Figure Drawing Demo

Many of you have requested through a sidebar poll that you're most interested in new Tutorials, with Figure Drawing and Anatomy being a popular choice.  Many moons ago, I wrote about my process for drawing figures in the post Anatomical Construction for More Cartoony Figures.  That post was predated by two other anatomy posts- ASE Panel- Anatomy Presentation and Anatomy of a Clay Man.   

Today I'll show you guys how I went about sketching the below image, which was drawn using reference of a plus sized model from Pinterest.   I've found that traditional figure drawing references (including those I linked at the bottom of this post) lack a variety of body types and poses, so you may find it helpful to search for bodybuilders, plus size models, and dancers to help develop your range.

My method for breaking down human anatomy hasn't changed much over the years- I think it's a very flexible method that works well for drawing all sorts of figures- stylized, cartoony, realistic- all you have to do is modify the proportions you use, the level of detail you draw in, and the features you choose to exaggerate.  I use this method when drawing from reference for study purposes, and when creating figures and poses from my imagination, and I think it's a good way to internalize and memorize the human body.

My method of drawing the human figure comes from three major sources- Glenn Vilppu's Glen Vilppu Drawing Manual, Andrew Loomis' Figure Drawing for All Its Worth, and from the Constructive Human Anatomy class taught by Professor Paul Hudson at SCAD Savannah three years ago.  You can find links to purchase Figure Drawing for All It's Worth and The Glen Vilppu Drawing Manual at the bottom of this post, as well as additional resources you may find helpful.

I highly recommend daily figure drawing practice, and if you have access to it, drawing the figure from life.  Many schools offer open figure drawing sessions where you pay a small model fee, and there are Meetups for sketching groups of all sorts.    If you live near a coffee shop, you can also sit and sketch passersby for hours for only the price of a cup of coffee.

If you browse my sketchdumps, you'll see many examples of figure and facial studies, some clothed, some nude.  There are many more you don't see, simply because sometimes it's tedious to scan page after page of studies.  For the most part, these studies aren't for show, they're simply to help me stay limber when it comes to drawing figures, and to help me become familiar with a variety of poses and to help improve how I render clothing.


Pencil color of choice (I'm using Prismacolor's Espesso)
Pencil Sharpener
Reference Image


Work Big to Small- General to Specific.  Don't get caught up too early in refining something that may not work to benefit the whole.

Assemble the Materials

I like sketching with color pencils because they offer the inability to erase (much like pens), but you can get a variety of tones and stokes from a single pencil.  I find wooden pencils to be more flexible than mechanical pencils, so if I'm practicing, I tend to prefer wooden pencils.   You may use any color you wish, but I highly recommend dark browns, warm grays, and reds.  Some of my favorites are:

Terra Cotta
Sienna Brown
90% Warm Gray
Tuscan Red
Black Grape
Dark Umber

Although I am currently using Prismacolor, you may use any brands or colors you enjoy or are comfortable with.

Step 1: Determine Line of Action

Unfortunately this isn't a great example of a line of action, but your line of action is the very essence of your gesture, the line that the torso, and to a lesser extent, the legs, will follow.   I find that establishing a line of action helps me create characters and figures that seem to have actual weight.

For a better example of line of action, keep reading, as I provide another demo at the bottom of this post!

Step 2- Boxing in Basic Shapes/ Creating a Skeleton

My current method of blocking in shapes is based on the techniques outlined in Andrew Loomis' Figure Drawing for All Its Worth and Glenn Vilppu's Glen Vilppu Drawing Manual.  I've included the relent Figure Drawing for All Its Worth for your reference.  I highly recommend looking into both books.

Example pages from Figure Drawing for All Its Worth

This Andrew Loomis Pinterest board  is full of scans from his books that you guys might find helpful, but I recommend buying the full book, which I've linked below.  Your purchase of ANY product from my Amazon Affiliates links helps support this blog financially, without costing you anything extra.  You can also find the book digitally on sites like Scribd .

