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Figure Drawing for Beginners

What Is Figure Drawing?

Figure drawing is where you capture the human form's complex shapes and contours through drawing. This improves your ability to see how to simplify the human body, and how your hand can mimic these shapes.

Life drawing can take anywhere. You can sign up for a group session, where you draw a model with other artists, or you can venture out in the world and draw what you see. It's almost like drawing from a picture, but there is one key difference:

Because people can't hold still forever, you must draw the pose quickly. People who are used to drawing from photographs aren't used to this type of pressure. It may be a bit daunting once you get started. But there's a reason why life drawing seems to be superior to drawing from photos.

Life drawing lets you see how the body works. You can see how the body looks from different angles or how light affects highlights and shadows. Photographs can only tell you one or two of these things, but rarely all three of them combined. As a result, life drawing is essential to understanding how the human body looks.

Here are some tips to get you started!

Visualize the Figure

Before you begin to draw your subject, take a moment to look at the figure.

This may seem obvious, but many times we forget to examine our figure before we start scribbling away at the page. Before you even make a mark on the piece of paper, make sure you understand the pose your drawing.

  • Are they sitting or standing?
  • Are they placing their weight on one foot?
  • Are they twisting, bending, or stretching their body?

All of these things will challenge how you've drawn bodies in the past. How the torso looks in a resting position is different from how it looks while someone is stretching to yawn. If you draw the figure like you imagine the human body to be, your picture will be inaccurate. Draw what you see, and visualize what you see. This may be hard to do in the beginning, but you will improve overtime.

As Mark Mattesi, an instructor at both PIXAR and DreamWorks studio, is fond of saying, "I tell students constantly that all of the answers are right in front of them." All the tutorials in the world can't explain how to draw one pose. It takes looking at the figure and understanding what you see.


Focus on Gesture and Flow

When you first begin figure drawing, you will have a tendency to draw the pose as accurately as possible by stiffening up. Accuracy is important, but you sacrifice the liveliness in your drawings when you stiffen up. Especially in the beginning.

As a result, practicing the gesture is much better to focus on as a beginner. Even if the pose isn't accurate, the action of the pose is the most important.

After you get the gesture down, you can build your drawing on top of it. Things like proportions and placement become much more crucial, but only after the initial gesture is done. The drawing will look more interesting and alive, even if it a little inaccurate .

For more information on gesture drawing, look at this gesture drawing demo:

Figure Drawing Demonstration

Don't Erase

Avoid erasing as much as possible. It draws your attention to the mistakes you are making, distracting from the creation process. Ignore it. It may be hard for those perfectionists out there, but these figure drawings are meant to improve your ability to capture life on paper. This will show up in every other aspect of your drawing. Find a way to master this.

These drawings don't have to be seen by anyone other than you. You have nothing to prove. Draw to your heart's content, with mistakes along the way. You will make these mistakes less and less with time.

So put that erasure away. Be confident in your sketching. Let your skills show themselves.

Draw Everything (Including the Hands)

Practice the whole figure. By drawing the whole figure, you learn how to simplify shapes and create forms in a way that makes sense to you. Yet, it is all to easy to avoid certain things that are difficult, like hands or feet.

We all have certain trouble areas. Some, like hands, are more common than others. Our first instinct is to avoid the areas we struggle with. But this only helps these areas get worse. Pretty soon, you will be able to draw a highly rendered, realistic figure, but with rectangles for feet. This is because you didn't practice.

To prevent this, just draw whatever you are struggling with. Look at tutorials on how to draw that body part and experiment with ways to draw with it. This way, you'll find what works best for you.

Add Shadows and Highlights

After getting down the gesture and the form in your drawing, adding highlights and shadows add a polished look to your drawing. It's also a nice way to practice looking at how different light sources affect how your subject look. Not to mention, it adds a layer of depth that makes the drawing even more interesting.

Even a simple line to indicate shadow can make a huge difference.

Date Your Figure Drawings

Putting the day you draw your figure drawings--or drawings in general--is a great way to track your progress on your artistic journey. The difference in one month's worth of drawings is staggering, let alone a year's worth! So, putting a date on your drawings is one of the best ways to track your progress and encourage you to draw more. It's one of the best motivators possible.


Practice, Practice, Practice!

It's not enough just to know these techniques. Now it's time to practice. Whether you decide to go to a live figure drawing session, find a friend to draw in real life, or draw people from reference photos. Although drawing from life is ideal, practicing your newly-found figure drawing skills is essential for artistic mastery.

Without practice, you will never be able to see which techniques work best for how you draw. Maybe drawing a box on your paper is too restricting, and you need to draw freely on your paper. Maybe instead of drawing landmark lines at the shoulder, waist and knees, you prefer marking only the shoulders and the hips. These are all perfectly fine choices. You will never know what you prefer unless you practice.

So get out there and draw!


Rubayat robin on March 26, 2018:

Very useful and appropriate lesson for beginners. And you know there is very little quality drawing lessons on internet. so please keep posting more selective very good video tutorials and writings like this. thanks a lot!..

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on November 21, 2015:

Like your suggestion of not erasing. Feet and hands are difficult for me so am practicing some more.

Jonas Rodrigo on July 12, 2015:

Interesting and informational hub. Drawing is a very creative outlet. Great job in this!

Nicole Grizzle (author) from Georgia on May 25, 2015:

@Amanda6868 Thank you very much!

Amanda M from Unknown on May 25, 2015:

Helpful hub! Voted up!