Rhythm as I understand it
I have often come across the term Rhythm
in figure drawing articles, but couldn't really grasp what it means. That is, until I tried to consciously interpret it in my drawings. I guess rhythm has to be felt
, rather than 'intellectualized'. So what follows is closest to my understanding of the term.
Please read on if you want to, but in order to discover rhythm, I guess you'll also
have to take out your sketchpad and apply its key principles to your figure drawing.
is NOT about quick drawing... one of my early misconceptions. Its not about slow drawing either. Rhythm is about flow
Now what on earth is flow???
The human body is constantly acted upon by gravity. Its the primal force giving shape and strength to our bones and muscles. While bones are transmitting our weight to the ground, muscles are holding the bones in position. This muscular activity is reflected in how the body changes shape with posture, and gives rise to the flow I'm referring to.
can be represented by a mere line in our drawings - and here I'm NOT talking about those individual hatching lines used for shading, but a line that describes form at a particular location. Think about a curved line describing the buttock, for example.
But... the line must not appear out of place, it must flawlessly integrate with lines immediately around it
, and be in synch with lines describing the remotest parts of the body. It all needs be tied together in one big flow.
Lets look at this short exercise here:
This was my contribution
to the 'David drawing' thread. We will use this as reference for study of rhythm (because I'm more familiar with it). The bold red line
indicates the principal line of force (i.e. gravity) passing down David's body. The dashed line also carries some weight, but its minor compared to the other one. Hence the entire stance - the interlocking of bones and muscles, and therefore the 'flow lines' are determined by this bold red line. We will shortly see how...
First, a few elementary figure drawing measurements
. This may look cumbersome, but with practice ought to become second nature.
(We must remember that these measurements are universal, and not restricted to gesture drawings. In fact, there is very little time to measure while doing quick gestures, but at least the thought should be in the subconscious all the time)
So we establish the upper and lower limits
of our figure to contain it within the given space. Then we draw a line representing the spine and prolong it beyond the pelvis following the long axis of the major weight bearing leg
. In this case a vertical line will suffice since the subject is more or less standing straight. For other poses, we will have to tilt/bend the line accordingly and measure it as if we are measuring a rope, segment by segment.
** I have retained a faint impression of the original figure in the background, using it as under-drawing.
Drawing an elementary head shape
Taking the vertical length of the head as unit length
, I've measured 'head-lengths' down the body. In this case we seem to be having 7 such units.
No. 4 usually falls at the level of the crotch (or pubic bone, if you want a more precise term), in this case it appears a little lower, at the level of the genitals (as indicated by the faint under-drawing). So we will position the pubic bone in our drawing
a little higher
than the no. 4 mark.
Having established the comparative levels (not shown in figure below) of the different body parts vis-a-vis the reference, we will now focus on the comparative orientation of the hip and shoulders. As you can see they are counter-poised
(or in contrapposto) - the left shoulder and hip are further away from each other than those on his right side. The position of the Greater Trochanters
is also important.
(As you know, the Greater Trochanter represents the upper end of the thigh bone, where it is jutting out at an angle, before bending inwards to make the hip joint with the pelvis
This shows how the left leg is positioned to carry the bulk of the weight - NOW we are beginning to enter rhythm territory!
So Rhythm is all about effortless transmission of force, and how that transmission is reflected in surface forms.
A very very schematic representation of the bone positions (fibula not shown).
So we have the major force lines chalked out. Note how the right arm is dangling, suspended due to gravity.
H. The integrated force scheme
- obviously, this could have been better, but you get the idea (I think...)
I. Connecting shapes with lines:
Points to the outline of the rib cage.
Points to the outlines of the hip, traced upwards to meet in an arch (of course, these are hidden lines, but you draw them in order to understand the interconnected-ness
. Points to the line
representing the Sartorius muscle
changing direction in a 'S'-shaped curve below the knee and flowing down the tibia.
(The Sartorius is a long, slender muscle on the inner-thigh, originating at the pelvis and ending below the knee
lines describing flow of muscular tension from the side of the leg to the toes. Pull on these muscles bend back the toes.
Curve describing the bulge of the left biceps muscle. Note its relaxed counterpart on the right side, where its only applying some mild pull on the lower arm against forces of gravity (hence the gently curved flow line for this arm as shown in figures G and J).
The bulging Rectus Femoris
muscle, a strong extensor of the knee (as in kicking a football), preventing the leg from buckling/bending under gravity.
J. Further consideration of flow lines:
Leftwards turn of the head
Slight upwards turn of the head, reveals underside of chin (1. and 2. also bulges the diagonal neck muscle on the right side).
3. Dipping of the shoulder towards the right
Slight bowing of the right arm due to opposing pulls of flexor and extensor muscles against forces of gravity (shows how rhythm is working even on relaxed forms)
5. The slight sidewards curve of the spine
Dipping of the pelvis towards the comparatively relaxed leg
The taut bowing of the major weight bearing leg (right)
The relaxed bowing of the other leg (left).
Blabbering on about rhythm...
(sorry, less pictures in this part, so read at your own risk , or take out your sketch pad and go to Sonni's section
We can also think of Rhythm
as analogous to the blood circulatory system
which, beginning at the heart, flawlessly carries blood to the remotest extremities, breaks down into myriad capillaries, supplies oxygen, collects carbon dioxide from tissues and by repeated joining of tributary venules and veins, returns to the heart. This is the internal flow
that is constantly at work within us, our in-built rhythm
. The rhythm in drawings is about External Shapes
In a drawing, there is no heart from where to begin your lines, although most like to start at the head...so be it. Whatever may be the starting point, a line beginning at a point must be able to return, after describing the entire human body without cessation or hesitation, to where it started from. If that is reflected in our drawing... THAT is perfect rhythm
A frugal attempt at interpreting rhythm:
In other words, all body parts (visible or invisible), must tie up logically with the whole. A toe should be immediately recognizable as belonging to that
figure, and not one of our own! Think of the circulatory rhythm within us again... same with the lines you draw!
Your pencil should be able to (potentially) go round and round the entire figure, describing the minutest features (except perhaps individual strands of hair), and return to the broadest. It should be one dynamic, solid, totally balanced
structure - individual parts not assembled, but integrated to the whole.
Of course, that is the ideal
... but even partially following this principle makes for a very credible drawing, and once you have the rhythm going, you can make local adjustments to infuse character to your work.
We can't see all parts of the figure for a given posture, because...
- The part is foreshortened and you're only getting an end-on view
- Its behind, or on the other side of the model
- part of it is internal (like an iceberg)
Hence, The key idea
is to potentially
link parts which we can't see with those we can. When we get that sense of seamless flow in our drawings, we have rhythm.