My Favorite Model-John Ferguson Weir
I recently had the opportunity to see a great new exhibit called The Weir Family- 1820-1920: Expanding the Traditions of American Art at the MOA on Brigham Young University's campus. (You can read more about the show here at Artwife Needs a Life) In the exhibit there was this fascinating painting by John Ferguson Weir. Up until the advent and widespread use of photography, it was common for artists to use what were called lay figures to stand in place of the model. It was obviously not practical or feasible to have a live sitting model for every hour needed to complete a painting. These elaborate jointed models would be clothed in the same costume and posed in place of the model. Many artists and critics disparaged the use of lay figures, complaining (and for the most part rightly so) that the figures were stiff and lacked any of the lifelike qualities of a living breathing human figure. We hear the same argument voiced any time there is a time saving innovation in artistic technique. The camera obscura, lay figures, photography and now Photoshop all have had their detractors, and you can argue both sides. My belief is that an artist needs a strong foundation of skills in traditional drawing and painting, ones that are deeply rooted in observations from life. Given that, any of these tools become simply a means to an end in the pursuit of artistic expression. But if used as a crutch or a shortcut, the lack of artistic skill will be evident. Any tool used effectively can yield brilliant results.
James Gurney has done a fascinating series of posts on artist lay figures on his blog Gurney Journey