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Bridgman Head Construction Guide, the Mystery Revealed

Originally published January 5th, 2020 by Gvaat

Bridgman head construction is a method of drawing the head out of a simple cube form. It is less popular than the Loomis construction method we already discussed, however, the method does offer a strong 3-dimensional framework and a good way to think about the form of the head.

In this tutorial, we will go over the somewhat obscure method of constructing of the head introduced by Bridgman. It is based on a box, which isn’t surprising since Bridgman’s representation of the figure starts with simple box shapes.

Brigman’s book summarizes a method of construction taught to his students using 4 lines. It appears that there is a great level of confusion about this construction and exactly how it works. The four-line method refers not to the construction of the entire head, but to the placement of the features – the eyes, nose, and mouth in perspective.

We will dive into exactly what the instructions of the method say and how to apply them below.

George Bridgman was a brilliant teacher and artist who taught anatomy for artists at the Art Students League of New York. His anatomy books have amazing depth and insights, as well as incredible drawings of his demos. In this tutorial we will construct a Bridgman head drawing based on materials provided in his books.

Brigman’s Cube Construction

When the head is built on a cube, there is a sense of mass, a basis of measurement and composition. – George Bridgman

To understand Bridgman’s head construction we need to keep a few things in mind. To clear things up, the Construction from the cuboid shape above, IS the Bridgman cube construction of the head. The four-line method used in Bridgman’s books refers to the placement of the facial features in perspective. Let’s look at the cube construction first:

  • First, a vertical line divides the head in two, with each side being a duplicate of the other.
  • Second, a horizontal line divides the head in half, into two equal parts top and bottom, this line strikes through the lower eyelids.
  • Third, the lower portion of the head is divided into equal horizontal halves again, creating the point for the base of the nose.
You can see here that I found the middle horizontal line dividing this cuboid into two equal halves by drawing 2 diagonal lines from corner to corner on the side of it. At the center of where those lines intersect I also places the ear.

Here is the key benefit to Bridgman construction as Bridgman himself notes:

Built on the form of a cube, the head has a sense of bulk and solidity that easily lends itself to foreshortening and perspective.

This method of construction of the head provides the easiest way to deal with perspective and foreshortening in various angles. (Something that the Loomis method is not the best for). The key here is that by using a box, we are simplified the method of calculating the approximates for location of the facial features when the head is foreshortened.

However, I found the construction method itself to be difficult, compared to the Loomis method. And in various views, I found myself wanting to identify the perspective and the tilt of the head with a cube, and then to quickly move to the Loomis method of construction.

With that said, in profile view, Bridgman’s method proved to be the easiest by far. It is based on drawing a box, and finding its center – or the point at which the ear originates at its top.

For profile construction, draw a box, and connect each corner diagonally by drawing a cross. Where the lines meet is the center, from that point, draw the ear. The center point can be extended to the front of the face, and will run through the lower eyelid. The bottom portion of the head, can be divided in half horizontally, thereby identifying the tip of the nose.
Identified points for facial features can then be extended to the drawing of the front of the face.

Bridgman notes the proportions of the cube for the head are 4 units high and 3 units wide for the front of the face, and the head spans back about 4 units as well. (Noting that the head is 8 units high, 6 units wide and 7 and a half units in depth from the front to the back).

Steps for Bridgman Construction of the Head – Placement of Facial Features

Bridgman Cube Construction is discussed above. The instructions herein are for placement of the features in perspective using the Brigman method. This method is based on drawing Four Lines. Each line is numbered one through four, and lines are drawn in the specific order described below. It appears that this description was meant more as a way to check the placement of features, as it requires some of the head to be sketched out. To sketch out the head, we can use Bridgman’s notes on cube construction (see above).

  • Line one is drawn down the face dividing it into two vertical halves.
  • The number two line is drawn from the base of the ear at a right angle to the number one line.
  • Number three line is drawn from the cheekbone at its greatest width to the outer border of the chin
  • Number four-line starts where lines two and three intersect and is drawn to the base of the nose.

Then, all the Bridgman texts leave us with is “Whether the head is seen from above or below, the features will follow the number four line.” This can get fairly confusing if you are trying to construct the face using the four lines above. Instead, I have very little doubt that this was meant as a way to check the angle at which to place the facial features. The entire method is devised to draw the fourth line. This line will show the angle of the eyes, the nose, the lips in perspective. So if you want to use the Bridgman construction of the head using the cube, use the cube construction instructions from above, and use the four line method to check angle of placement of the facial features only.

Examples of four-line method for determining the angle of the features

What is Foreshortening? How do I draw Foreshortening of the head?

What is Foreshortening

Foreshortening is the visual appearance of an object (or a plane of the object) that has less depth or distance to the viewer, given the effect of perspective or the angle of vision.

What does that mean Gvaat? It basically means, given the angle at which you are looking at something, you may not see the entire thing, but only a small shortened version of a thing. As an example, take your pencil, and look straight at the tip, you will see the sides of the pencil as very small sections of your entire view, and you will not be able to easily estimate the length of the pencil, given the angle, because the sides are foreshortened.

How do I draw a foreshortened head?

Most people draw a foreshortened head with great difficulty. 🙂 No surprise there, it is difficult.

Let’s see what we can learn to help us with this difficult task. Drawing a foreshortened head requires some prerequisite knowledge. We need to know how foreshortening works in perspective and we can also use some easy to remember guides from Bridgman to check our work. Knowing these two things should make drawing foreshortened heads much easier.

What guides or tips does Bridgman provide for drawing of the head at various angles?

Bridgman provides very helpful guides to keep in mind when drawing the head. The same can be observed if you look at your friend’s head (or a total stranger’s head if you are so inclined) from various angles, or if you look at your own head in the mirror. Here are the guides to follow:

  • If the head you are drawing is on the eye-level, the base of the ears will be placed on the same horizontal line as the base of the nose.
  • If the head is (1) above your eye-level, or (2) the head is tilted backward, the base of the nose will end up above the level of the ear line.
  • If the head is (1) below the eye level, or (2) tilted forward, the base of the nose will be below the ear line.
  • In each case above of the head being above or below the eye-level line, or being tilted backward or forward, the head becomes foreshortened.
  • The greater the distance the head is from the eye-level, the greater the distance between the base of the ear and the base of the nose.

Distribution of Masses of the Head according to Bridgman

One thing all artists who want to draw the human head have to do is memorialize the different planes of the head. This can be a daunting task because of the subtlety of the change in places and their relationship to each other.

Bridgman makes memorizing the planes of the head much, much easier. He urges us to divide the head into just four masses. Once we know the masses and how they go together, we can from that construct the remaining planes of the face. It is a brilliant approach and one I wish I learned earlier.

The Bridgman method urges students to recall just four sections of the head that have a distinct shape. Here they are:

Bridgman study by Gvaat. Four masses of the head simplified. Forehead, then check bone region, then cylinder forming the mouth then the triangular form of the jaw.
  1. Forehead
  2. Check bone region
  3. Cylindrical form on which base of the nose and mouth are palced
  4. triangular form of the jaw

Conclusion – Bridgman head construction

Although most artists will use the more popular and perhaps more organic method of construction of the head devised by Loomis, I think it is still a great idea to learn, know and practice the Bridgman method.

Knowing this alternative method of head construction helps us identify mistakes, and provides guides to check our work – regardless of construction. On the road to art mastery, there are no shortcuts, any additional helpful methodology is an opportunity to get a bit better. Bit by bit we move forward. Now, it is your time to practice!