Improve figure drawings in 7 steps

Wow, I can’t believe I gathered another small amount of courage to post this article about art. This post is aimed to help you improve figure drawings. Just an advice from a a-little-more-advanced-than-a-beginner.

It’s been a while since I decided to take my art passion more seriously. When I moved to France I was already drawing, but I had never taken art classes; not even YouTube tutorials. If I wanted to draw something, I would draw from my head or look to a photo reference.

Drawing from your head is what creation is all about, but if you don’t have a visual database stored in your brain, it is veeery difficult to produce realistic/credible artwork (or whatever style you aim at). On the other hand, I came to the conclusion that is copying a reference will do no good, because you just translate a photo into a drawing or painting. So it’s just that: it’s not art, it’s copying.

But don’t get me wrong, I’m not against copying from reference in order to improve your skills. Just keep in mind that it’s just a study where you try different techniques, different types of drawing/painting.

I started off with drawing mostly realistic girl portraits: my friends on Facebook, beautiful girls on Google images, or myself. After a while I got bored and wanted to try different techniques, so tried more portraits with pastels, with acrylics. I didn’t stuck on anything, I haven’t had any love-struck with any medium or style. My journey continued with extending my interest in drawing and painting animals, but even this was not my cup of tea.

I have in mind a huge project that’s listed on my bucket list: to publish a comic book. Yay! But I’m not quite there. I started off with the idea of little stories, and decided that my characters would be a manga style.

There’s a lot of reference on drawing expressions and it’s even simpler for manga. Given I consume this type of comics, I have a collection of references for the faces, so hopefully my own style will emerge from exercising a lot. But I’ll tackle the subject on faces and expressions on another post.

Which brings me to the objective of this post. My number one difficulty when started this project was not the story line, the style for the characters, not even clothing or environment. It was drawing my characters in different positions. So I needed to research methods to improve figure drawings.

So here are my:

7 steps to improve figure drawings

Learn body proportions

I started this a while back, when I bought a wooden figurine to help me get a grasp on body proportions. The basic thing to know for realistic drawing is that the ideal body should contain 8 heads. Knowing this it will be much simpler to break the rule and to adapt proportions for woman body, child body or even manga style body.

I preferred this wooden figurine because it has it’s joints and body abstracted to the point is very easy to observe proportions, and at the same time keeping the realistic look.

 

Study body anatomy

But I soon realized that knowing only proportions is not enough, since this can’t help you to shade body parts properly, or draw clothes over this type of sketch.

Therefore I started reading materials on anatomy. For my birthday I received this study book that goes into fine details for every bone and muscle. I read it and observed it and didn’t know how exactly I was supposed to learn how all these muscles interlace with each other. So I decided to look at it and start drawing it as it is. It’s the same as copying, as I mentioned before.

Only that this time is for study purposes. After drawing the muscles I tried to figure out on myself how and where the light would fall and began shading. I’m not quite there, but that’s an easy exercise anyone can do.

Copy half as it is in the reference, then try to figure the rest out by yourself.

Read books on figure drawing

So now I have more elements in my head. Even though I cannot draw like an expert, I know how to respect proportions and have an idea how to do shading if I look at the anatomy reference.

But I still need these references! Great masters don’t really need those, but they still study: from textures or clothing design, to learning history, in order to expand their databases and improve even more.

For my project I needed to learn how to draw bodies in action, from different angles and perspective, giving the impression my characters are alive.

I am very grateful I came across this particular e-book that very complete and shows you how to draw from stick man to full fleshed 3D character. It’s called Figure drawing. Design and Invention by artist Michael Hampton. You can find more of his greatness on his website.

Check different website resources

With Michael Hampton’s book, I started applying every new element I discovered when drawing figures.

There’s this website called Quick Pose that lets you have drawing challenges with yourself. The objective is to help you develop a more loose style and only catch the essential from a body pose.

I have done several times challenges: 10-20 figures, one per minute. And I have to tell you time passes really fast, so you don’t have time for details.

Before reading the book
After reading Michael Hampton’s book

Pose Maniacs and Line-of-action are similar resource websites. You can search references directly on Google, or Pinterest. It all depends on what you are looking for.

Subscribe at Patreon and YouTube channels

On YouTube you can find all sorts of tutorials, from realistic, to cartoons and manga. Just go there and start searching for artists. You can (I recommend you to) follow several artists, such that you will not learn an artist’s style. And you will learn part of techniques and styles that you will incorporate into your own.

If you really find a good teacher on YouTube, most of the time, artists propose more tutorials with real time explanation on Patreon. This way you can pledge a monthly fee (subscription starting at 1$/month) on that artist, and they will share with you more of their knowledge.

Watching tutorials will help you improve figure drawings.

Draw from nature

If you did every other mentioned steps, now it’s time for you to consider an extra element: drawing from nature. Because having real life references is different. You can see an object in 3D, so you can draw its perspective better, because you can see what happens behind that object.

Ask a friend to pose for you, or now that we have good weather, go in the park and start sketching joggers, or people having a picnic. Kids playing with a ball or riding a bike. Or even yourself in a mirror.

Practice! Practice! And practice!

And now, the most common piece of advice everyone keeps saying is practice! I agree with that, therefore I started practicing almost daily. If I don’t have time, I will only do a 10 minutes pose challenge on Quick Pose.

This way I’m not just waiting to improve figure drawings, while watching tutorials. I practice in order to improve figure drawings. Because watching tutorials and reading books is great, but I also have to experiment by myself.

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