Illustration from Figure Drawing for All It's Worth, by Andrew Loomis

Original page from Figure Drawing For All It's Worth.  Original image from my own collection.

Illustration from Figure Drawing for All It's Worth, by Andrew Loomis

Blocking in the figure is fairly simple, but a vital step in how I construct figures.  Male or female, child or adult, your basic torso shape is a variation of a rectangle.  For a woman, it's usually going to be an hourglass, but if you're working from reference, I recommend not just assuming (which reinforces bad habits), but to actually draw the body type you see.

I block in the ribcage and pelvic box.

As well as the arms and legs.  Right now, the arms and legs are just gestural sketch of the bones, to help me solidify the pose before I start adding too many details.  Basically, the sketch at this point is my roadmap.

Step 2: Using Cylinders to Define Form

At their most basic, our arms, legs, and neck are just long cylinders.  Generally, they are wider at the top, or where they meet the body, than they are at the bottom.

I find it really helps to block shapes in from general to specific.  Not only does your entire drawing develop at roughly the same rate, but it prevents you from over investing in any one area.  If you feel the need to really investigate a particular area, you can always do a sketch on the side.

Step 3: Blocking in Features- Clothes and Hair

As with all other forms, I recommend starting general and working towards specific- blocking in shapes and working towards adding folds.

Depending on what you're trying to practice- gesture vs. realistic pose, you may want to plan your clothing in with your initial gestural sketch.  For this sketch, I'm studying how the body is built, so while clothing is important, its not my primary focus.

In this outfit, the shows, skirt, and bun are the defining features, with the heels influencing the subject's pose.

Step 4: Blocking in Facial Features

I've written about how I construct faces a couple times in the past (Facial Anatomy and Construction and Bits and Bobs- Anatomy Continued) and since its been a few years and a few things have improved, I'll probably revisit this topic for you guys soon.

The gist of how I construct faces is through division.  The skull is a ball with a spade on the front.  You divide the face in half both horizontally (across the ball) and vertically across the spade.  The face is five eye widths wide at it's widest, and you can place the eyes by putting one eye width in the middle, and then two on each side, as shown below.

Step 5: Defining Forms with Shadows

Refining hands is the next step in my figure drawing process.  I start by blocking out the basic shapes of the hand- the palm, the thumb, the fingers.

And then I block in the fingers.  I find it's easiest to break hands down this way, rather than trying to draw the fingers in early, or in too much detail, as the lines can quickly overwhelm the small area.

Details in clothing is one of the last major stages of blocking in the image.

Step 6: Applying tone to help define forms

This is where using a color pencil really shines.  You can apply a variety of smear free tones easily and quickly with a dull pencil, and apply sharp details with a sharpened pencil.  When refining the face, I always prefer to work with a freshly sharpened color pencil, but when applying mass tones, such as the shadows on the skirt or the subject's hair, I prefer a dull pencil.

Example 2- Line of Action Demonstration

Establishing a good line of action is particularly important for figures that are in motion, or are not supporting their weight evenly with their feet. Since this demo's line of action is kind of a pitiful example, I went ahead and whipped up another mini example to show you guys how important establishing line of action can be.  In this example, I'm sketching a ballerina.

Nice long line of action that goes from head to the natural point of gravity on the floor.  In the image Im referencing, the dancer is leaning on her partner, but I opted not to draw the partner.  She is not supporting herself, so her line of action does not meet up with where her feet are.

Thats the basics of how I construct figures, both for study and for illustration.  If there's any area you'd like me to go over in detail, please send me an email and let me know!  If you'd like step by step construction for other types of figures (kids, different body types, even animals), or if you'd prefer a video tutorial, please send me an email or a tweet, and I'll be happy to oblige.  

Additional Resources

Figure Drawing for All It's Worth- Andrew Loomis
The Vilppu Drawing Manual- Glenn Vilppu

Favorite References and Figure Resources

The Sartorialist


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