One of the difficulties in drawing the human figure is learning to proceed in an organized manner. This is particular important when the goal is a more finished drawing and you are confronted with a limited amount of time. There are two important concepts in Eduard Lanterni’s book Modeling and Sculpting the Human Figure that are particularly useful for drawing: finding the chief line and establishing the lines of contrast.
Finding the chief line:
One of Lanterni’s recommendation is drawing a line from the supra-sternal notch (pit of the neck) to the internal malleolus (inner ankle bone) of the weight bearing leg. In the back view you can draw a line from the base of the skull, down the spine and then to the internal malleolus. This line going down the middle of the body he defines as the chief line of the pose.
When you are first learning to draw your focus is on the outlines of the figure. With experience you start letting go of the “outline” and draw “from the inside”. The chief line is a clear example of this.
The drawing of the chief line establishes the balance of the figure and defines the relationship between the torso, pubis, and the leg that carries the weight of the body. It’s useful to use a plumb line when drawing the figure to check how landmarks line-up with each other. The chief line encourages you to think about the movement and balance of the pose.
Below is a photo from a ten minute drawing where I was consciously practicing setting up the figure using Lanterni’s method.
Lines of contrast:
In a pose with contrapposto the chief line will continue form the torso to the leg that carries the weight of the body. Once this chief line is established Lanterni recommends proceeding by analyzing the lines of contrast. In the diagram below Lanterni has drawn the lines of contrast by noticing the relationship of one side of the body to the other. Establishing the lines of contrast assist in thinking about both gesture and proportion.
Though Lanterni’s book is a manual on sculpting his working method and organization provides several important insights for figure drawing.
You can preview Sculpting the Human Figure in google books (link) or purchase the book at Amazon (link)