Drawing the Human Figure

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There is no greater pleasure or challenge in the world of art than to draw the human figure. In this chapter, you will be introduced to various approaches to drawing this very special subject.

Set Up the Model Pose 228

Light the Model 229

Light Reveals the Form 230

Copy Works of Art in Museums 235

Find Your Guidelines . ' 236

Examples of Foreshortening 240

Find the Gesture of the Pose: Quick Sketches 244

Add a Color to Your Paper 248

Gallery: . Human Figure Drawings 254

Drawing the human figure is an excellent way to improve and expand on your observational drawing skills. In Chapter 11, you were advised to draw a portrait of a real person in front of you and not use a photograph to draw from. Drawing from a live model is a good foundation on which to build your drawing skills and your skills of observation. Drawing from a live model will also enable you to understand what is in front of your eyes from many different angles.

Some Points to Consider

Contour Drawing Human Form
Figure at Rest, by J. S. Robinson

It goes without saying that in order for your model to hold a pose, he should feel comfortable in that position. The model should be able to hold the pose for 3 or 4 hours, with breaks. Unless you are a skilled artist and can work quickly, a contorted, difficult pose will not be possible. For those dramatic poses, artists often draw quick sketches. (You can find examples on pages 244-247 in this chapter.) People who use their body everyday in their work, such as professional dancers or athletes, will be able to hold interesting poses for extended periods of time. If you are lucky enough to find people who can do that and are willing to pose for you, seize the opportunity. Not only will you be drawing someone with mastery over their body movements, but you will also get an excellent lesson in anatomy.

If you have a model in front of you to draw, then you have the opportunity to observe and record accurately what you are seeing. When the model takes a break, do not rely on the model to remember exactly how he posed. Instead, you can use masking tape, as shown in this photo. Place the tape around the edges of the model's body if they are sitting on a surface, or feet if they are standing on a surface or floor. Do this while they are still in position, before they take a break.

Light the ~

Model Drawing the Human Figure \chapter M ^

How Sketch Human Model

This example shows the best lighting situation for a beginner. Remember that light reveals form. When drawing the human figure, the same principles that were discussed in Chapter 5 also apply here. The only difference is that there is a lot more information in the human figure to absorb. You may want to study a book on anatomy for artists, to view the skeleton and muscles of the body. This will lead you to a greater understanding of the internal mechanisms of the human form. The more you draw, the more you will increase your understanding.

Consider this lighting situation, in which there are numerous sources of light. Notice how difficult it becomes to draw the form, as compared to the previous example. The different sources of light flatten out the form because there is no definite pattern of light and shadow. (See Chapter 5 for more information on light and shadow.) Of course, it is still possible to draw this figure, but in order to do so, you have to rely more on a mental awareness of the planes of the body to draw the form in three dimensions. In this situation, the light may confuse you, instead of helping you.

Here the model's back is lit by daylight. As noted in Chapter 3, this is a soft light. The form of the back is lit very evenly. A knowledge of anatomy greatly helps in this situation, and remember to imagine the back as part of a cube, which will help you to impart the illusion of solidity with this type of lighting. However, the more you practice at drawing a form like this, the more successful you will be.

Note: It is a good idea to keep the first drawings you do, and then compare them with the drawings you are doing 6 months or more later.

To help you understand how to approach figure drawing, this section contains copies of old master drawings. These are drawings by artists of the past who were recognized in their day, and are still recognized today, as great artists. The examples succinctly show the main points to keep in mind when drawing the human form.

The most important point to remember when you want to draw a figure three-dimensionally is that you must think in simple forms. Poussin rendered these figures very simply, as blocks. This is a good way to begin thinking about how to draw the human figure. In this work, you can clearly see the sides of the subjects' bodies and also the front and back of their bodies. Each limb has been defined in the same way. The arms, legs, and heads are all blocks, and each side of the block is fully lit, in shadow, or half lit. By simplifying in this way, you can more easily deal with the complexity of the form. This is the lesson of Poussin: Simplify.

