify the shapes you learned from Bridgman. (I was taught to use female bodybuilders, or natural atheletes. So the muscles are clearly defined, without being overblown steroid enhanced men)

And from David Apatoff's  Illustration Art blog:

Bridgman, constantly inebriated and chewing on a large black cigar, would rail at his students about the importance of mastering anatomy: "Don't think color's going to do you any good. Or lovely compositions. You can't paint a house until it's built." His students adored him and vied for his approval.
Some of the students in this class would grow up to be stars, such as Norman Rockwell, Mclelland Barclay or E.F. Ward. But in 1911 they were still ambitious teenagers dreaming of the future and striving to develop the kind of academic drawing skill that many illustrators today consider irrelevant. 
The crowded classroom was warmed by the stench of tobacco, charcoal, perspiration and turpentine. 
Bridgman was a highly critical taskmaster, teaching as he did before our era of false praise. At the end of each class, he would designate one student's work as number 1. But Norman Rockwell recalled a story that Bridgman would tell the class whenever he sensed that students were getting cocky about their grades: 
"Boys, a queer thing happened to me after I left the class last Tuesday. There was a coal wagon backed up onto the sidewalk on 48th street shooting coal into a cellar. As I passed by a fellow stuck his head, all begrimed with coal, out of the cellar and said "hello Mr. Bridgman." I said, "why hello there who are you?" Oh, the fellow said, don't you remember me? I was number one in your class last year.... The story varied; sometimes it was an iceman or a voice from a manhole."


  1. I love your tonal versions of his drawings! They are fantastic! What a great idea. Thanks!

  2. Those aren't mine! They were included in the article I referenced. But yeah, they're pretty excellent, aren't they?