Saturday, June 23, 2007

The drawing bench (horse)

drawing bench or drawing horse
Though I use them for painting, I have never been fond of easels when attending life drawing sessions. They always seemed awkward, uncomfortable and in my way when trying to get from model to eye to hand to paper as directly as possible.

Fortunately, I encountered many interesting tools from the academic art tradition early on when I began taking classes. One of them was the use of a drawing bench, which is often called a “drawing horse” or an “art horse”, I assume because one sits astride it, and/or because one looks about as silly as a child on a wooden hobby horse when using it.

A drawing bench or horse is a wooden bench with one raised end, or with two raised ends, one higher than the other, that is designed to allow an artist (or young buckaroo) to sit astride one end and prop a drawing board up against the other.

The wonderful advantage of a drawing bench over an easel is that the drawing is below your line of sight to the model, rather than to one side.

You look up at the model, straight on and directly above your drawing, rather than stepping back or repeatedly turning your head from side to side. To me this is a much more natural and satisfactory method of drawing from life. I also think it’s significantly more comfortable, particularly over the course of an extended drawing session, or in classes day after day. Despite the notion of noble suffering for one’s art, I prefer to be as comfortable as possible when I’m concentrating on drawing.

Of course, shortly after I began to use a drawing bench, I found I preferred to misuse it. Rather than propping the drawing board almost vertically on the bench, with its lower end in one of the grooves intended for that purpose, allowing the correct arms-length pivot from the shoulder when drawing large scale (shown in my sketch above, bottom left), I began to sit forward on the bench, drawing board propped in my lap and leaning over it so that it served as miniature drawing table, allowing me to finesse small scale drawings (above, bottom right).

Many art schools and drawing sessions provide them, particularly those with 19th century academic traditions, and you can also find them from larger art suppliers. Here’s a fairly standard one from Dick Blick (image above, left). I’ve also come across models like this one (image above, top right), from chlidren’s supplier Sensory Edge that has a rounded end, that restricts your ability to misuse the thing the way I like to.

You can also find variations that have a built in easel, which defeat the purpose in my mind, or that actually have a small adjustable drawing table incorporated.

I’m not suggesting that you run out and drop $$ on a drawing bench. If you’re inclined, and modestly carpentry enabled, you can cobble one together from scrap lumber, as in this fine example of a homemade drawing horse from Meer Image (shown above, top middle).

Also, you can approximate the use of a drawing bench, or at least my assiduously incorrect application of one, by using two folding chairs, one to sit in and the other placed in front of you with its back to you, allowing you to prop your drawing board against the back and lean over it a bit like a drawing table.

If you’ve always done life drawing by turning your head side to side from an easel, this approach is certainly worth investigating; and you may find you like riding the range on your trusty drawing horse.

Giddyup!

10 thoughts on “The drawing bench (horse)

  1. Blake Himsl Hunter

    I love using this type of drawing bench, especially for life drawing. There is a third position, where you lay the back leg on the floor horizontal, and use the front as a table top (with a large art clip board). This is great if you prefer to stand.

  2. Katherine

    Yeeha!!!

    Absolutely – I hate using an easel, mainly because I have a disability in my feet and can’t stand for long periods (which unfortunately means anything longer than 10 minutes). A horse is excellent and fine for class/studio drawing – but is not often available ‘in the wild’ if you want to draw plein air. Funny that! ;)

    My old faithful is another chair, reversed so that one can prop the drawing board on the chairback.

    Charley – your website design post has been ‘blogged’ by me in my new weekly round-up here

  3. IdiotApathy

    I’ve used horses pretty much 99% of the time I’ve drawn or painted from life. I love them honestly, though your bum gets a bit tired after 3-4 hours.

    The ones I’m fond of I believe set your board up at a 45 degree angle so it’s perfect for measuring areas and angles with your pencil and comparing to your drawing (what’s the proper name for this?).

  4. Tanja

    I have to say I prefer the easel rather than the horse. When I’m set up properly, I don’t have to turn my head much to the left/right, instead moving mostly my eyes; and I don’t feel as uncomfortable as when I’m sitting on the bench.

  5. Laurie Howard

    I need to know where I can purchase the drawing bench at the top of this page. I have not drawn in years , but am now wanting to pick up the pencil again! THANKS!

  6. robin bivin

    in louisiana we call it a mule.
    i’ve spent many hours on one, very
    comfortable especially for the
    mostly uncomfortable task of figure
    drawing.

  7. Robert Cook

    Although you say you “misused” the horse by placing the drawing board in your lap, I had at least one drawing instructor who would say you’re using it properly…or, at least, more correctly for proper drawing.

    Costa Vavagiakis, a draughtsman and painter and instructor at NYC’s Art Student’s League and National Academy, prefers that his students stand at easels. However, for those who prefer sitting, his specific recommendation is that the board be placed against the back of a chair turned around in front of you, with the bottom of the board propped on your knees or thighs. This places the board at an angle relative to your view such that no part of the drawing will be distorted. In short, it’s at a right angle to your point of view, as you look down. By contrast, if you prop up the drawing board on the chair in front of you–with the chair seat facing you, rather than turned around with the back facing you–in other words, the board is more vertical–when you look down at your drawing you’re viewing it an an angle, so the lower part of the drawing, following the rules of perspective, will be angled away from your point of view, and will be distorted.

    In any case, as they say about art, there are no rules: whatever works for you is “right.”

  8. Valentine

    Thank you for posting this. My husband will try to build one. They’re great and they’re in every art class but not sold anywhere.
    I love it for figure drawing-painting.

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