Nicholas Poussin Drawings
Copy after Nicolas Poussin's The Holy Family on Steps, by J. S. Robinson

This copy after a drawing by Taddeo Zuccaro also shows the human figure as a block, although it is more detailed than the drawing by Poussin. Zuccaro defined the planes that are facing the light and the planes that are facing away from the light, just as Poussin did. You can see how all the planes of the body, which are in shadow, face the same direction. There is no conflicting light source. Zuccaro has portrayed a direct light source and has consistently obeyed it in his drawing. The back, the backs of the legs, and the side of the right arm are all planes facing the same direction—away from the light. Consequently, they are all in shadow. On the side of the body that is in the light, the left side as we look at it, Zuccaro has to make a distinction between the back, side, and front planes of the body in order to construct a block; in other words, give the figure a sense of three dimensions. He has defined the side of the block, or the side plane, by some very carefully observed modeling, or shading, of the lower part of the scapula and the rib cage, and by placing a shadow under the armpit. He is not forming a straight, clean edge with this shading because the planes of a figure are rounded. This is why drawing the figure is a challenge. Consider a building, where one wall or plane meets another wall or plane, and forms a clean, straight edge (unless the building is old). It is easy to define walls or planes here, as they have edges. A human body does not have such a defined edge. The job of the artist who wishes to represent the figure three-dimensionally is to find ways to differentiate the front plane of the body from the side plane of the body, and the side plane from the back plane. He has to shade or use line to suggest the edge of the plane. Zuccaro defined only a small section of the front plane of the figure. He ended the front plane by using a broken up dark line to trace the curves of the chest, torso, and stomach. He has also used small shapes of shadow under the left arm to show the underneath portion, the underneath plane of the arm, to distinguish it from the side and top planes of the arm.

As you draw the figure more and more, you will be able to practice drawing a line to follow the contours of the body. Note how sensitively Zuccaro draws the line around the form of the body. This line is not the same value everywhere. It is broken up in places. A flat uniform and complete line drawn around the whole body will not appear three-dimensional. Note that this is an unfinished drawing, so the torso has not been completed.

Drawing Torsos Twisted

Copy after Taddeo Zuccaro's Nude Male Figure with Upraised Arms, by J. S. Robinson


In this copy after Peter Paul Rubens, we can see what a major role the spine plays in the body. Every gesture or action our bodies make will be revealed by the placement of the spine. When you draw the figure, be acutely aware of the position of the spine. This will ensure that you draw the gesture or movement and weight of the figure correctly. Ruben's technical skills and knowledge of anatomy allowed him to create a wonderful sense of the mass of a back in this drawing. The light falls directly onto the back. Rubens has rounded the upper area of the back, especially the right side, by concentrating his lightest tones in this area. Squint at the drawing and you will observe the roundness in this area. Due to the back being fully lit, Rubens has to describe the anatomy of the back with fairly light tones in his shading. You will notice how he uses mostly soft gray tones. He hardly uses any dark tones, except for the left side of the back. On the left side he is showing the slight bend and twist at the waist. Note the dark contour line used to emphasize the twisting motion. He also darkly shades the Obliquus externus and Aponeurosis of latissimus dorsi muscles, to reveal the pressure put on these muscle groups due to the weight of the body being carried by the left leg; notice how they bulge. Look how Rubens has suggested the side plane of the body on the right side. To do this, he has emphasized the rib cage with dark accents and used darker shading in the area to the right of the rib cage to denote a different plane. The contour of this side plane is drawn with a very dark line. This has the effect of pushing and rounding that plane, away from the viewer and into the distance. This dark plane is moving away and is strongly contrasted from the brightly lit plane of the back.

The Male Figure With Draperies

Copy after Peter Paul Rubens' Study of Male Figure, Seen from Behind, by Dean Fisher

This copy after Andrea del Sarto shows some examples of hands. Many beginners find hands difficult to render, but they are really no different from any other part of the body. Remember to try and simplify the forms; view the hands as a block with sides, a front, and a back. The first hand shows the arm with its front and side planes separated from each other. This is because the light is shining on the back of the hand. The side plane of the arm, the wrist and the palm, are all in shadow because these planes are facing away from the light. The first phalange of the forefinger, along with the knuckles and the back of the palm, are all facing toward the light. The last three fingers are bent down away from the light and are shaded to show this difference. Notice how the side of the raised forefinger is defined by a subtle, darker shade of tone.

When drawing the hands, follow the line of the bones very carefully with your eye. Do not make the lines around the fingers heavy; keep them soft, unless you see a dark shadow between the digits. You should draw the shape of the shadow, as portrayed here. See how the shadow between the second and third digits is triangular in shape. In the second example, the light is shining along the side of the arm and hand. The side of the hand is receiving more light, while the back of the hand is receiving less light. Place your own hand in the same position as shown in the drawing, and take note of how the light differentiates and separates the planes of the figure or hand for you.

