Figure Drawing Cover

The Artist’s Complete Guide to Figure Drawing: A Contemporary Perspective on the Classical Tradition, by Anthony Ryder. New York: Watson-Guptill, 1999. 160 pp. $24.99 (paperback).

In the Fall 2014 issue of The Objective Standard, I said (and did my best to show) that The Dictionary of Human Form by Ted Seth Jacobs was “one of the greatest books on art instruction ever written.” However, given that the book costs more than $150 and has more than eight hundred pages of detailed instruction, aspiring artists may find the book too daunting as an introductory text. For anyone wanting a less costly and more accessible book on drawing, I recommend The Artist’s Complete Guide to Figure Drawing: A Contemporary Perspective on the Classical Tradition by Anthony Ryder.

To begin with, Ryder is a superb artist. His figure drawings highlight the nobility of the human form and the beautiful subtleties of its structure. They capture with reverence important details such as the light that washes over a figure, and they portray not just a conceptualized figure but a unique and animated individual.

Ryder does not, as some do, wait for inspiration to strike and then work in an impassioned blitz. On the contrary, he produces a figure drawing in “about twelve three hour sessions” and works “at an even tempo,” as if he is “building a piece of furniture, carefully crafting, shaping, and polishing each part” (p. 12). He can do this to great effect because he has a deep understanding of the human form and the action of light, as well as a step-by-step process for translating both onto paper. This is what he shares in The Artist’s Complete Guide to Figure Drawing.

Everything a beginner needs to know is in this book, right down to the natures of different kinds of paper and the effects of different kinds of pencils on them. Ryder notes exactly which pencils produce which effects and where he would use one instead of another. He highlights basic practices essential to the art, such as remaining mentally present while drawing. He prepares beginners for the mistakes they will make as an inevitable part of the learning process. And he employs illuminating analogies to convey what is required to advance one’s skills. For example, Ryder writes:

Learning to use a pencil is like learning to use a fork. If you could remember how long it took, when you were a child, to learn to do things that required coordination, like eating spaghetti or peas, you might have more patience with yourself when it comes to learning how to use a pencil. (p. 20)

Ryder’s approach differs from that found in many other art instruction books. . . .

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