Time Duration: 5 class periods

Unit Title: Drawing/Painting

Lesson Topic: Figure Drawing


Drawing the Figure


Step 1. References

This is undoubtedly one of the hardest things to master, and can take several years to truly learn. The human figure is a very complicated and dynamic thing, and duplicating its appearance takes the know-how and a few tricks of the trade.

I'm not sure if I can really teach any of you how to draw the figure, but I can show you the approach that I was taught in my first year at AAC. Since applying this technique, I've already noticed myself improving a lot.

The first piece of advice I can offer you is this: use reference. Not everyone can hire a nude to pose for them, but several books are available with photos for the purpose of artist reference. The picture I chose is from one such book that my roommate bought. Or if you can't find books made specifically for artists, swimsuit and lingerie catalogs are very helpful because the models don't wear very much clothing.

It's important to work with nudes when first starting out, because clothes rest on top of the body, and knowing the underlying structure will help you place clothes more naturally. Starting with the clothes will often leave you with an oddly proportioned drawing or the wrong orientation on a limb.

To begin, find the line of the pose, which I've drawn in on this photo. The easiest way to find it is to follow the curve of the body from the pit of the neck down to the pubic area. In more dynamic poses, this line will also include the head and the leg on which the figure's weight rests on.

Now that you've found the line of the pose, often called a gesture line, or line of action, draw that line on your paper. Because the figure is a fluid thing, your line should be drawn in one solid stroke. It's this line that creates the rhythm of the figure, and adds more realism.


Step 2. Gesture

Next, you'll have to mark in the directions of the rest of the body, such as the arms, shoulders, hips and legs. You can hold your pencil or drawing tool between your eye and the model to check the angles of these lines to be sure they're accurate.

Pay attention to the length of your lines in relation to other lines: legs should be longer than arms, forearm shorter than upper arm and so on. These lines should be straight, and solid. Once you've found the angle and length of a limb, commit to it. Don't be shy about putting down a line, you're the only one that'll see these lines.

But don't underestimate their importance, without the gesture drawing, your figure will wind up with an unnatural feel, and even possibly not look like your model at all. It's not going to look like much now, but you can already see that the drawing has the feeling of a human. You could probably stop right there and call it a modern art piece. ^_^ But we'll make it a little more realistic.


Step 3. Geometry

No, don't worry, you don't need to do any math to do this. You'll just need to know the four basic shapes of life: the cylinder, cube, sphere and cone. Everything in life can be simplified into these shapes. An arm for example is a cylinder; the head is a sphere, et cetera.

After drawing in the gesture, you'll use these four shapes to block in your figure. Though not necessary, this step is extremely helpful when it comes to telling if something is coming towards you, or going away from you, or if you're looking at it straight on.

For example, the models right arm is foreshortened (going away from the camera) in the picture I've chosen. If a cylinder is turned away from us, we'll be able to see more of the circular end, and less of the side. So when drawing the arm in geometry, we draw more of the end, and less of the side, showing that the shape is in fact going away from us.

I don't draw this step very often anymore, but I will still use geometry to help me when the pose is a little more difficult due to foreshortening.

Also, now is the time to check your proportions. The average human is roughly 7 1/2 heads tall, but people are very different and can vary from 6 1/2 to 8 heads tall. Once you've found a proportion ratio that works for you, stick with it. Many famous artists are known for stretching proportion: Raphael often drew figures set to 11 heads; Princess Jasmine and Aladdin are only 5; my figures are on average set to 8 heads.


Step 4. Contour


Now that you've got your shapes blocked in, you'll find that drawing the contour of the body falls easily on top of these shapes. Look very carefully at the curves of the figure you're using for reference.

If the model isn't very muscular but thin, you'll find that the curves conform to the geometry very closely. A more muscular or fat person will curve more drastically away from the shapes.

When drawing the contour, it's helpful to know the surface muscles of the body, but I understand that not everyone knows the muscles, or wants to sit through an anatomy class. So I've prepared this muscular diagram with the help of my Intro to Anatomy class that I took this semester. Knowing what the muscles look like, and where they're located will help you make your figure more life-like, and understand what all the lumps and bumps of the contour really are.

Tana McCarthy, Muscles


Step 5. Exaggeration and Style

Tana McCarthy, Seraphim


Now comes the really fun part of drawing the figure: making the drawing yours. Exaggerate muscles, weight of the figure, hell even turn it into something other than a human if you want. Or leave it exactly as you see it, and go from there: add color or leave it flat.

After I turned my drawing into Seraphim, I inked the picture and erased the pencil lines. From there I had the choice of coloring her in Photoshop or by hand, and I chose to use my Prismacolor markers.

If you look at the finished drawing of Seraphim and the original photograph it's still identifiable as the same pose, but because of my style, I've made this picture undoubtedly my own. Every professional artist out there uses reference of some sort, be it live models, or even "borrowing poses" from other artists, but it's their style that makes their pictures unique. So good luck, keep practicing and have fun. ^_^

This Lesson and all images was used with permission from Tana McCarthy at http://www.moon-catcher.com. Please visit this excellent site.


Human Figure Proportions = 40 points

Value = 40 points

Use of Elements & Princ. = 15 points

Size = 5 points

Total = 100 points



Reproduced from Creating & Understanding Drawings, G. Mittler and J. Howze, Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, 2001.


Palani Williams, Kamehameha Middle School