DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


A Torso Even More So

Filed under: Figure Drawing: Anatomy — Tags: , , , , , — fred @ 15:08

Face of the Body, 2011, by Fred Hatt

“Torso” is the art term for a depiction of the human form focused primarily on the trunk of the body rather than the head or limbs.  The word derives from a Greek/Latin word meaning stalk.  It’s a botanical analogy, like its synonym, “trunk”, the core out of which the branches grow.  The Greek root word, thyrsos, denotes the magic wand of the followers of Dionysos, a god of fertility, ecstasy, ritual madness, and theater.  The thyrsos, a fennel rod with a pine cone head, twined with ivy vines, embodies the unruly and indomitable life force.

Nautilus, 2011, by Fred Hatt

The torso often expresses this life force in its ability to twist, though as far as I can determine it is a coincidence that the word torso resembles the word torsion.  Torsion means twisting, and that word is related to the terms torque, torture, and torment.  The torso can express coursing vital energy but also vulnerability, leaping joy and convulsive anguish.

Mesh Fem, 2010, by Fred Hatt

The torso includes the heart and lungs and the organs of digestion and sex.  It is the seat of gut feelings, and of the swellings of erotic desire, hunger, and pride.

Supine Lotus, 2010, by Fred Hatt

We all grow in the womb and find our first nourishment at the breast.  Humans and other mammals crave the feeling of warmth and acceptance that is only felt in an embrace with full body closeness.

Arranged Around the Knee, 2011, by Fred Hatt

The torso is a rich subject for the artist because of its complexity of form, revealing different aspects at different angles of view and in varying relationships to the limbs and head.

Oxbow Hip Curve, 2010, by Fred Hatt

In drawing the body, I always imagine that my hands are feeling it, clasping the waist, holding the ribcage, following the underlying structure of bones and the fibers of muscle, sensitive to the warmth of the body, the expansive tide of the breath and the buzzing of nerves and blood vessels.

Inverted Rest, 2011, by Fred Hatt

The arms and legs thrust or relax outward in various directions, and their long forms create expressive angles, but the origin of the energy expressed by the limbs is always found in the core of the body.

Iliac Power, 2010, by Fred Hatt

My friend Mana Hashimoto, a dancer who is blind, teaches workshops on “Dance Without Sight“.  Part of her workshop involves observing the movement of another person by touch alone.  When I took Mana’s workshop I was struck by how clearly I could  understand all the movements of another person with hands placed gently on the back.  It was impossible to follow a dance by touching the head or extremities, but a hand on the back could feel the movements of all parts of the body, including the head, arms, and legs.

Back and Bottle, 2011, by Fred Hatt

The classic standing pose in figurative sculpture and painting is “contrapposto“.  This generally means the weight of the body is primarily on one leg, causing the pelvis to be tilted, and usually the shoulders are tilted in the opposite direction.  The slight asymmetry that is introduced in this way gives an appearance of liveliness to a still figure.  In practice, there are countless variations on the basic principle of contrapposto, as the ribcage/shoulder girdle and the pelvis can each be shifted or tilted in many directions, and the spine can be arched forward or back, bent to the side, twisted, extended or compressed.

Curved Torso Straight Arm, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Symmetrical poses, however, do not need to appear rigid.  In fact, symmetrical poses can be very relaxed because of their balanced weight. Looking at such a pose from an angle is all it takes to give assymmetry to a drawing, and if the artist’s calm hand follows the calmness of the model, the picture will have a certain serenity.

Balasana, 2011, by Fred Hatt

In a drawing, the body reveals its structure in the form of curves and angles going in various directions.  In the drawing below, note the forward thrust of the shoulder softened by the curling hair, and the rearward angle of the elbow balanced by the point of the breast.

Chair Back, 2010, by Fred Hatt

The outside contours of the body, the curve of the spine, and the shadows and highlights make the drawing below a study of sinuous flow.

Sheen, 2010, by Fred Hatt

The contrapposto principles can be seen even in an unusual seated pose seen from the side, as below.  A line drawn across the nipples and one drawn across the crests of the pelvis would create an angle pointing to the right.  The head turns away from the viewer while the far knee and hand come toward us, giving the pose that dynamic twist, while the near arm reaching out of frame to the left acts compositionally like an unresolved chord in music, keeping things a bit off balance.

Hoop Earring, 2011, by Fred Hatt

The spine is really the core of the body, and its movement is a key to the energetic expression of the pose.  Notice the difference in the next two drawings.  Here the spine seems to be lengthening, rising up.

Uplifting, 2011, by Fred Hatt

In the one below, by contrast, there’s a feeling of weight, of the spine relaxing downward.  Unlike most of the other drawings in this post, these two show facial expressions, which surely contribute to the contrasting moods, but even if you cover the faces you can see the difference in the energy.

Leaning on Wall, 2011, by Fred Hatt

In the two drawings above, the abstract treatment of the light around the figures suggests a kind of energetic aura.  In the drawing below a similar effect is achieved by using colored lines to indicate the complex ways that various light sources, both direct and reflected, flow over the curves of the body.

Mesh Masc, 2010, by Fred Hatt

All the parts of the torso are formed around a center line.  I try to locate this center line and then to develop the forms to either side, sketching with cross-contours, or strokes that follow the three-dimensional shapes of the body.

Terrestrial Body, 2010, by Fred Hatt

Here’s another contrapposto from behind, with the angles of the legs echoing the angles of hips and shoulders.

Helical Zigzag, 2011, by Fred Hatt

The energy of the pose below emerges powerfully from the stable center of the sacrum, the base of the spine.  The cross contours show the structure of muscles and bones of the back as a kind of swirling energy.

Sacral Center, 2010, by Fred Hatt

Here’s an unusual pose supported on one hip and forearm.  All four limbs are bent at more or less right angles, all pointing in different directions.

Lateral Bridge, 2011, by Fred Hatt

The features of the frontal torso are arranged similarly to the features of the face.  The face is the window of the soul, showing emotion, intelligence, engagement.  The torso is the face of the life force, showing energy and balance and movement.

Hand on Hip, Forearm on Doorknob, 2011, by Fred Hatt

The torso can embody vigor, sensuality, boldness, timidity, and so on.  The quality of spirit resides in the body as well as in the mind or brain.  Entering into a contemplative state requires releasing and balancing and stabilizing the energy of the body as well as the mind.

Grounded Sitting, 2011, by Fred Hatt


All the drawings in this post are about 50 x 65 cm, or 19 1/2″ x 25 1/2″, aquarelle crayon on paper.  All of these were drawn during 20-minute poses at Figureworks Gallery in Brooklyn.

(The title of this post is a line from the song “Lydia the Tattooed Lady”, by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, made famous by Groucho Marx in the 1939 film “At the Circus”.)

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