Exercise : Body Constellations

The approach outlined here (which will doubtless be the subject of some future live demo) should not be construed as an exact proportional guideline, but rather a loose armature for figure construction. Imagine you're a sculptor building upon a wooden base with a length of wire. The principle is the same.

There are three primitive armatures you can get lots of mileage out of when inventing poses. If you're ever hard-pressed to think of a clear action to portray (and who of us isn't?), one of these armatures may help jar something loose. You can think of them as variable, four star constellations.

-The Dipper
-The Check
-The Zig-Zag

This comes from the idea that the distances from the ankle (first "star") to the knee (second "star"), from the knee to the hip (third "star"), and from the hip to the sternum (fourth "star") are approximately the same.

These distances will change depending on viewpoint/foreshortening, but let's look at how such "constellations" appear in Gil Elvgren's work.

Notice also where and how the ground planes fall. One is more straight-on, one is more skewed, and another is almost a sliver.

Exercise : Building a Figure From a Constellation

Step 1 -- Lay down three connected, equidistant lines : a zig-zag, a dipper, or a check. (Hint : zig-zags are the most common.)  Experiment with the angles of these lines...how much they compress and extend.  Try out different things.
Step 2 -- Rotate the page until you see something that strikes you.
Step 3 -- Drop in a ground plane in perspective (needn't be exact).  This plane will determine the angle from which you view your figure, and acts as its platform.
Step 4 -- Begin to "solve" the pose by logically figuring out how the figure would interact with that ground plane.  Start with whatever is contacting it, usually (but by no means always) a leg.

"Dipper" example:

"Check" example :

"Zig-Zag" example :

Ask yourself :
-What's contacting the ground?
-What's supporting the weight?
-How is gravity affecting the head?
-How is the spine curving/twisting?
-Where can the body rest on itself?
-What can be hidden?
-How can redundancy be avoided? (Perfectly symmetrical features, duplicate "twinning" limbs, major masses all pointing in the same direction, shoulders/hips/feet resting on similar levels, etc.)

Here's a page of zig-zags.  You can see how the "constellations" were drawn, how the page was rotated, ground planes indicated, and figures solved.  Try it out!