Casually flipping through 'Figure Drawing Workshop', I initially disliked the style of the drawings, which reflect the author's background as an illustrator and seem a little dated. But after reading the text and really looking at the accompanying drawings, I realized that the while the style might not be fashionable, this author really has a great deal to offer the student of figure drawing, especially adult beginners.
Essentials and Useful Shortcuts
Kraayvanger begins with a note about materials, and some worthwhile points on judging spaces, tone and line. He covers various ways of approaching the complicated shapes of the figure, looking at shape, plane and form, with some handy tricks for simplifying the figure. Line and gesture, light and shadow, modeling and mass are all thoroughly explored, while a chapter on anatomy includes the usual diagram of skeleton and muscle. The author has some useful insights on how anatomy influences the external form - such as important differences in the female skeleton. An interesting anatomical exercise he uses involves the addition of muscular detail to a near-complete life-class drawing, and identifies 'key points of orientation', where the bone structure comes to the surface of the figure.
Head, Hands and Feet
Kraayvanger's chapter on 'Head, Hands and Feet' includes a brilliant abbreviated method for blocking in the essential details of the face, starting at the chin and using smudges for the eye sockets. This was quite a departure from the way I've always approached the face (top down, using line), and makes a great deal of sense. The pages on hands and feet are concise but helpful, with his illustrations pointing out the articulation of key joints a great help in dealing with these difficult forms.
Being an Active Learner
How a student uses the book will vary, but one approach might be to read through substantial sections at a time, taking notes on key points of interest to be worked on at the next drawing session. Try using the examples as jumping-off points. Critically assess the drawings, reading the author's comments about them. What could be better? Where have they failed? Where are the strong points? How can I apply this to my drawing? Copy and improving upon examples, or using them as a guide when working from a model. The active learner, who is willing to pick out useful information and look for ideas of value, will find plenty in this book.
A Worthwhile Buy (depending on your taste)
'Figure Drawing Workshop' probably won't suit skim-readers. The material is fairly loosely arranged, though following a generally basics-to-advanced development. I feel that it would most benefit someone who has already done some basic drawing and are reasonably new to figure drawing. The book is packed with drawings, with illustrations on pretty much every page. Other reviewers have criticized the standard of Kraayvanger's drawings, however, I feel that including less successful drawings and noting his thoughts on them, helps to include the reader in the creative process. Allan Kraayvanger communicates a respect for the craft of drawing and a passion for the creative potential of figure drawing, along with the practical 'tools' for figure drawing. This book won't appeal to everyone, and I suggest you find a copy in your bookstore to look through for yourself. Be sure to have a good look at it though - as I've used this book since my initial review, I've learned several key ideas that will greatly improve my drawing, and for me, this alone makes it worth the cover price.