Figure drawing – an introduction


Figure drawing is one of the most challenging skills to develop while learning how to draw. In this introductory tutorial, we’ll show you the basics of setting the right proportions for the male and female figure.

If you want to learn figure drawing you should start a step at a time. The first step is to get human body proportions right. There are different methods out there but one of the most solid one is to use the length of the human head as an internal length against which to measure the length of the other body parts.

We’ll start looking at the male figure first and we’ll continue with the female figure.

Figure drawing – the male figure

In the image below you see the representation of a human male that stands eight heads tall. This means that the total length of the body from the bottom of the feet to the tip of the head is exactly eight times the length of the head.

I have used grey bars to indicate where a head length follows the subsequent in the drawing. Using the head as a measure of length is extremely convenient. If you start drawing from the head then you just need to measure it and multiply for eight to obtain the correct height of your subject.

Alternatively you could draw a line indicating where your subject stands and dividing it into eight equal parts you can work out easily the correct proportion of your subject independently of its orientation or position.

Using the head as a measure in figure drawing is not only convenient for the aforementioned reasons but also because, by dividing the body in eight parts you can easily find anatomical landmarks that are going to help you enormously when drawing. Let’s see together some of these useful landmarks.

Starting from the top and calling the segments something like 1st head, 2nd head etc. we see that the 2nd head lands exactly where the nipples should be positioned. The 3rd head lands on the navel point, the 4th head at the crotch intersection and the 6th head at the knee bottom. This way you have an immediate sense of where certain anatomical parts should be positioned.

Interesting enough the head height can be used also to measure the body width. In this case a standard measure of body width in figure drawing is two and a half heads. More correctly is the shoulders that are two and a half heads wide.

Figure drawing – the female figure

The same reasoning applies to the proportions of the female body. Eight heads is a good starting point however you can use also seven or even six heads as sometimes women are represented as slightly shorter than men.

Remember that you could always use the eight-head subdivision even if you are drawing characters of different height. You start by drawing two vertical lines representing where the characters stand and they can be of different lengths. At that point you can just divide in eight equal parts every line to use the eight-head subdivision for both.

Using eight is very convenient for the reasons I explained before, we can easily find and position useful anatomical landmarks that land exactly at various heads length. Nipples in women are slightly below the 2nd head line however the 3rd head line coincides exactly with the waist – elbow line. How useful!

The 4th head base corresponds to the middle point, just above the crotch and the 6th head base corresponds to the bottom knees line like for the man proportion chart. To finish, the width of the woman shoulders is only 2 heads (instead of the two and a half in men).

I hope you found this introductory tutorial useful. If you liked it please share it or leave a comment and let us know what else would you like to know about drawing the human figure.

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