Medium Moment: Body Kun

If you're an artist, if you have artist friends, or if you've ever seen a movie with an art studio in it, chances are you have seen this guy right here:

"The artist's mannequin is a quintessential tool for drawing proportionally," is probably the story that people want to believe about the mannequin. I'm being too nice though, honestly. It's a complete mystery to me as to why anyone would see the traditional mannequin as useful. What is up with his oblong head? Are those supposed to be HIPS? The hands aren't even close to the right size! And did they just not even bother with his feet? Her feet? ... What? 

Sadly if the traditional artist's mannequin was a real person, it would probably look more uncanny than a demon-occupied Barbie. More concerning, the omnipresent art mannequin makes art production harder than it should be, creating more questions than answers (Are those feet really FLIP FLOPS?) Either that or the mannequin is a romantic carryover, a common studio prop that worked in medieval times, and is now mandatory to accept as canon if anyone is to take you seriously as an artist, like a beret. Berets are cute though, don't get me wrong.

I'm sure some artists have luck with using an art mannequin - but I could never get over how unfinished and just how WRONG it looked. So, I thought I would finally give a mannequin a try when I saw an ad for Bandai's Body Kun. 

The gray male version of Body Kun arrives in this fashionable box featuring many poses and swaths of watercolor and crayon draping the area around the mannequin. He can fire a gun and still look cool against a pink watercolor background! He can read a book! He can fly through space! 

body kun box.jpg

He can do lunges like a boss, hold a sword, and has tons of interchangeable hands!

The back of the box

The back of the box

What I loved most about the box for Body Kun was the demystification of the photo-and-trace digital art process on the back cover. You can see this in steps 1, 2, and 3 below:

My rough translation:

Step 1: Put Body Kun in a cool pose and take a photo of him with your phone. 

Step 2: Load/scan the photo onto your iPad/Cintiq and trace over the photo 

Step 3: Delete the photo layer of Body Kun and paint in the rest!

If your romantic vision of art creation involves sitting in a studio with a live model, painting them slowly, Titanic-style, well, this is the opposite of that. It's literally taking a photo of an inanimate object and tracing it. Tracing it by hand, yes, but by hand... with a computer. Okay. 


I'd argue what artists lose in romanticism while working with mannequins and tracing, we gain in the ability to be more creative in other spaces. Mannequins solve the problem of 'What If' or 'What would this look like' without employing a model or asking a family member to twist their hands just so (Like you are holding a fireball! Yes! Now hold that pose for an hour!) It's  heartbreaking to have an artistic idea involving figuration, but no model nearby. Oftentimes the truth of self-portraits isn't that artists are narcissistic - it is because there's nobody else around to draw, or artists are too shy or too poor to get someone to sit for them/go to art school. This particular mannequin solves this problem, because it seems to have a bit of a soul. Best of all, instead of using a timer camera and jumping off your couch seven times in order to get the right pose, you can just pose and repose Body Kun! 

Tracing a Body Kun isn't a total art-for-dummies enterprise. If tracing is all the art power you have - how would you convincingly add an outfit, expression, or more bulk to a Body Kun sourced drawing? As a mere tracer, you'd fail miserably, all of it would look too stiff, and everyone would probably tell you to work harder at expressions/clothes/ect. Tracing is easy - the challenge is making the artwork interesting. 

So, as someone who has avoided mannequins like the plague, I'd recommend giving this model from Bandai a try. I'd be interested to hear if other folks like the other models as well - Bandai offers male and female models in this line in gray, wood color, and black.

Finally, here are some weird drawings I made using Body Kun as a source.

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