Dictionary of Human Form by Ted Seth Jacobs

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Dictionary of Human Form

by Ted Seth Jacobs

Published Tuesday, January 1, 2002

If you know anatomy as thoroughly as a doctor, but don't know structure, you will not be able to draw the body correctly.

If you don't know any anatomy, but thoroughly understand structure, you will be able to learn to draw like an old master.

Ted Seth Jacobs

Two of my books have already been published. The first, Drawing with an Open Mind, presented my ideas about the processes of human visual perception, and a great deal of information on the theory of drawing. That book was essentially designed to point out the difference between what the eyes transmit, and what the mind registers. Light of the Artist explained how the phenomenon of vision requires the interactions of light and forms. As far as possible, I will not repeat material already presented in those books, unless it is pertinent. Anyone unfamiliar with these books should not find any difficulty in following the ideas found in the present work.

The principal object of this book is to show a structural way of thinking about the body. This will develop into a structural way of looking at the body. We all see what we look for. Those who learn to look structurally, will discover nature's wonderful organization of the body. Each part of the body will be, so to speak, structurally dissected, or analyzed, in order to show the thinking processes embedded in the illustrations. With repetition, the practice of a structural view becomes instinctive, and it will no longer be necessary to analyze the body consciously. Because the scope of this book is limited to the study of the structures of the body, the effects of light will not be discussed at length. However, the reader should be advised that the structures illustrated are illuminated by many different directions of light. Each light direction emphasizes a group of structures lying across its path, and makes others much less obvious. The same structure may look surprisingly different when shown under different directions of light. The same is true for modifications in the shapes of structures caused by the effects of different actions. The human body is very pliant. It is useful to remember that the same structure may look almost unrecognizable when influenced by different actions.


Why is this book called a dictionary? When you encounter an unfamiliar word and wish to learn its meaning, you can look it up in the dictionary. In the same way, when you are working from the live model, or from imagination, and don't understand the body part you are painting or drawing, you will be able to "look it up"" in this visually presented, analytic dictionary. Additionally, just as the words we know constitute a vocabulary that permits us to express complex ideas and feelings, structure is our "vocabulary" of human form. It is necessary to know structure in order to be able to freely express in art, our ideas and feelings about the body.

It is impossible to see the marvelous and beautiful design of the human body unless and until we understand how it is put together. Regardless of how carefully we observe, we cannot convincingly represent the body without understanding its structure. Historically, mindless copying has never worked. Since very ancient times, it has been understood that the body is structurally 'designed'. It is necessary to organise our perception of the body. In the classic view, nothing on the body is random, or stuck on any old way. There is a reason why every part of the body appears as it does. The object of this book is to show you the reasons behind the appearances.

The most useful and instructive way to benefit from this dictionary is to use it constantly in conjunction with work from a living model. This method cannot be overly emphasized. When reading, if one is too lazy to look up a new word the vocabulary will not be expanded. In order to learn structure, refer to this dictionary, to understand what you see on the model. Similarly, when consulting the illustrations, refer the diagrammatic pictures to the key picture.

The visual format of the material is designed to facilitate the reader's study. A drawing or painting will be presented once in its entirety. Different parts of the body will then be able to be abstracted from each matrix illustration, and analysed separately. On each page a picture without any overlays will accompany others, with analytic lines drawn over them. These illustrations will always be joined by an explanatory text. The dictionary is divided into sections, each dealing with one part, or aspect of the body.

In a dictionary of words, in the upper right corner of every page a word will be found, so that the reader can easily find that required place in the text. Similarly, a visual key will appear in the upper right corner of every page, with a small reproduction from the illustrations on that page, showing only the part of the body under discussion. By riffling through the pages, the reader will be able to quickly find the place, or part of the body needed for study.

From almost sixty years of teaching, in and out of art schools, I have become acutely aware of the needs of artists and students who work with the figure. One of the commonest complaints of students working from the model is, "I have no idea about what I am seeing. It all looks like a mush. Can you explain the form to me?" This book is designed to satisfy these needs in two ways. First, you will be able to find the structural analysis of the problem confronting you. If you are, say, working on an elbow in a certain pose, you will be able to "look it up," and find it explained, textually and visually. Secondly, as mentioned above, this approach will train you to develop a structural way of seeing and understanding.

In my classes, I give individual critiques, and frequent lecture/demonstrations. When these deal with structure, as I draw from the model, I analyse the form, and explain the thinking behind the drawing. Some of the work from these demonstrations has been included here. After a lecture/demonstration, students have often asked, "If I don't remember all the information you are showing me, once I leave your classes, will I be able to lean structure on my own?"

I believe that the principal objective of teaching is to enable students to teach themselves. By my definition of what constitutes teaching, there must be a transfer of knowledge, from one mind to another. Only presenting the material does not constitute teaching. In this book, you will find the thinking behind the art. As I wrote above, if you take the trouble to keep this dictionary with you when working from life, and frequently look up the parts of the body you are dealing with, you will eventually realise that there is, in fact, a "structural" way of looking at the model. These are a few basic principles revealing how the body grows, moves, and is put together. If you thoroughly grasp them, and make them part of your own understanding, you will be able to learn structure on your own. These principles will be referred to constantly in the illustrated section, and applied to specific instances on the model. When you have found the same structure on different models, and in many poses and light directions, you will recognise it ever after, like an old friend. At that moment, you will have learned structure. The information will be yours forever.

What is structure?

Structure is the way in which living organic forms are organised. The main focus of this book is structure in the human body. The study of other organic non-human forms is also touched upon. These include clothing and drapery, animals, and plant life.

The human body is a highly complex organism. The study of structure is composed of many different component aspects. This study is based on two fundamental concepts. The first is that the shapes and forms of the body are not random. The second, is that the characteristics of structure are universal. Every human being has the same structures.

The body has a "designed" look. There is a discernable reason for all the effects we see on the body. In the study of structure, these reasons will be explained. The principles upon which this book is based have been known for well over two thousand years. Unfortunately, they are now an endangered species. It is hoped that this book will preserve and transmit them to the future.

I will emphasize the fact that there is a special style, characteristic of human form. There are many styles of form that are not appropriate to the human body. We seem to live in a materialistic and technological age. It has been my experience during many years of contact with art students, that they are generally not very sensitive to the particularly human style of form. Their greatest need seems simply to be able to make a figure that looks fairly human. This book is designed to meet that need.