× HOME ART LESSONS REVIEWS PRICING STUDENTS GALLERY LIFE DRAWING MASTERS NEWS FAQ MEMBERS AREA

How to Draw a Human Figure from Life

This is your unique chance to get unlimited personal tutoring at a tiny fraction of what it really costs.
Don't miss your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

Enroll in the Life Drawing Academy now!


Online Course

Lifetime membership
One-time payment: $297 USD

ENROLL NOW

Correspondence Course + Online Course

Lifetime membership
One-time payment: $997 USD

ENROLL NOW

How to Draw a Human Figure from Life

Life Drawing by Alexander Ryzhkin

In this video lesson, you will discover How to Draw a Human Figure from Life.

How to Draw a Human Figure from Life

Imagine that we only have 5 or 10 minutes for a life sketch. There is no rush, we still have enough time to thoughtfully draw what we know and apply the knowledge of proportions and anatomy. The lines in this sketch are not based on exact measurements with a pencil, but rather on judging proportions by eye. Every line describes the mass of a certain body part by circling it as a contour or an outline.

In a 10-minute sketch, we have the luxury of drawing lines slowly, trying to place them with precision. Gesture sketching requires a lot of life-drawing exercises. What you see in this video lesson is the result of many years of practice. Don't be discouraged if you have some troubles achieving accurate lines or judging figure proportions. In such sketches, it is important to draw parts in pairs. For example, as soon as we have marked one shoulder, we need to draw the other. The two upper arms are depicted as a pair. The right and left outlines of the trunk are also marked one after the other.

Here's a good approach to drawing elements in pairs—you can start drawing a line on one side of the figure; then, moving the hand across the figure, lift the pencil from the paper, and when you reach the other side of the figure, continue that line as if it were the same line, only with a gap in between. Skill at making fast sketches comes from extensive drawing of many long poses. So, the best way to learn how to draw life figures is by starting with long poses and gradually shortening the time. In traditional art universities, it takes several years before students are able to make beautiful gesture sketches.

When I draw fast sketches, a stream of thoughts is going through my head about the figure's proportions and anatomy. I'm drawing very much what I know about a human figure rather than what I see on the model. For example, every outline in a sketch is not a line I see and measure by eye. Instead, my understanding and interpretation of bones and muscles influence this outline. I explain in drawing why every line is curved the way it is, why masses have such volumes and shapes, and why every outline breaks after a while and another one begins. The step-by-step sequence of life drawing is especially important in fast sketches. In my head, I already have the finished drawing. Now, it is only the process of revealing what is in my imagination with the help of the model posing in front of me. You may have noticed in previous video lessons that I do not spend much time observing and measuring a model. This is because all the proportions and anatomy are already clear in my mind. All I need to in such sketches is just to get the information out of my head and portray what I already know about a human body.

In fast sketches, you don't need to go into small details or even touch tonal values. The main goal here is to portray the body type and the model's particular pose. A high likeness is desirable but optional, and it depends on the level of your drawing skills. In most cases, when artists do life sketches, they don't speak, because it is very distracting from the high concentration that is required for such drawing. So, in our case, the voice-over is recorded after I've finished this sketch. You can notice that in in this sketch, I'm not interested in portrait and facial features—they are marked very laconically. I only suggest small details of the fingers rather than describing them in detail. Such a minimalistic approach is applied to the feet as well.

Making short sketches is very different to drawing long poses. Gesture drawing suggests the shape of a model's figure. When outlines are in place, and there is some time left, we can go deeper into the details and do more descriptive contours, linking volumes of paired figure parts together. Such contours help to reveal the three-dimensional volumes of a body. If you work in soft drawing material like charcoal, sepia, or red chalk, it is easy to draw contours using the side of a chalk, making thick strokes that imply tonal values despite being contours. The style of a fast sketch is more individual than long drawing. It is like having a personal hand-writing, which is unique and recognizable. In short sketches, it is important to keep them "fresh" and not over-render. Less is more. You do not need to be very descriptive in gesture sketches. An artist should have a good feeling when to stop drawing. A sketch is complete when an artist says so, but in any case, it is better not to finish a sketch than to overdo it. When the bottom outlines are drawn more boldly, it creates a feeling of weight and makes a sketch more interesting. So, as a last few finishing touches, we can go over some outlines of bottom planes that are turned away from the light and therefore are darker. Applying a few strokes of cast shadows anchors the figure to the ground.

I would say that this sketch is finished. Gesture sketching is a very important exercise in life drawing. The more you do it, the more you develop your sketching skills. It trains the hand and eyes. It also develops your individual drawing style. There is a misconception that anatomical and constructive drawing is not required in gesture sketching. Although a proficient artist does not "build" a figure sketch constructively, the knowledge of proper drawing principles subconsciously helps to make realistic and well-proportioned life sketches...

[ The full lesson is avaibale to Life Drawing Academy members ]


This is your unique chance to get a lifetime academy membership and a dedicated team of art teachers.
Such unlimited personal tutoring is not available anywhere else.

Enroll in the Life Drawing Academy now!

Online Course

Lifetime membership
One-time payment: $297 USD

ENROLL NOW

Correspondence Course + Online Course

Lifetime membership
One-time payment: $997 USD

ENROLL NOW
Old Masters Academy
Drawing Academy
Anatomy Master Class