Whenever I review portfolios I almost inevitably recommend George Bridgman’s drawing books. They were first recommended to me by the first professional comics artist I met, George Freeman. The story he told me was that these were the books that Frank Frazetta used to learn anatomy. SOLD!
I went down to my local WH Smith’s bookseller and ordered the Dover edition of Bridgman’s Life Drawing. The book was a revelation on how to approach drawing the figure. I’d already seen a number of approaches using the stick figure and spheres and cylinders, but this was the first time I saw someone using nice, solid blocks. For the first time I was reading how the body was really put together and learning a system that made sense when put in context of a real body. As limited funds allowed I obtained all 5 of the currently available Dover paperbacks of Bridgman’s drawing books.
Now, most people might think I might be as big a booster for Bridgman’s Complete Guide to Drawing from Life, but they’d be wrong.
It’ll do if you really don’t have a choice, but, if you’re using the internet and can follow a link like this: Bridgman’s Life Drawing , you have a choice. I haven’t parsed the Complete book to see if the language has actually been altered, or how much of Bridgman’s organization has been disrupted, but I feel that the whole of Bridgman’s intent and approach is best taken in context of the book he placed it within.
Using Bridgman’s Books
I’d suggest starting with the one book Amazon Associates seems unwilling to let me list in the widget to the right, Bridgman’s Life Drawing. Luckily, I have what amounts to at least a yellow belt in web fu and I made a link from the title for those interested.
This book is really the best place to start with Bridgman. It was suggested to me the best way to study Bridgman was to copy each page from each book, cover to cover, and repeat until I understood it all. I’m going to pass along similar advice, but in an altered form:
1. Yes, do copy all of his drawings as you go through the books, (and do make a manikin from wire and blocks like he suggests), but don’t ever let it be mindless copying.
2. Think about why Bridgman drew shapes in a certain way, about why he merged masses together in a certain way.
3. Interrupt you sessions copying Bridgman to try and apply it to drawing from real life.
4. Try to understand why Bridgman is exaggerating and simplifying and try to apply similar thinking to exaggerating and simplifying your own drawing in your own way.
5. Do read his text, but understand that the real content in his books is gleaned from his drawings.
6. Only move on to the next book when you think you’ve taken what you can from the one you’re currently studying. Don’t fight to extract every bit of knowledge on the first pass – let the information come to you when you’re ready. The book and its contents will be there for you the next time you come to it.
I think the best order to approach studying the Bridgman books is this:
Bridgman’s Life Drawing
The Human Machine
Heads, Features and Faces
The Book of a Hundred Hands
The last two can be interchanged depending on your whim, since I feel the real core study is contained in the first three books, while the latter two are more about refining or breaking down the approach into more complex forms.
A real benefit to be taken from Bridgman is a solid foundation in understanding form and mass in space, which if you want to draw the human figure well from your imagination, you need. Bridgman isn’t about surface or rendering, it’s about developing a structure. In many ways, Bridgman’s approach is applicable to all imaginative drawing; start with accurate, simplified forms in space and develop them into more complex and detailed shapes as needed.
On a scale of 1-10, where 1 means the book shouldn’t even be looked at and 10 means it’s an artist’s bible I rate the Bridgman books
Bridgman’s Life Drawing 10/10
Constructive Anatomy 9/10
The Human Machine 9/10
Heads, Features and Faces 6/10
The Book of a Hundred Hands 6/10
Bridgman’s Complete Guide to Drawing from Life 7/10 (only if the others are unavailable)
I'm using Amazon.com as the default link online bookseller for it's near-ubiquitous place on the internet. I'm Canadian and most often use Chapters-Indigo for my online book buying. You should be able to find any book I review and recommend here at the bookseller of your choice, though I might earn gift certificates to buy even more art books if you buy them from the links to the right. What's of real importance is that the artists out there get the best information and support possible.