Seek the Big Form: Study Sculpture

Figurative sculptors spend most of their time focused on the best way to present the figure. For painters, there is a lot to learn from how sculptors often bring out the big abstract form of the figure. Seeing one perspective offered by the photo of the sculpture will serve our purpose. Our goal is to look for the abstract shape of the body. When working with a model, it is always good for painters to shift your position so that you can find the best view that accents the big form.


This is Peter Schipperheyn’s Madonna. In this view, we can see three abstract mountain peaks. There is much going on in this sculpture, her expression and facial details, the detailed hands, and the folds of the material.

Because Peter kept to this rhythm of the three peaks, we do not feel overwhelmed by too much information. The abstract shapes work like major landmarks in a landscape; as long as they are in view you know where you are.

I don’t know if Schipperheyn as done this on purpose, but there are the symbolic connotations of the peaks representing earth and they pointing towards the heavens. Great touch.


This is Schipperheyn’s monumental Zarathustra. The green overlay shows the accent on the arched back and the forearms echoing the back’s arch.

Monumental sculpture Zarathustra by Peter Schipperheyn
Figurative sculpture by Martine Vaugel

This is Martine Vaugel’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Goat.

From this angle, the abstract view is an uneven triangle. For painter’s we run into the problem of foreshortening. For example if we were facing this female model straight on, it would be harder to find the abstract shape. I think it is wise for a painter to look for the view that expresses the pose the best. Often the silhouetted view does this. Martine is also making a visual metaphor by abstracting the shape of a goat standing on a rock. Look what happens when I shrink this image down almost to nothing, we can still clearly (well I can), the shape of the image.


If you can imbue your painted figure with a good abstract shape your image will register well from any distance.

Woman Holding Desire by Martine Vaugel

Another Vaugel sculpture, Women Holding Desire (this is the bottom section of the entire sculpture.)

Here we can see that the shape of the upper torso parallels her left thigh, and the pelvis connects them with a perpendicular thrust. From this view, we have a slashing “S” shape.

Desire in the Absence of Reason by Martine Vaugel

Desire in the Absence of Reason by Vaugel.

I think this is a wild piece. We have a straight on frontal view, but because the woman’s arms and legs are thrown outwards we get a big “X” shape.

I wonder if that “X” also is symbolic that desire without reason is something to delete off your list.

Icarus Landing by Michael Newberry

The cross shape in Icarus Landing is one of the most simple that exist. In the preliminary stages, I had thought to change the perspective, and look at him from the side, but I rejected that because I wanted this image to be iconic–which is driven home by the explicit cross shape.

Icarus registers quite well small.


Venus is a companion piece to the Icarus above. And I had a similar idea of the cross, but her’s is more curvaceous.

So before you sit down to draw a model seek the biggest and simplest abstract form of their body. I think you will be pleased by the results.

Venus by Michael Newberry

I hope you enjoyed seeing sculpted shapes in a fresh way.

Michael Newberry
New York, April 29, 2008

Frame of References:

Peter Schipperheyn.

Martine Vaugel.

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