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Morpho: Anatomy for artists by Michel Lauricella, Rocky Nook, US $29.95, Pp 320, July 2018, ISBN 978-1681983745

Artists have been obsessed with the human body. They have been drawing the human body since the beginning of recorded human history as is evidenced by the rock carvings in every corner of the world. The more you understand and know about the human body, the better you draw, paint or take a photo of humans. The knowledge of human anatomy enables you to look at the human body with an artist’s eye. In Morpho, Michel Lauricella shares his artistic and systematic methods for drawing the human body with the help of more than 1000 illustrations. These drawing techniques range from écorché (showing the musculature underneath the skin) to sketches of models in action. Each illustration shows the human body from a different perspective — from bone structure to musculature, from anatomical detail to the body in motion. Michel Lauricella is an accomplished morphologist who was trained at the Ecole Nationale Superieur des Beaux-Art. He has been teaching morphology for over twenty years — at the Emil Cohl School in Lyons, then Beaux-art Studios of Paris, and now at the Gobelins.

Michel Lauricella says, throughout history, the care that has been given to the representation of écorché figures, originally intended as simple anatomical studies, has made them into a subject in themselves — a genre just like the nude or the landscape. This genre also has its own history, codes, and conventions, and can be used as a means of personal expression. These écorché characters captivate us, with their bodies stripped and laid bare, improbably suspended between life and death. Surrealists later appreciated their strongly fantastical aspect. The Renaissance artists perfected the art of depicting the anatomy of the human body. Lauricella says that these works were intended for art lovers, as well as for use by physicians. Given that Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) never finished his treatise, the 16th-century seven-volume set of illustrated books, La Fabrica by André Vésale is considered as marking the beginning of a long tradition of anatomical drawing that endures to this day.

In 1890, Paul Richer used the term “morphology” instead of anatomy, as he believed the term ‘morphology’ was more about aesthetics and the form as a whole rather than about medicine and its individual details. Lauricella says that this morpho approach involves retaining only those elements of anatomy that determine the shape, making whichever anatomical element is most prominent under the skin coincide with the outlines of the drawing. In other words, the thickness of the skin is no longer taken into account and depending on the regions of the body and the morphological characteristics of your model, you might choose to use an element of bone or muscle or fat as the underlying element that gives structure to the form.

An écorché drawing can be produced in several stages. Lauricella suggests drawing the basic composition of your figure using simple geometric shapes to create the overall silhouette. It is helpful to note on your drawing all of the bone reference points, to graphically distinguish the hard and soft parts. Then connect these reference points beginning with the largest elements, such as the rib cage, the pelvis, and the skull. The orientation of these first elements is essential to express the dynamics of a pose. Lauricella says that an understanding of the design of the joints and the muscle insertion points should help you to memorize the relationships among the various muscle groups. It will also allow you to understand how changes in shape are related to movements such as stretches, contractions, muscular relaxations, and folds caused by flexion and torsion. Lauricella gives equal importance to fat, though we will define its shape in a somewhat arbitrary manner because unlike bones and muscles, fat develops underneath the skin and has no clear boundaries. Lauricella has included sketches to demonstrate the drawing of fat.

Morpho is an insightful and helpful book for both painters and photographers. It gives you a detailed introduction to the basic movements of the human body from how human arms move with the help of our shoulders and scapula to how muscles and tendons work together. It gives hundreds of views of the human body in different actions — both natural and gestural. All major muscles are indexed with all their major motions. Whether you want to draw a sketch or paint or photograph a human body, you will find Morpho helpful. It will also give new ideas for new poses when you paint or photograph a human body and, most importantly, its size allows you to carry it anywhere you go.

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