Reflecting on a month of anatomy, an artist’s take

As an art major coming off of a fall spent abroad, I was excited to bring back with me all the inspiration I had gathered during my four months traveling through Europe. Having enjoyed an endless array of beautiful vistas, museums and architecture, the creation of my own artwork took a backseat to the viewing of others. For that reason, I jumped on the opportunity to sign up for the Figure Drawing and Anatomy JanPlan course offered by Visiting Professor Kris Engman.

The sister of Colby’s own Professor of Art—and my painting professor—Bevin Engman, Kris Engman is an Assistant Professor of Art at the University of Maine. Coming from a background in drawing, painting and sculpture, Engman offered a wide and varied approach to the study of the human figure. With limited experience in drawing the figure, I was initially intrigued by the prospect of expanding my artistic horizons, if not somewhat intimidated. The backgrounds of the other students in the class, however, proved to be just as numerous. With several art majors and minors, the class was populated by nearly as many, if not more, first-timers.

This variety was refreshing for a Colby art class. In most situations, I am surrounded by other art majors, but the different levels of experience offered an immensely diverse set of approaches to the subject matter.

Beginning with a study of the human anatomy, Engman structured the class by hammering home the fundamentals of figure drawing in the first two weeks of class. She focused solely on mark making and line quality the first class—three hours long—which introduced us to the complexities involved in the manipulation of the materials. From there, Engman began a comprehensive study of the skeletal and muscular structures of the human anatomy—eventually incorporating perspective, movement, and weight—before moving on to working from live nude models.

Of Engman’s approach to the course, Taylor Schlichting ’16 said, “She seemed to want to teach us the fundamentals without forcing us to lose our creativity.” For me, this was a large source of the excitement we would experience when looking at our collective work at the end of each class. By the time we began working from models, the class had been prepared with a basic understanding of how to translate three-dimensional information onto a surface. By the end of the month, however, most students made breakthroughs that showed a clear progression in understanding. Because we were eventually given some wiggle room with how we were allowed to approach each project, the results ended up expressing the large number of artistic points of view present in the class.

As for the length of the course, the material could have easily benefited from being given a full semester’s worth of time. Schlichting, on the other hand, said, “It was a little bit rushed but I thought it was a breath of fresh air.” The short window of time forced us to progress rapidly through techniques and subject matter, but it certainly added to the excitement I would feel every day when entering the studio.

As with all of my art classes, the critique sessions each day allowed for students to share techniques and criticisms, as well as benefit from the experienced perspective of our professor. In many cases, the quality of these discussions depended on the examination of the strengths and weakness of each piece. By the end of each class, we were able to come together and ultimately—live model included—appreciate the creation of beautiful interpretations of the human form. If I had one criticism, it would be that the Art Department doesn’t offer such a class during either of the two full semesters. As for the course itself, however, I would recommend it to anyone.

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