5 Figure Drawing Tips: Taking Measurements, Drawing Torsos and More

Are you wanting to take your figure drawings to the next level? I want that for you, too. Here are five figure drawings tips straight from the experts. Enjoy!

1. In the Beginning, There Was a Rectangle

Start by drawing a proportional rectangle into which your subject exactly fits. You want to ensure the correct proportion of height to width, based on your point of view. This enables the subject to be scaled and placed onto the paper exactly where you wish.

A rectangle is easier to move, resize and revise than an entire human figure. A rectangle also supplies a valuable framework for the drawing. Reference points can be created and located relative to the rectangle to confirm the figure’s proportions. The first reference point is called the anchor, and all other reference points are made relative to it.

–Jason Franz, “The Three-Layer Figure”

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2. Draw First, Measure Second

There is a belief among some artists that measurements are to be placed before the marks representing the body are made. I’ve always felt that this is problematic, it makes one inhibited in his or her approach. It means an artist is being driven not by natural means but by adherence to a grid.

I think a measuring mark is meant to be in support of a drawing mark. If you draw first, then measure, you eventually may not have to measure as much. If you draw without measurement, you’ll draw naturally, and that natural way of drawing will get more refined as you grow to appreciate that the eye is the final judge.

–Dan Thompson, “A Many-Sided Approach to the Figure”

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3. Draw With The Entire Arm

I sharpen pencils to needle-sharp points, then I hold them with thumb and forefinger and draw with my entire arm, not just with my fingers and wrists. You need to sit well back.

All your measurements should be made with an arm’s length extension so that every time you make a sight measurement, the pencil is the same distance from your eye.

–Mark Tennant, “Beauty, Balance and Accuracy”

4. Avoid ‘Balloon Torsos’

Try not to automatically make one side of the torso equal to the other, like a balloon. There is nothing worse than drawing a balloon torso—unless, of course, that is your goal.

A common problem for beginning artists is to fall into the trap of thinking the figure is symmetrical on all sides, something that even many advanced artists are ensnared by when drawing heavy or muscular models. To help free yourself of this mindset, try to draw the model from the skeleton outward.

–Dan Gheno, “The Core Figure: A Source of Power and Accuracy”

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5. Consider The Clavicle

The clavicle is a great landmark for artists because it can be seen just under the skin for its entire length. There are distinct variations in the clavicles of men and women—so much so that forensic experts use it to determine gender when examining skeletal remains.

In men, the clavicles are thick, rough and stout, with pronounced curves. From a frontal view, the bones appear relatively level or even angle up as they move out to where they articulate with the shoulder blade.

In women, the clavicles are slenderer, smoother and have shallower curves. In a frontal view, the female clavicles are either level or angled slightly downward.

–Larry Withers, “12 Anatomical Differences Between Men and Women”

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These five pieces of figure drawing advice were first featured in “The Figure: The Best of Drawing,” a special issue from Drawing magazine devoted entirely to the figure.

To learn much more from the artists and instructors quoted here, you can Be sure to check out this special Drawing issue in the North Light Shop. Happy reading and drawing, artists!

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