Figure Drawing Guidelines

Drawing Instruction…….. note copyrighted material


A drawing should proceed from broad conception to specific detail

ESTABLISH RHYTHM – Capture the essence of movement. Begin by drawing a “line of action,” or inner axis, that runs through the middle of the body to show fluidity and movement, thereby linking multiple parts of form for the sake of unity.

OUTLINE THE MAJOR VOLUMES – Using lightly-drawn straight lines, rather than curved, distinguish the box-like 3-dimensional volumes of the major three forms: head, torso, pelvis. Keep in mind that the basic volume of the torso, or rib cage, is the dominant element into which these forms fit.

ESTABLISH CENTER LINE – Being guided by the three major volumes, draw a center line at the midpoint on the external surface that runs through the nose on the head, sternum on the torso, and through the pubis on the pelvic area. If viewing from the back, then the spine would be a portion of the center line.

PLACE KEY LANDMARKS – By careful measuring indicate the placement of key anatomical landmarks, for example the bottom of chin, clavicle, iliac crest, patella, ankle, etc., as well as the overall distances of the extremities. If drawing a standing figure, make the overall height 8/7 heads high, male/female proportions respectively.

IDENTIFY REMAINING VOLUMES – With landmarks and extremities marked out, indicate with lightly-drawn lines the arms and legs in their proper placement and proportion.

CONTINUE TO DEFINE FORM – To accompany the box-like major volumes as well as the extremities of the arms and legs, use another lightly-drawn line to show the separation between the area of each form that faces you from the one that recedes. If desired, further describe volume by using lines that go across and around the form as the feeling of going behind aids in giving the sense of volume.

EFFECT OF LIGHT – As light is a key to mapping the shape of the human form, show how light effects the surface by using line or tone to define the major and minor shade and shadow planes and their respective degrees of lightness and darkness within each volume.

SHOW SURFACE ANATOMY – When evident on the figure being drawn, show the underlying structure of bone and muscle upon which support the outer surface. In viewing figures from the front, the sterno-mastoid muscle, the clavicle girdle and scapula, the iliac spine and hip bone, and knee are typical examples. Note that most anatomical features overlap their adjacent form; by not overlapping the form tends to flatten out. A prominent example of overlapping is the pectoralis (chest muscle) lying on top of the serratus (section of side muscles).

STRENGTHEN FORM – Once you have correct proportional relationships and plane breaks, confirm the image with darker marks. Note that a line, or shaded edge, should vary in weight depending on the volume and lightness/darkness of the plane being described.

ADD INDIVIDUAL FEATURES – Now that you have defined the structural planes in which they fit, set down individual features: eyes sitting in sockets of the skull, nose supported by bone and cartilage, mouth surrounding orbital muscles, breasts over the pectoralis muscles, among others.

FINISH – Continue to refine the planes, contours, and shade and shadow forms. Don’t overwork; stop when you are uncertain about the next mark.

Although knowledge of anatomy helps achieve a realistic depiction, your drawing should go beyond mere portrayal. Insight into a figure’s expressive potential should represent struggle and process rather than a polished product.

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