Figures Andrea Del Sarto

Copy after Andrea del Sarto's Studies of Hands, by J. S. Robinson


There is an even light on the whole back of the figure. Rubens has decided to rely more on the use of line rather than shading, to describe the structure of the body. Observe how he sculpts the figure by varying the quality of the line around the perimeter of the figure. Notice where the figure or limb is bent, Rubens has thickened his line to emphasize the gesture. Dark shading is used in roughly four parts of the body, under the buttocks, the left knee, under the left calf, and at the waist on the right. Rubens, being the superb artist that he was, pinpointed these areas as crucial to depict the gesture or stance of the figure. The shape of the shadow under the left buttock is lengthened, which shows the viewer that the left hip is lowered. The shading under the buttocks beautifully illustrates the roundness of each cheek of the buttocks. Take note that the shadow in this region retains an airy quality. There is far too much light hitting the figure overall for the shadow to be dense and heavy looking. Consequently, the shading or tone is made up of slanted lines. This allows some space in between the lines, which conveys the effect of a light and airy shadow.

The solidity of the legs is achieved by the shading of the outer contour of the right leg and the shading underneath the muscles on the thigh and calf. Notice the slight difference between the calf muscle on the left leg and the calf muscle on the right leg. The left knee is bent, and so the left lower leg appears at a different angle from the right leg. As a result, the left calf appears rounder as we see it pulled forward by the knee rather than straight on, as is the case with the right leg. This is slightly exaggerated by the very dark shading just above the back of the knee. This, along with the rounding of the left calf, serves as a signal that the leg is bent. This is the shorthand which artists use to create their illusions of space and depth.

When you are drawing, be very attentive to how the posture of the pose affects all the muscles of the body and observe how the weight of the body is distributed.

Drewing Nude Woman Anatomical

Copy after Peter Paul Rubens' Nude Woman, by Dean Fisher



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lows in the Light a way to draw subtle modulation s of gray tones to suggest light in ll-lit area of the subject.


Copy Works of Art in Museums

Drawing the Human Figure

chapter 12/

There is no better way to learn to draw than to copy the works of master artists from the past and the present. We have seen in the previous section how great artists solved their own drawing problems. You can learn a great deal from both past and contemporary artists by viewing and copying great works of art, firsthand. Major cities usually have great collections, and smaller cities also have their own treasures in smaller museums. Most museums allow you to draw on-site. However, you should find out if they have any stipulations concerning drawing in the museum before you begin.

Studying Techniques of Drawing

Copying from master drawings allows you an intimacy with the work that you cannot obtain by simply looking at a reproduction. The more you draw, the more you will notice how differently you will approach looking at a work of art. In time, you will view art works with more knowledge gained by your own attempts at, and study of, drawing. This sense of inquiry will only add to your pleasure of looking at great art.

When you look carefully, you will begin to understand and appreciate the techniques that these old masters employed to overcome any technical difficulties they may have encountered. In the fifteenth century, artists wanted to create the illusion of space, and so invented perspective. In the example on the opposite page, in the copy after Rubens, you can see how a shadow in the light was suggested, or drawn, without destroying the illusion of the light itself.

All of the previous examples in this chapter have shown how the artist has tried to simplify the complicated form of the human figure, while still suggesting the illusion of space and volume. Each artist found their own personal solution. You can observe this through the unique way each artist drew. No one else draws with a dramatic, bold line like Rubens, and no one else has the gentle, flowing line of Andrea del Sarto. Draw often and you will find your own characteristic technique of drawing. The way in which you solve technical or compositional difficulties will build your own character into your work. Of course, this can be very challenging and frustrating, but it can also be immensely interesting and rewarding. This is where you will find the joy and creativity in your work.

Note: Some museums allow you to bring in a chair and a drawing board or easel; check with each museum for their particular rules.

Study of a Back, by J. S. Robinson

When drawing the human figure, measuring parts of the body against one another will certainly help you draw correctly. In this section, you will learn how to make sure those parts of the body are aligned correctly for the pose you are drawing. You can use a pencil, or paintbrush, as discussed on page 44 in Chapter 4, to act as a guide for your straight and horizontal lines. With more and more practice, you will be able to imagine these vertical and horizontal lines, with no guide, so that you will be able to line up one part of the figure with another part to draw the figure with the correct proportions. You will be training your eye to look for connections that you normally would not think about.

