From prehistoric cave paintings to classical Greek sculpture to pop art screen prints, art from every era is populated by countless depictions of the human figure. After all, what is more fascinating to us than ourselves? Whether seeking to tell a story, portray an individual, celebrate physical beauty, or delve into the psyche, artists have used the figure to explore who we are and what it means to be human.

She Jumps Out of the Past by Michael Williams

In She Jumps Out of the Past, Michael Williams combines photography and digital manipulation to transform a traditional figure study into a surreal, dreamlike image.

For generations of artists, studying the figure and observing live models have been central to developing their craft. Not only is such study a must for learning how to accurately portray people, it is also an important exercise for honing one’s observational skills.

Standing Woman #3 by Matthew Feuer

Standing Woman #3 by Matthew Feuer has the immediacy of a sketch. The energy and texture of the clay hints at the artist’s creative process.

As an artist, I certainly find this to be true. Though I had worked from photographs and drawn clothed figures in high school, it wasn’t until college that I first worked from a nude model and learned traditional figure drawing techniques. It was challenging, compelling, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately rewarding. I saw my skills improve dramatically the more I drew. And I found myself fascinated by the expressive possibilities of the human form.

Woman Waiting I by Pamela Allen

Woman Waiting I by Pamela Allen is a beautiful abstract piece. The colors and patterns make it feel like a painting in fabric, yet intricate topstitching add detail and dimension unique to quilting.

I am no longer a student, but I still find drawing and painting people to be fascinating and challenging. I now attend figure drawing sessions at a local art studio once a week, joining other artists in a shared pursuit of creative practice. This weekly activity has helped me find a supportive artistic community and maintain a commitment to my own artistic development. Plus, it’s just plain fun to get out my pastels or pencils and dive into a work of art surrounded by others who are doing the same.

Reflection by Dina Angel-Wing

I love the contrasts in Reflection by Dina Angel-Wing. The figure is abstracted and angular, yet soft and almost fluid. The gesture is introspective, yet dynamic, with a sense of movement.

The studio has a laid-back atmosphere of camaraderie. We listen to music, we bring snacks, we share praise, critiques, and advice. Though each artist there has a different background and a unique style of working, every one shares a passion for art. I love the open and welcoming nature of this studio and the people I meet there.

Nude with Bowl by Elisa Root

To me, Nude with Bowl by Elisa Root captures the atmosphere of the art studio—right down to the bag of goldfish crackers in the corner. The complex yet balanced composition is full of color and expressive brushstrokes that keep your eye moving.

Of course, it’s not just artists in the studio—there are the models, too. Holding still for an extended period of time can be hard work, and so the artists always focus on helping the model be as comfortable as possible. This includes everything from giving them plenty of cushions and regular breaks to creating a welcoming and respectful atmosphere. Modeling can be fatiguing, yet many models I’ve talked to say they enjoy the experience, especially once they walk around and see all the images of themselves reflected through the eyes of multiple artists.

Mia Turning by Cathy Locke

I love working in charcoal, and I enjoy seeing how other artists use this medium. In Mia Turning, Cathy Locke renders the figure’s gesture of graceful strength with dramatic contrast, soft tonal gradations, and well-placed expressive smudges.

Throughout this post, I’ve highlighted a handful of my favorite figurative pieces by Artful Home artists. Exploring the myriad ways that artists depict and interpret the figure gives me new ideas that I take with me to the studio every week. It also fascinates me to see the new ways artists are making statements about who we are and what it means to be human—following in the footsteps of artists throughout history.