OK now don’t be daunted! I know most people think that figure drawing is about the hardest to do – along with portraiture. Why not give this method a go?
This is a basic introduction to figure drawing – one where you don’t need to go into the study of every bone and muscle unless you wish to. This is a method using CYLINDER FIGURES. Lets begin with a chart showing an average adult model . Proportions are different for children and the head is much bigger in relation to the body, changing as they grow.
Everywhere we bend (elbows, wrists, shoulders, waist, hips, knees, ankles) you draw a circle or oval (depending on the angle of the figure you are looking at). In between these circles or ovals, cylinders connect them – along with masses for the head, chest and abdomen.
Of course there are all sorts of variations from person to person, but generally (as shown in Leonardo Da Vinci’s illustration above) an armspan equals the height in an adult – also that half way from top to bottom is the pelvis (not the waist as is commonly thought). Being aware of the quarters is a great help in figure drawing – (top of head to chest, chest to hip, hip to knee, knee to heel.)
Here is a break-down of the cylinder figure to make it clearer:
Wooden models from Art shops serve limited purpose, mainly because most do not bend sufficiently to emulate natural poses or positions like walking.
Here are some examples of drawing cylinder figures with a black marker OVER THE TOP of figures in the sports pages of the newspaper.
How to start? Just draw a circle or oval at every joint plus at the waist over the top of your newspaper sports figure. Some joints may be hidden – if so, just leave them out. Now join up those circles and ovals to form cylinders in between.
In these action shots you will notice there is a lot of what we call ‘foreshortening’ where parts of the body will be coming towards you. After doing a number of these exercises you will develop a feel for this. Here is what I mean by foreshortening…
In this example the circle for one knee is INSIDE the oval for the hip joint! The most important part of all drawing is LOOKING and trusting what you see. In fact, I believe twice as much time should be spent observing the subject as looking at the paper while you are drawing. That way, more of what you can see of your subject will be transferred to your paper and less of what you know about it.
BE AWARE THAT THE MOST COMMON FAULTS IN FIGURE DRAWING ARE TO MAKE THE HEAD TOO BIG, HANDS & FEET TOO SMALL AND THE LEGS TOO SHORT.
Once you are confidently drawing cylinder figures, you may choose to sketch them softly and then clothe your figures…
Of course the proportions of our body parts change as we grow…here is a chart giving average proportions from baby to adult. There are huge variations so please treat this as an approximate guide only…
Below is my favourite method for drawing people – I start with a faint cylinder figure foundation, then I move to clothing, mapping the light and shade as it falls on the figure. I use this method as a basis for painting as well as drawing.
When you clothe your cylinder figures you will need to look closely to see where the creases occur wherever the figure bends and the way the fabric drapes itself. Just watch and experiment with quick sketches and it will become second nature to observe these things.
A BIT ABOUT BALANCE: Note that the weight of the chest is usually over the foot taking the weight – just as we lean forward when walking, or running, transferring the weight onto the leading foot.
Also be sure if you are drawing a hat, that it fits over the head and doesn’t appear to perch up on top looking too small.
So that you get a better idea of how the mass of the torso, carried weight etc. is distributed, we will switch to skeletal images to better illustrate this…
From a good understanding of cylinder figure drawing, you can progress to learning bone & muscle shapes etc. later or simply clothing your cylinder figures may be enough.
Along with the tips on how to LOOK and draw what you see (in the post “DRAW, YOU CAN!”) & a little practise every day, you will be drawing figures fluently before too long – and most importantly, have fun doing it.
THE HEAD REQUIRES A BIT OF SEPARATE STUDY:
Although this is covered much more in depth in the posts about PORTRAITS, lets just look here at how the head joins the rest of the cylinder figure.
The head can be thought of as a sphere plus a jaw, joining onto the cylinder of the neck. Note the angle of the neck – not straight up and down like a flower on a stalk! In a child, the jaw is less developed.
Now for a few examples of figures in artwork in which I have used various methods of rendering. In each case I would have begun with a very light cylinder figure in willow charcoal, which can be dusted back to be a barely visible guide when adding more detailed drawing.
Firstly here is “Heather” in charcoal and “Rebecca” in pastels…
You can see how the love of line, light & texture can entrance the artist in you. These were all drawn very quickly in a Life Drawing group. Next is “Jacqueline” in Pastels
One of Tony’s and my favourite occupations is to do lightning gestural impressions on the spot, usually back or side views so as not to intrude on the privacy of the subjects. The object is not to obtain any likeness but rather to capture the action or body language. Often it requires taking a mental snapshot and then putting it down, as the person has inevitably moved on! It’s a great way to train your photographic memory if you like a challenge!
Sometimes the quick sketches become reference for paintings like this one above of my late husband, John, cleaning fish at MacMasters Beach. It always attracted young onlookers, so made a nice study.
MORE THAN ONE FIGURE?
This brings us to the problem of sizing and placing more than one figure in a drawing or painting. There is a guide which deals with standing people all the same height on level ground (which almost never happens!) Not greatly helpful, but neverthless here it is:
The thing I find helpful is to “think myself into the composition”. For example, if it is a street scene – I imagine a doorway where I want a figure to be & put a mark where the feet would be. That is the most critical thing.
Next I put another mark where the head would be in relation to the doorway. OK so now I have a top and bottom mark, so I can put a half way mark for the hips and go for it.
TIP: Make the head smaller than you think you will need at first and increase it later if needed once you have sketched in the rest of the figure.
In this next French scene I challenged myself to include seated and standing figures in many different attitudes and sizes. It was very difficult. The only way to really learn is to jump in the deep end and try. Sometimes I sketch a figure on a separate piece of paper and place it on the painting to see where it fits most comfortably size-wise.
In the painting above “Artists at Nundle”, I worked from quick sketches on the spot to create the oil painting back home in the Studio. Sizing the figures fell into 3 areas – foreground, middle distance and far distance – the far away figures needing to be the ‘right’ size in relation to the house.
In the next study, this group of Artists set up right in front of my Studio at MacMasters Beach and so became the ideal subject! Being absorbed in their work meant they didn’t move very much and gave me time to paint them!
Finally, if you don’t feel like studying all those muscle and clothing shapes etc. why not have fun with your cylinder figure itself? This next painting was based on just that, with some of the figures moulded in Fimo (which you bake in an ordinary oven) for three dimensional relief:
Or perhaps you could have fun outlining group shapes. The shapes of the spaces (which we call negative shapes) are helpful in drawing too.
However you enjoy figure drawing, I hope this post has helped you in some way.