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How to Draw Figures: Tips, Tricks, and Full Guide

How to draw figures

Drawing figures or the human anatomy can be some of the most challenging things to draw but also the most rewarding.

Figures. Anatomy. Poses. The cause of many, if not most, artists’ headaches and breakdowns. The bane of my existence. Why is it so hard to draw a human body?

Luckily, I’ve pulled together all of my scattered brain cells to figure out the tips and tricks to drawing figures. Basically, it all boils down to:

  • Lines
  • Shapes
  • Proportions

To draw a figure, you have to start with a simple gesture line and then add basic shapes on top of it. Once you’ve added the shapes and made sure they’re proportionally accurate, you can start sketching the outline of the body and the details of the face and body.

If you want to know more, stick along for the full guide as well as a few tips and practices that you can do.

Table of Contents

    Why is Drawing a Human So Hard?

    To begin with, let’s talk about why drawing a human is so hard.

    Drawing in general is already hard. If you pair that with drawing something as complex as the human figure then it’s bound to seem impossible.

    A lot of details make up the human anatomy. Details that move or look a specific way. While those details can be exaggerated, if you don’t know exactly how it’s drawn, it’s gonna look weird or stiff.

    Not to mention figures come in different shapes and sizes. Some are short, some are tall, some are fat, and some are thin. So to perfect the human figure in one practice would be insane, which is why I suggest, if you really want to be better at anatomy and figure drawing, to buckle up and practice A. LOT.  

    I struggle with figures and anatomy (I still do), so much so that I just revert to headshots or a person standing still whenever I decide to draw humans. This isn’t good, because not only am I making the blandest and most boring portfolio ever, but I’m also not giving myself any room to grow.

    Which is why I sat down, did my research, and practiced. And here’s everything I’ve learned.

    How to Draw a Body

    Drawing a body is hard.

    If you wanna know how to draw a body, or anything for that matter, just remember that anything can be broken down into shapes and so can the human body. A body is basically just a combination of geometrical shapes.

    An oval for a head, a triangle and a circle for the torso, and oblongs/blocks for arms and legs. Try not to make the shapes with hard edges or completely solid as I find it helps later on when you’re doing your final sketch over the shapes.

    Now, these shapes aren’t set in stone. As I’ve said before, the human body is diverse. There’s no one right body, therefore there’s also no one right set of shapes. Depending on what you’re going for, the head might be a square and the torso might be oblong. Go crazy.

    However, just because you know what shapes make a human body, doesn’t mean you’re good to go. You’re still gonna need to study anatomy.

    For a brief introduction to anatomy, have a quick look at this video:

    Simple Anatomy

    I suggest grabbing a few pictures and studying them before drawing. If you have no idea what to do, draw the shapes over the pictures and imitate the shapes on your paper. Just the basic shapes. You can ignore the other details and save them for later.

    Now if you’re a beginner and have no idea where to start, you can follow this step-by-step guide

    How To Draw A Simple Body Step by Step

    Start with Gesture Lines

    Gesture lines are a great first step to learning how to draw figures.

    Basically, what you do is take a pose and break it down to its simplest form: lines.

    Imagine how a pose or an action would look if it were just lines.

    Often, what is intimidating about drawing something like figures is how overwhelming all the shapes and details are. With gesture lines, you are taking some of that intimidation away by removing all the shapes and just using lines.

    Not only that, but this practice also allows you to focus on the pose or gesture itself instead of the nitty-gritty of shape and anatomy, making it easier to study.

    Gesture lines can be done quickly. As long as you got the basic pose of the figure you want to draw, then you’re good to go.

    Draw the Basic Shape and Contours of the Body

    You’ve gotten the gesture lines! Time to take those lines and add the basic shapes and contours of the body.

    Draw over the lines with the shapes I discussed earlier. Make the shapes follow the gestures you’ve made. If you find that you’ve drawn a line too short or too long, make some adjustments but keep the gesture as it is.

    Once you’ve figured out the shapes of the body, train your eye even further by drawing the contours or the outline.

    I suggest doing this without lifting your pencil. One continuous outline over the shapes you drew and keeping the gesture lines in mind.

    Again, this doesn’t have to be perfect. You’re gonna find that your drawing will look like something they’d put in a SpongeBob episode as a jab at Squidward’s artistic abilities (Squidward’s a great artist in my opinion, but the kids needed something to laugh at).

    Don’t be discouraged by how your figures look now. These are just the steps to get you used to drawing the human body.

    Draw Limbs Using Simple Lines

    One of the most difficult things that come with drawing bodies is drawing limbs. How long should they be? What are their shapes? To start with, draw limbs using simple lines.

    If you find that using shapes like blocks or oblongs stiffens your drawing’s poses, revert back to your good old friend gesture lines but this time, only apply them to the limbs, be it arms or legs.

    Make them fluid at first. Don’t worry about the joints. Your figure is gonna look like a Raggedy Anne Doll at first, but once you’ve gotten used to the placement of the limbs, their length, and how they respond to your body’s torso, you’ll find it easier to add the joints later and make a more detailed sketch.

    Draw a Rough Outline of the Head and Torso

    You got the gesture down, the shapes, the contours, and the limbs. Time to draw the rough outline of the head and the torso.

    Start with the head. The head is the most complicated part of the human body to draw because of its many details.

