When I was in my late teens, earnestly trying to learn the art and craft of comic book illustration, I stumbled across a find in the dusty shelves of a used bookstore that popped my eyes open and sent me home feeling like I had struck gold.
It was a copy of Figure Drawing for All it’s Worth (also here) by Andrew Loomis, and in a way it was gold — a classic instructional art book by a master illustrator that has come to be regarded as a “must-have” by comics artists, illustrators and artists of all kinds, particularly those who must “invent” the figure — draw people in a variety of positions without model or reference.
Those artists, like myself, were lucky to have found a copy. Classic that it is, the book has been out of print for decades, leaving those who understand its worth (if you’ll excuse the expression) wondering when, if ever, the book would be republished.
Used copies in good condition have been selling in the $100 to $200 range (and higher), and though images of the book’s pages have appeared in various places on the internet, they leave much to be desired in comparison to the actual book.
Extracts of Figure Drawing for All its Worth, and its superb companion volume, Drawing the Head and Hands, were published as Drawing: Figures in Action and Drawing: The Head, respectively, from Walter Foster Books some years ago. Large in dimensions and inexpensive, they were worth picking up, but at 32 pages they were more pamphlets than books, representing a small fraction of the original books’ actual content and a poor substitute for the real thing.
So artists were left haunting used bookstores, hoping copies would show up from someone’s attic for which the bookstore owner would not know the value. Having copies of Loomis books became a bit of a status symbol in certain artists’ circles. And why, we would repeatedly ask, have these treasures not been republished?
So it was with a combination of delight and reservation that I responded to the news that Figure Drawing for All its Worth had finally been republished; the question being what kind of treatment it would receive in terms of quality of reproduction.
When I received my review copy of the new edition from Titan Books, not only was I pleased that they have been respectful of the original edition and the importance of the book, I was delighted to see that they have gone well beyond that. This is an absolutely beautiful facsimile edition, superbly reproduced with crisp, beautiful illustrations on softly textured, slightly off-white paper — looking for all the world as if you had just pulled it off the shelf in 1943.
Not only that, they have been respectful of the wallets of starving artists everywhere, pricing the hardcover edition at only $40. A steal.
Andrew Loomis was a well respected and influential mid-20th Century illustrator (see my post on the extensive article that appeared in Illustration magazine), but he is better known today for his series of instructional books, of which Figure Drawing for All its Worth and Drawing the Head and Hands are the stars.
Though his instruction is valuable to those studying from life as well as those who are inventing the figure, his emphasis is on constructing the figure, understanding the underlying anatomy and geometry and on perceiving the figure as form, with volume. The figure exists in, and occupies, space. Loomis gives you keys to placing figures in perspective, working with foreshortening, and getting an intuitive grasp of elements of the human body as volumetric forms.
Countless artists (myself included) credit Loomis with opening their eyes to these concepts and revolutionizing their approach to drawing the figure. Loomis has been influential on generations of illustrators and comics artists in particular, as he speaks directly to the challenges they face in constructing figures and placing them in relation to their environment in a variety of positions and views, as well as in dynamic poses showing the figure in motion.
Not only is Loomis knowledgable, insightful and good at conveying what he knows about drawing (which is considerable), his own drawings are elegant, with graceful gestures, economy of notation, fluid lines and crisp rendering.
The combination qualified him to create some of the best art instruction books ever written. Long deserving of being republished, they are as relevant now as they were when first published, if not more so. The text is as sharp and crisp as the drawings, leading you through a course of discovery and offering a solid grounding in the traditional fundamentals of drawing the human form, as well as tips from one of the notable illustrators of the 20th Century.
In short, Figure Drawing for All its Worth is a treasure.
The next best news? Titan is set to release another Loomis Classic, Drawing the Head and Hands, in October!
[Important note: the images of the book interior above are taken from internet scans of older editions and do not give an accurate representation of the superb quality of the illustrations in the new edition.]