The nude is a landscape, all billows and folds, heft, bone and shadow. It’s also the sign of Eros and a training ground for the artist. These drawings are a taste of what Bruce Hiscock can do with a pencil and brush, products of a life of practice sessions, life studies. A children’s book writer and illustrator by trade, Bruce is also an inveterate traveler and outdoorsman who lives in a self-built Hobbit house on a hillside above Porter Corners, New York, at the foot of the Adirondacks. He has traveled in the Arctic, the Southwest, and Newfoundland and I regularly salivate over the gorgeous notebooks he’s kept, hybrids of diary and sketchpad, artful books in themselves, each one one of kind. And if you get a chance, look at his books, lovingly and passionately illustrated (I have had the privilege of watching several of them mature in his studio).
As an illustrator and author of children’s nature books, I spend a lot of time drawing from life. Trees, rocks, mice, caribou, storms, mountains, flowers, owls, all cover endless pages in my sketchbooks, as I try to improve my skills at capturing what I see around me. This is a solitary practice, as necessary to my craft, as the hours of rehearsal are to a musician.
For many artists however, one of the best ways to keep your eye sharp is to draw the human figure, unclothed. And so we gather in Life Drawing classes, or open studios. Here in Saratoga Springs, New York, there is an open studio every Monday night. You can sign up for a series of sessions or just drop in when you wish. It is one of the few things that artists do together, and I learn a lot from talking to others and viewing their work.
Drawing from the nude is an ancient practice. It forces an artist to confront their strengths and weaknesses in way that few other subjects can. We intuitively know so much about bodies, that when you put lines down on paper that represent an arm, say, you realize very quickly if you have made that arm too long, too fat, too awkward, or any of the other toos. That same experience does not hold true with a branch on a tree. I may not have drawn that branch as it really is, but hey, it looks okay. You can get away with things drawing a branch, but not with arm or a body. We just know too much.
For similar reasons, drawing the figure unclothed keeps the work really honest. An arm covered in a sleeve, or a torso in a tunic, can hide the truth. The drawing may look pretty good even if it is not so accurate. This may be the major reason that we all wear clothes, beyond providing protection from the elements. We look pretty good in them. They hide stuff.
The technical challenges of trying to represent soft folds or bony angularity on a piece of flat paper are considerable. Usually I start with a line drawing in pencil, occasionally studying it from afar, or in a mirror, to see how it holds up. I make corrections until I am satisfied or begin the whole thing over. Once the major lines are established, I add shading, attempting to mold those flat surfaces into flesh. Some drawings just seem to cry out for color, and I keep a small set of watercolors in my kit for such moments. Burnt Sienna is a great basis for simple flesh tones.
Every model presents a new challenge. This is particularly true if you have been drawing average bodies and are suddenly looking at a person with masses of flesh. Now you are forced to leave all your assumptions behind and deal with what is there, paying particular attention to the drape of skin. With so much to work with, these models are often easier to draw than someone with a smooth body. The same is true with faces. Age lines, not only add character, but they give the artist something to grab on to.
The drawings you see here are selected from maybe a hundred that I have saved out of the thousands I have done over the years. Life drawing is always about process for me, practicing to improve my skill. Occasionally this practice produces a worthy product, and I am grateful for the opportunity to share a few of those with you.
— Bruce Hiscock
— Bruce Hiscock
Bruce Hiscock is the author/illustrator of many natural history books for children. His stories, like The Big Rock and The Big Tree, are based on real subjects and contain enough information to enlighten grade school kids as well as adults, at least some adults. These books, among others, have been designated as Outstanding Science Trade Books by the Children’s Book Council. Journeys in the Arctic form the basis of several works, including most recently, Ookpik- the Travels of a Snowy Owl, a finalist for the Charlotte Award of New York State. Over the course of his life, he has worked as a research chemist, toy maker, college professor, and drug tester of race horses. He graduated from the University of Michigan, B.S. 1962, and Cornell University, Ph.D. 1966. Bruce lives in Porter Corners, NY, at the edge of the wild, in a house he built by hand using the native rocks and trees.