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Figure Drawing: Connect the Dots

February 17, 2010

I wanted to take a moment to show how I translate a figure to the page. This finished drawing below was made a few years back, 12 x 16 inches in graphite. I’ve recreated a rough sketch based on that drawing to show how it began.

Rough sketch


Finished drawing

The first thing I determine is where the center of the figure lies, which in this case is approximately where her left knee is, and then I mark the top and bottom extremes of the whole pose. I can see that her left toe almost sits halfway between her knee and the right toe point. This distance is approximately the same as a point from her groin straight across to her left arm. Using extreme measurements such as this I can roughly block out where to place things on the page. Once I set a firm measurement, such as toe to toe, I try and use that same distance at several places in order to keep it constant. As I become confident that the larger points are in their proper place, I can break it down into smaller distances if necessary.

The measuring is done with the ‘tried and true’ system of using a long pencil held straight out with the arm fully extended, holding the pencil either horizontal or vertical. I then use the tip of the pencil and thumb aligned to the points I see in front of me. It’s not a perfect measuring system, but close enough is fine in this case. No one will be testing me later.

It’s helpful to look for other visual clues too, like the extended curve of the hand along the side of her cheek, or how the bottom curve of her hips lines up with the right arm. Notice how the neck lines up with the inside of her breast, and you can extend that imaginary line to her right hip. Look at “negative” shapes also, such as the shape between her arm and left hip.

Don’t start shading too early. If you haven’t placed everything correctly first, then shading it will only give you more marks to erase.

Another tip about extemes, just as with measuring you can concentrate on exteme values as well. This is particularly useful on timed poses in a figure drawing session where the model may move at the end of the pose before you get everything nicely shaded. If you start with the darker values and softly outline the shapes made by the lighter values first you can more easily shade everything in without even needing the model in front of you.

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