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How to Draw People - A Beginner's Guide


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A common challenge among artists, especially beginners, is learning how to draw people. The human form is complex and can be moved into an infinite variety of poses, making it difficult to draw a person accurately even once and especially difficult to draw someone consistently in more than one pose. However, there are a few simple steps which can be used to help draw any individual, in any pose.

Gesture Line The gesture line or “action line" is a curve which marks the general direction a body is moving in. Even in a seemingly static pose, the gesture line is useful to show the lean of the body and help when it comes time to lay in the angles of the hips and shoulders.

Other Guidelines Once the gesture line is drawn in, other guidelines are placed to help ensure correct proportions. Exact proportions vary from person to person, but in general, an adult is about eight heads tall. The torso and upper arms take up the length of two heads, with the elbows reaching the waist. The pelvis takes up another head's space, with the wrists reaching the bottom of the pelvis. The remaining four head lengths make up the legs and feet of the figure.

Keeping these proportions in mind, it is easy to add other guidelines to your gesture line. The most common form of guidelines is a stick-figure “skeleton" consisting of lines to mark the angles of the shoulders, hips, arms, and legs, with an oval for the head. Many artists will also add ovals for the ribcage and pelvis, small circles to indicate the elbows and knees, or roughly blocked-in hands and feet.

Filling Out the Figure With the skeleton complete, it's time to fill in the rest of the shapes to indicate the volume of the figure. Here it's especially important to pay close attention to your subject - note whether the limbs and body are fat, skinny, muscular, average, etc. It's easy to make mistakes at this stage, so sketch in very lightly to begin with and continuously check your work. Avoid making any lines straight or flat - the human body is full of curves and often even lines which look straight at first are in reality slightly curved.

Finishing the Drawing By this point you should have a rough drawing of your subject, and now you're ready to refine the details so the drawing is fully recognizable. Smooth out lines for the skin and sketch in the clothing, paying careful attention to how it folds and drapes around the body. Add fingers and flesh out the hands - as with forming the overall figure, this is usually easiest if you start with a “skeleton" consisting of an oval or rectangle for the palm and sticks for the fingers, then add form from there.

The hair and face of your subject are the most important elements in making a truly recognizable drawing. Use a vertical guideline to mark the middle of the face and horizontal guidelines to mark the location of the eyes, nose, and mouth. Be sure to have the guidelines curve to match the roundness of the face - otherwise your drawing will look flat and unrealistic. When drawing the hair, start with the general shape and work down, drawing the hair in clumps before trying to draw individual strands. Except for a few places around the edges of the hairstyle or in very unusual styles, individual strands won't affect the look of the finished drawing. Drawing the hair in larger chunks and then texturing it with rough strokes is faster and will look the same.

Now, you have a finished drawing which was made using steps you can easily repeat whenever you please. As you may have realized, some elements of the drawing process will be different for every drawing - such as the gesture line, which changes from pose to pose - but others, such as proportions, will be nearly the same or, in the case of drawing the same person repeatedly, completely identical. By keeping these elements in mind you can draw anyone accurately and consistently.

Sharon Rosa

Artist & Illustrator


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