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Drawing the Human Figure – An Introduction

September 22, 2010

figure-drawing-1The human figure is perhaps one of the oldest and most classical art subjects, dating from prehistoric times.

Why are we, as humans, so interested in representing ourselves in art? Maybe it’s a narcissistic interest in looking at ourselves, maybe it’s the challenge of rendering the beauty of our form and maybe it’s a fascination with the intricacies of our bodies. Either way, the human figure as art subject is a lasting and persistent subject, bound to be around for many more years.

Figure drawing can be applied to many areas of art from portraits to cartoons and can be done in any media and style imaginable. The most widely known figure drawings are probably those by da Vinci, delicately rendered and exquisite in detail.

When you’re first learning, it’s a good idea to draw very simple poses. This lets you get comfortable with basic proportions. No matter what size a person is, their body usually follows basic proportion rules. As you get comfortable with the figure, you can try more complex poses that incorporate foreshortening.

When drawing the human figure, it’s really important (especially at the beginning) to use a reference. The figure is an extremely complex, intricate shape and a close observation to details is necessary. You can use photos or one of those wooden dolls (though I wouldn’t recommend it), but the best reference is a real person. The dolls are kind of cool looking, but are so unlike a human body that they are, in my opinion, pretty much useless.

You can take many approaches to figure drawing. One way is to look at the overall shape of the body. Drawing a basic outline of the figure-drawing-2entire body gives you a frame of reference in which to work. Another way is to focus on the light and dark shapes. Whatever approach you take, it’s always helpful to have a firm understanding of anatomy. Knowledge of the bones and muscles can help you draw figures more accurately especially as you draw more complicated poses.

Figure drawing, life drawing in particular, is a staple of the visual arts. Even if figures are not your subject of choice, drawing the figure is a worthwhile practice. It’s an exercise in observation and a great way to challenge yourself.

On the Web

Figure drawing resources on the internet.

More info on the history of figure drawing.


From → Drawing

  1. Jackie permalink

    Thank you Miranda for Posting this . I love the tips for drawing the figure .

    • Thanks Jackie. I thought a short intro to drawing the human figure would benefit those just starting out.

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