Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Figure in Movement: Points of Stress

Points of Stress and Movement in Inanimate Objects

In drawing from life or from a realistic subject, you want to capture the subjects essential character; what is the essence of an apple that makes us read it as an apple? In the figure, the best way to describe movement is to accentuate or exaggerate points of stress.

Anything that's flexible has movement. Every fold of drapery suggests how the drapery is resisting and surrendering to gravity. A force meets another force and there's a fold. Gravity acts as another force and there's a dip in the fold, or part of the cloth rests on a surface or another fold, generating more folds from that contact point. Each point where these forces meet is a stress point. 

Here's a drapery study by DaVinci:

Here, I've tried to illustrate in the same drawing where the points of stress are, and how those points of stress effect one another:

#1 and #2 indicate points where tension converges. #3 indicates a point of stress where gravity rests.

Points of Stress In The Figure

Drapery is a complex subject, but I just want you to get a sense of how something essentially inanimate can be dynamic. Here's a gesture drawing I did from the live model, about a 5 minute study: 

Here I've tried to illustrate the points of stress. The arrows represent the movement towards these points.  Think of a point of stress as that point when a branch is about to break, or a car is about to crash--it's those points of tension before the finish of the action that demonstrate movement, even if that movement has no ultimate destination. Bones don't have to be about to break to show the tension of the muscles or the distribution of weight.

Here's another figure, also a 5 minute study:

The arrow at the center is the center of gravity. Points of stress are all about either resisting, or surrendering to gravity. Points at rest surrender to gravity. Points of tension imply a resistance to gravity. Both points at rest and points of tension are stress points, points that, if given emphasis, describe the most movement in a figure, but the points at rest are just as important as the points of stress. The rest points give us a sense of weight and substance. The stress points give us a sense of suppleness and texture. 

Texture and dynamism in portraits
To get a sense of an object or figure's texture, there has to be a force playing against it. We can't tell visually if a rubber ball is very hard or very soft, or very heavy, or very light unless we see how weight or gravity acts against it (though light too, is a significant force at play in describing texture, but that's another subject altogether). In the same way, the muscles act against the flesh. If there's no points of tension in a figure, the figure will not look dynamic. It will tend to look stiff and inanimate. Even in a portrait, tension and release of tension describe expression, even if that expression is a placid one. There are still points at rest that can be emphasized. Lines on a face, relaxed or tensed describe how flexible the face is. Elderly and wrinkled faces show gravity, how the skin is softer and less elastic, but this is all expressed through stress points.  Here are some longer studies from life:

The portrait is of my dad, but the rest of these drawings are from one of my favorite models who models for us at The Davis Figure Drawing Group, Steve Savage.  A really dynamic and great model! Thanks for reading.

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