Figure drawing: A beginner’s guide
Figure drawing is a fundamental skill for artists, but one of the hardest to truly master. In this article, I explain the process and offer some advice to help you improve your figure drawing skill.
I will walk you through how to draw a female figure and a step by step guide to drawing male figures, then we will examine gesture drawing.
Although having knowledge of the proportions of a human figure is important, bear in mind that these are only a guide. Trying to shoehorn every person you draw into an eight-head-high ideal is a shortcut to uninspiring figure drawing.
To achieve style we need to work with gesture, the spirit of the pose, the fluid nature in line. If we take gesture too far, though, our drawing will look wobbly. To counter that we need to also work with a solid structure, but too much structure can make for a stiff drawing. Therein lies the great balancing act of figure drawing that we will explore here.
Start with your attention level set to high. I use a small, two-finger wide piece of charcoal for my initial sketch. Draw the basic proportions, making any adjustments required – especially if you’re working from a photo.
Starting your figure drawing with basic shapes makes it easier to draw more sophisticated lines on top. Here, I’ve drawn the face using small shapes inside a big shape. This is two of my disciplines in action at once: big to small; and simple to sophisticated.
Note the gestural grip in action. Drawing with our gestural hand enables us to use the rhythm of our arm rather than our stiff wrist to make our marks. It gives us the freedom to draw long fluid lines on the paper
I use shadows to push the gesture, but omit the shadow of the xiphoid process (the small bone under the pointed arch of the ribcage). It looks odd here. Even though it’s correct, it violates one of my art laws: If it looks wrong, it’s wrong, even if it’s right!
Using a paper stump, I push around the charcoal that’s already on the paper rather than lay more charcoal down. This keeps the drawing light and fresh. I’m also mindful to always be drawing even when blending. I use a sheet of paper to prevent me smudging the drawing.