This drawing of a standing figure may seem quite straightforward. However, the lifted head, the raised arm, and the bent arm all need to be properly aligned to suggest that the body's muscles and skeleton are working in sync, and also to create a believable gesture. Using the finished drawing shown here, the following examples have some imaginary lines inserted that the artist may have seen with his own eye to use as a guide to draw this convincing figure composition.

Dean Fisher Artist
Figure at Rest, by Dean Fisher

Train Your Eye

Line Drawing Muscle Human Body

Stomach protrudes to the left

Edge of pocket

Stomach protrudes to the left

Edge of pocket

Human Head Tilted Left

In order to render the tilt of the head correctly, the artist may have used the features of the face as coordinates with which to line up other parts of the body. The artist may have roughly drawn out the whole composition. If he then established the features of the head, he could then line up parts of the rest of the body against these points. For example, imagine drawing a vertical line from the bottom of the nose, where it meets the face. This line could then act as a guide for the placement of the clavicle and the edge of the rib cage.

As our imaginary vertical line continues, the edge of the pocket becomes aligned with the bottom of the nose. This confirms to the artist the placement of the hip in relation to the head. The stomach is not in line with this vertical guide, but is in line with the outer edge of the thumb. The artist therefore could see the width of the protrusion of the stomach. It was important for him to get this right, in order to show that the body is slightly bent at the waist and that the back is arched.


How Draw Military Guns

The artist could have checked the alignment of the elbow of the model by drawing or imagining a horizontal line from just below the top of the left shoulder. The bottom of the elbow falls on this line. Notice that the end of the front of the neck also lies on this line.

To ensure that the artist drew the ear at the correct angle, he may have imagined how it was positioned in relation to the shoulder. You can see that the lobe of the ear is nicely aligned with the bony clavicle at the top of the shoulder. The top of the ear is aligned with the belt loop of the trousers and the front of the hand. All these coordinates show the artist that the ear should be drawn almost horizontally because the head is tilted back. Notice that the artist could have used a horizontal line drawn from the lower lip, to show him the placement of the top of the ear.

In this copy after Zuccaro (see also on page 231), observe carefully the alignment of the limbs of the figure. In order to align the top of the body with the legs, Zuccaro may have imagined a vertical line from the inside of the right wrist. The inner left and right legs lie on this line. This could have given Zuccaro a coordinate with which to position the legs in relation to the right arm. He may have used the thumb on the extended left arm to align the foot of the right leg. Lining up these two limbs ensured that Zuccaro was able to draw the foreshortening (see next page) of the left arm convincingly, as he saw that he only had a small space in which to draw the forearm and hand. The back of that right arm may have served him as a coordinate, to show the angle of the extension of the spine before it curves out further into the buttocks.

At this stage in his career, Zuccaro imagined these lines to help him plot his measurements correctly. The ability to do this comes with time and practice. Be aware of this when you draw. Always make comparisons using your own eye or with the aid of an instrument or tool, not only when you draw the human figure but with any subject matter you encounter. Making these comparisons when drawing the human figure will enable you to draw the body correctly and with the model's own proportions.

How Drawing Model

Foreshortening is a term artists use to describe the drawing of the human body in perspective. That is to say, parts of the body are shortened or drawn smaller, in order to create the illusion of a limb projecting into space. With this technique, the artist can create a sense of depth and space when working with the human figure. The following examples all display a mastery of foreshortening. Measuring and alignment, as described in the previous section, are your keys to be able to do this successfully.

Foreshortening the Torso

This beautifully fluid drawing, copied after Tiepolo, illustrates a human figure seen from below. As a consequence, the whole body is foreshortened. Being a beginner, you may actually find this quite difficult to do, especially when you do not see a limb or the body face on. Your brain may tell you that you could not possibly draw the chest so near to the chin, as Tiepolo has done. This is where you have to believe your eyes and draw exactly what you see in front of you. Do not draw with preconceived ideas of what something should look like.

Tiepolo has successfully conveyed the illusion of a figure sitting above the viewer through the use of measuring. Vertical and horizontal lines are useful and necessary for aligning parts of the body, when drawing a figure that is foreshortened. In these examples, measuring the distance between certain parts of the body becomes crucial. Take a tool and measure out this figure in the following way. See how the body, from the chin to the top of the thigh, is the same length as one head. The chest cavity and the torso must fit into this length. The thigh to the middle of the knee is also more or less one length of the head. The distance from the middle of the knee of the left leg to just below the calf muscle is also one head in length. The bent right leg, from the top of the knee to the small toe, covers a distance of two head lengths. The right leg is nearer to the viewer, and so it appears larger.

