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Figure Drawing: Geometry for The Human Body

Figure Drawing and proportions have never been one of my strongest points. You only have to take a look at my infamous 6-head tall Jade Lanner to realise this.:

However, this does give me an advantage when writing this tutorial: because I'm not naturally good at drawing people, I can remember very explicitly how to do it because I have to do it every time I draw a person.

Andrew Loomis's Figure Drawing for All It's Worth is an excellent book which taught me a lot. However, I suspect the formal textbook format of the publication might be a bit scary and intimidating to the casual beginner, so I present my simplified version of the techniques contained in his book.

Basic Basic Porportions: 8 Heads.

There are variations in what is considered acceptable proportions in drawing people, but generally I prefer to use the 8-Head 'Ideal' model.

There are many reasons for this preference, but the main one is that 8 is an even number and very easily divisible. I'm a practical person ;)

As in faces,We start by marking out the dimensions:

My favourite method is to mark out the total height of the person, halve it, repeat for the halves and quarters to get 8 heads.

Now we have out grid to work with, we proceed to identify the key-points that can help us construct out figure. They are:

By the way, I should point out that these keypoints are very important, and you should take the time now to memorise them. Burn them into your brain!

Sometimes remembering the 1,2,3,4,6 sequence as a series or sentences helps a lot:

(Yeah, I KNOW it's Gav's code, and not Nate, but bear with me here).

Males and females actually have slightly differing porportions, but for beginners and for the sake of simplicity, we'll use the same base proportions for both and modify them later. Anyway, after we have our grid, we usually sketch in the figure directly like so:

This is obviously a male figure, by the way. I left the genetalia out for simplicity's sake as well.

Keep in mind, the shoulder is usually a little over two heads wide. You can vary this width depending on how broad shouldered you want the person. This is just a rough sketch, and while most artists just do this part without any problems, some people (like me) can never get it just right. We can't seem to be able to jump to this step without something more concrete to build on.

It's sometime easier if we picture the human figure as a series of geometric shapes:

But although this approach often gets the shape right, it also looks rather flat and lacks depth. Loomis also teaches a method of cross-sectioning within the shapes to achieve a more 3D-looking figure. I call it the Michelin Tyre building approach (those of you who like motorsport will get this the reference.)

If you want to be extreme, you can actually draw a whole figure just from the cross-sections of the blue grid:

This is done by drawing a rough line for the direction you want your bodyparts to follow, drawing the cross-section...

... and joining them up to form cylinders.

However, this is just a static figure. Most people have very little trouble drawing static figures. It's the moving around thing that makes it so hard. I like to use a mix of the above methods to get some moderately acceptable-looking figures. Here's a super-quick (and crappy) example of the process.

Mark out the porportions... Notice you break the line at the crotch point, then split the lines for the two legs.

Michelin Tyre method to build up the figure.

Adding shapes to mark the planes make it easier to figure out which areas are front and which are back.

Drawing over the frame.

This was a hurried sketch, so there are some mistakes, but you should generally get the idea how to build up a figure using frames. As time goes by, you'll be able to skip some of the steps with practice. Eventually you'll be so familiar with body geometry you won't need to draw the frames as much. Or at all.

Now go start drawing, you!

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