Last week I attended “Sketch Night” at “Bodies: The Exhibition“, at the South Street Seaport in New York. This is one of those exhibits of real human cadavers, preserved by a process called plastination or polymer preservation, and variously dissected for educational display to the general public. The Sketch Nights give artists access to the exhibit after hours for purposes of anatomical drawing and study. The ticket price was a bit steep – more than twice as much as a session with a live model at Spring Studio. There were introductory presentations by the Director of the exhibit and by well-known art and anatomy professor Sherry Camhy – very nice, but after all that a good chunk of the three-hour session was already used up. We were allowed to go anywhere in the exhibit and choose the displays we wanted to sketch. Most of the art students chose the full-body specimens showing skeletal and muscular systems (arranged mostly in corny sports poses), but I was more drawn to the exhibits that show the various patterns of flow in the body. The drawing above was made from two separate pieces, one showing the veins of the face and head (in blue, as per the convention of anatomical illustration), and the other showing the arteries, in red. I combined the two into one.
This is a sketch of the back of a full-body dissection showing the major nerves, which look tough and fibrous:
My favorite room in the exhibit is the one where blood vessels have been preserved and all the other tissues stripped away. These figures look like my most manic scribbly drawings multiplied and exploded into three dimensions. The arteries branch out treelike, the veins meander vinelike, and the capillaries are fuzzy like moss. This quick sketch comes nowhere near the actual complexity of the specimen:
On some people the veins on the inner surface of the arm are close to the surface and make bulging pathways (not on my arms – I’m a phlebotomist’s challenge!). Here’s an arm specimen that shows these veins clearly, with the mostly deeper-lying arteries. In this image the palm of the hand is facing us:
There’s a room about embryology, with various specimens including placentas and conjoined twins, and a series of tiny translucent fetuses, with a red staining used to reveal bone development:
Here’s the diaphragm, the dome-like muscle that aids in breathing. Seen from the front at a low angle, it looked to me like an exotic caravan tent. That’s the spine in the back:
Anatomy training for figurative artists tends to stop at bones and muscles and surface anatomy, but having an intuitive sense of the internal processes and flows can really enrich one’s feel for the body’s fantastically dynamic and complex structure. Anatomy is an endless study – you’ll never know it all!
There’s one more “Sketch Night” scheduled this season at “Bodies: The Exhibition” in New York, this Thursday, May 21.
All drawings in this post are aquarelle crayon on gray paper, 70 cm x 50 cm.
NOTE: Tomorrow I’m starting on a demanding freelance job, so I probably won’t find the time to make another blog post for at least a week. Have patience – there will be more to come.