Try to think in very simple terms and remember that the object nearest to you will always be larger than objects that are farther away.

Tiepolo Drawing

Copy after Ciovanni Battista Tiepolo's Two Bacchantes, by J. S. Robinson


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Body Draws CopyTiepolo Drawings

This Tiepolo copy is used to help explain the mechanics of foreshortening. The vertical and horizontal lines drawn here, as in the previous section, are to align parts of the body in order to foreshorten correctly. When you are drawing a figure, you should try to imagine such lines on the figure, especially when you encounter a foreshortening problem. This is the only way you will be able to solve the problem. A vertical line through the left nipple shows you that the side of the frontal plane of the kneecap lies along this vertical line (a). This vertical cuts the mass of the thigh roughly in half. It also goes straight through the middle of the head. The line separates the front plane of the head from the side plane of the head. A line drawn from the forehead (b) shows how the edge of the left thigh is aligned with the forehead.

A horizontal line from the model's left knee was drawn (c), so that you can see that the heel of the right foot begins on this line. The toes begin very roughly, halfway up the thigh, and end at the top of the kneecap (d). Within this very short distance, Tiepolo was aware that he must describe the underside of the foot, and therefore he had to shorten the heel. Notice on the right leg how near the calf is to the lower leg. Tiepolo has not drawn the ankle because he could not see it in this position. Therefore, the foot appears directly in front of the shin. When you draw you may find this difficult to do. Remember that foreshortening is all about one form overlapping another form. Tiepolo has convincingly suggested the correct size of the foot for the angle from which we are viewing it. The front part of the foot is roughly the width of the lit part of the left knee.

The vertical line drawn from the outer corner of the right eye is lined up directly with the side of the left kneecap (e). Notice also that this line separates the front plane of the lips from the side plane of the lips. The line running vertically from the inner corner of the eye (f) shows where the chest and rib cage divide the frontal plane of the body from the side plane. This vertical alignment may have acted as a guide for Tiepolo to show him how long the chest and rib cage should have been. The calf muscle of the left leg also ends on this line. The left side of the neck (as we look at it) is in line with the inner thigh (g). This may have served as a coordinate for the placement of the whole head in relation to the right leg (as we look at it). If you pay attention to this kind of information and look for it when you are drawing, you should have fewer, if any, problems with foreshortening.


In this copy after Rubens, in order to show the foot coming out toward the viewer, Rubens had to shorten the calf. The calf is only half the size of the foot when seen from this angle. You can draw or imagine a vertical line from the inner side of the thigh, down through the calf and the foot. Rubens may have drawn the foot first and then created the calf and thigh in proportion to the foot. Remember that in foreshortening, parts of the body overlap other parts, so it is important that their size be considered and observed carefully. For example, the heel is obscuring the ankle, and so Rubens attaches the foot to the calf with a small part of the ankle showing on the left side. Notice that the foot is considerably larger than the lower leg when seen from this vantage point. This is because the foot is nearer to the viewer. Think about perspective. See "Foreshortening the Torso" on page 240.

Draw Feet Using Foreshortening
Copy after Peter Paul Rubens' Study of Lower Leg and Foot, by J. S. Robinson

In this study, as in the Rubens drawing, Michelangelo shows his mastery in overlapping one form on top of another. Notice how the upper arm has been shortened. This makes it project forward to the viewer and creates a great sense of depth. The lower arm overlaps the upper arm. Michelangelo had to severely foreshorten both the upper and lower right arm (as we look at it) to achieve the sense of the arm projecting toward the viewer. Michelangelo may have measured the position of the wrist in relation to the features of the face. He also foreshortened the back arm to show it receding back. Notice how short the upper arm is, in this case.

From all of the examples in this section, you can see how important it is to compare and see relationships between forms in order to obtain the right proportions, and the illusion of three-dimensionality. Make studies often and observe carefully.

How Draw Human Limbs

Copy after Michelangelo Buonarroti's Studies for the Crucified Human, by Dean Fisher

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  • SARA
    How to draw human limbs?
    8 years ago
  • Taina Myllys
    How to draw the human genitals?
    8 years ago
  • pia
    How to sketch human genitals?
    7 years ago
  • stuart
    How to draw human pictures?
    7 years ago
  • ranugad
    How to draw male back foreshortened?
    4 years ago
  • veijo
    When drawing the human leg should it look thicker from the front or the side?
    4 months ago

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