Some Thoughts on Drawing People


This post might seem a little out of place in context of the rest of my blog, and well, I suppose it is. Recently, I have started working with my daughter with art and this blog is in prep to one of the lessons (today’s actually). So, fair warning there are pictures/sketches of people on here with vague nudity, don’t go postal on me, ok?

Let’s start with the gold standard image of human proportions: Vitruvian Man.

This is a basic image of how the body relates to a circle and a square. That may seem stupid, but looking at the human body in relation to geometrics makes it easier to draw. Using geometrics to visualize the body is a good way to measure the proportions of the figure.  This is the place to start when looking at where your figure should be positioned in context of the things around them.

Taking the stick figure and fleshing it out into a geometric figure can act as an excellent frame work upon which to build the details of your figure. Here’s what I’m talking about:

Remember those stick people we’ve been drawing? They can now be used as a skeleton to draw a geometric figure:

You can take any of the stick people we’ve been drawing and sketch them out into geometrics. This is how those interesting poses that your stick people are making can turn into interesting sketches of people. Each of the joints of the body can be demonstrated with a circle. The legs and arms are cylinders. The hands and feet can be rectangles at this point (we’ll get to hands later). Something like this guy:

Ok, before you take the geometric figure forward, we need to talk about the proportions of the human body. Here’s a diagram to reference while I ramble:

The human head is used as a measure of reference for the rest of the body. The average adult stands 8 heads high. The length of their out stretched arms is the same as their height (look up at the comparison to the square).  The chest: 2 heads tall.  The hips/butt area: 1 head.  Legs (measured from the groin down): 4 heads (1/2 the body’s height).  The arm: 3 heads if you measure from the arm pit down or 3 1/2 heads if you measure from the top of the shoulder.  Here’s another head measurement diagram:

Something else to note is that a man’s hips are more narrow then his shoulders while a woman’s hips and shoulders are about the same width. Looking at it as heads: a man’s shoulders are 2 heads wide and his hips are about 1 1/2 wide while the shoulders and hips are both 2 heads wide for a woman.  The waist on the man is about the same as his hips. For a woman, the waist varies (a lot). But its fairly safe to go with the 1 1/2 head.

Now let’s look at some other view points:

As you can see from the side view, the chest and pelvis are about the same depth as the head. If you ignore the arms, you can draw straight lines down the body, like this:

There are numerous differences between the appearance of men and women. When trying to draw realism sketches, the variations of the individual explode into infinity. But, staying in the realm of the comic book or realism cartoon style; there are somethings that you need to keep in mind for your genders. Women are softer then men. The layers of fat pad over the muscle and bone structure so these underlying lines are softened and often obscured. However, in a male, the lines of the underlying muscle and bone are more pronounced. Take a look through the bones and muscles in the anatomy coloring book to learn how those structures are placed and how they move. Knowing what bends, stretches and pivots is important in getting the figure right.

One of the most difficult parts of the human body to drawn is the hand. So, I’m going to spend some time on it here. There are some rules of proportions to keep in mind when drawing a hand that can help make them look more real.

Looking at the above picture, you can see that the bones in the hands are the reference point for their proportions. When looking at the size of the head compared to the size of the figure, remember that the length of the hand is the same length as the face. The width of the hand is half the width of the face. yup, even the size of the hand is measured by the size of the head! Looking at the bent fingers in the picture above, it is important to note that the bones are going to dictate where the fingers bend. While the fingers have a round look, it is important to be sure they bend on pivot points (where the joints are).

The hand can also be compared to an arc, as above.  Looking at finger length is another area where the reality of the individual makes thinks complex. But when drawing figures, keep it simple and basic. The thumb comes about 1/2 way between the first and second knuckle of the pointer finger. The pointer finger and ring finger are the same length. The pointer and ring fingers come up 1/2 way between the tip of the finger and the last knuckle. The pinkie finger comes about 1/2 way between the 2nd and 3rd knuckle of the ring finger. If you spread out your fingers, the finger tips will fall along an arc/circle. Ok, let’s look at all of this on a real person’s hand:

The photo demonstrates that a real hand does not perfectly fall into the “rules” explained above, but you can see how close it is! So, following the guidelines above will give the visually appropriate hand.

So, lets look at the hand in geometrics:

There just isn’t a single shape that really captures the hand. They have all kinds of complex lines and curves. This is why they are so difficult to draw. We think in context of shapes. When we are looking at something that doesn’t easily fall into a shape category, it becomes more difficult to draw. This makes it harder to put the proportions of the hand into the context of a shape. I tend to use this when I sketch a hand:

This isn’t a basic shape, but I find it simple enough to work with effectively. There are numerous other ways to approach the geometrics of the hand, but the thing to keep in mind is that there is no simple conversion. The head is a circle. The chest a square. These parts are straight forward. The hands just aren’t.

Here is a look at the hand in action:

The hand can do some really amazing things. There isn’t a part of the human body that is as dynamic and capable of changing its shape. The same pose taken from a different perspective gives the geometrics a completely different look. So, give your self some slack. Hands are hard to draw because they are complex!

Looking at the hands below, I’ve drawn out some of the lines that I use when drawing a hand. I’ve shown you where I use that weird shape I presented above. But this clearly shows that its a tool that doesn’t cover every pose or perspective of the hand. But, I find it a good place to start.

Now, let’s look at circles. I think that they are also a good reference for drawing the hand. As the hand moves, the circle becomes distorted and changes into an oval. Thus, this isn’t a perfect tool either. Mostly, I find it useful in placing the fingers. Remember that the fingers run on an arc.

When thinking of the hands in context of circles, keep in mind that the palm of the hand is only a 1/4 of the head size. 4 circles drawn in side a circle will give you the head and hands comparison for proportions. Take a look at this:

Alright, that brings us about to the point where we start drawing! Let’s get out our pencils and work on transforming those stick people 🙂

So, here’s the homework (or exercises for drawing people):

1. Take those stick people and convert 20 of them to geometric people. Get the forms and poses on the page. Do this in a sketch book and don’t worry about making it pretty. Just sketch out your stick figure then pencil in the geometrics over it. Don’t worry about the layered lines or get excited about erasing things to make it pretty. This isn’t a finished piece (we’ll get there). Each geometric figure needs to be about 1/4 of the sketch book page; give yourself some room to work with.

2. Draw some hands. The more the better. Search up some photos of hands on the internet and draw what you see. Fill a sketch book page; 5 or more hands and they need to be doing something. Again, give yourself some room. Don’t put more then 4-5 hands on a page. More then that gets crowded and makes things more difficult to draw. Hands are hard enough without trying to squish them in there 😛

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About piggie4299

I am Myself I am a Wife Blessed with love I am a Mother Endowed with divinity Through the power of creation I am a Daughter Brought into this world With unending hope And the promise of the future I am a Sister Made fierce and strong While forged with kindness Protector and protected Spiraling together forever I am a Nurse Holding out the hands of healing And offering the sick comfort And the dying love Knowing that through this All things are healed and made whole I am a Writer Creating myself and world Sharing the inner depths of humanity Bringing together the divine And the humble mortal I tell the story of the Goddess And am remembered forever

Posted on November 9, 2012, in Arts and Crafts, Education and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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