    You’ve already gotten the shape of the head figured. Now it’s time for the rough outline. For this, I suggest using a reference to get the facial proportions accurate, especially if you’re a beginner.

    Before you start sketching the details, figure out first where the placement of the eyes, nose, lips, and ears are gonna be.

    Draw a cross in the middle of the shape of your head. Then just above that cross, draw another horizontal line. The empty space between those lines will determine where your eyes will be. 

    Tip: If you can’t figure out the distance between the eyes, just sketch three eyes right next to each other then erase the middle eye. Works wonders.

    Then a little below the cross, draw another horizontal line. The cross from this line will be where your lips will be.

    Above the lips, draw one last line. Make it small. This will be for the nose.

    Once you’ve got the placement of the eyes and ears figured, it’ll be easier to know where your ears are gonna be. The distance between the corner of your eye and your nose will be the exact length and placement of the ears.

    For the torso, it’s simple. Just avoid trying to make it one straight line from the shoulder to the hips. Remember that the human body has curves. From the neck to the shoulder, there is a sort of slope that can be seen. From the chest to the stomach, no matter what body type you’re trying to make, there are always going to be curves.

    Tip: Between the two shapes that make up the torso, leave a little space. This will allow you to know where to make the curves when sketching the stomach. If you study how a skeleton looks, you’ll see that there’s a bit of empty space between the ribs and the pelvis. Try to imitate that.

    Draw Outline of Limbs

    You got the body out of the way, now it’s time to dodge the cops. Joking. Time for my least favorite part of drawing a body. The limbs.

    Both arms and legs can be broken down into spheres and rectangles. Spheres for the joints and rectangles for the actual limbs.   

    Tip: Draw a gesture line for the pose of the arm. Then draw the position of the hand first before drawing the whole arm. It’ll be easier to adjust the hand than the whole arm itself if you find that you’ve made a mistake.

    For the length of the arm, just remember that the wrists are placed slightly below the hip joints and the elbows are in line with the navel. Since you’ve already sketched out the torso, this should be easy to figure out.

    As for the legs, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact measurement of the legs as it differs from figure to figure. But on average, legs are roughly around 4-5 heads in length. (In my opinion, it’s easier to just wing it than to sketch 5 heads every time. But if you’re a complete beginner, I suggest doing this method first.)

    Now, I’m sure you’re aware of how limiting these points of measurement are. It’s easy to see where the wrists and elbows go when your figure is standing stock still. This is why I highly recommend using references when you’re starting out.

    It’s confusing to always have to remember the length of arms and legs but once you’ve studied enough pictures and drawn enough figures, these measurements will come to you subconsciously.

    Add Simple Details of the Face

    Because you’ve already gotten the placement of the eyes down, it’ll be easier for you to add the simple details of the face.

    Here’s how it is done:

    EyesDraw an almond shape with a circle in the middle.
    It doesn’t have to be a full circle depending on what you’re going for.
    Add a smaller circle within the middle and shade it black.
    To add a bit of spark to the eyes, leave a small area blank.
    This will be the glisten you often see in eyes.
    NoseDraw a circle and make two smaller circles on each side of it.
    From where the smaller circle meets the middle circle, draw two curved lines.
    Add the necessary details (shade the nose hole and apply shadows)
    then erase the circles.
    LipsSimilar to the nose, draw three circles (two small ones and one big middle circle),
    but this time draw an upside-down triangle inside the middle circle.
    This will determine our Cupid’s bow.
    From there, draw the lips around the circles.
    How to draw the different details of the face

    Add Outline of Hands and Feet

    The last step is to add the outline of the hands and feet.

    First study your hands and fingers and the relationship they have with each other. Take note of where the joints are and the differing sizes of your fingers.

    With the shape you sketched out earlier, add five lines depicting whatever action you want your hand to make (If you’re a beginner, I suggest going with something easy like a relaxed hand). Make sure to include the joints by adding dots.

    Once that’s done, draw around the lines. Avoid making them all the same length but do make sure they’re all of the same thickness (except maybe the thumb). If you find that the lines don’t help you with the consistency of your finger’s thickness, draw ovals around the finger before adding in the final outline.

    For the feet, be aware of the different lengths and sizes of each of your toes and draw circles based on their sizes.


    You’re done drawing your figures but you’re just not quite there yet. Here are a few tips to help you out:

    Draw from a reference image

    There’s this belief that drawing from a reference makes you less of an artist. That belief is dumb.

    References guide you. They show you where you went wrong and how to fix it. It isn’t cheating and certainly doesn’t make you any less of an artist.

    If you wanna get better, I suggest using references. But don’t just try to copy them. Interpret them. Study them.

    Take note of their pose, their gestures, and even the basic shapes that define them. The best way to use references is not to make them the basis of whether you can draw or not, use them as a learning tool that’ll eventually help you draw with or without them.

    I suggest using images taken from real life as references instead of stills from cartoons or anime. That’s not to say cartoons or anime should never be used as a reference, it’s just that the body proportions in cartoons and animes are often exaggerated or unrealistic.

    If you want to study more accurate proportions, try using images of real people first.

    This brings me to my next tip:

    Try to keep the size of the different features proportional

    Always keep the proportions of your drawings in mind. If you feel that you’re drawing seems off, it’s probably because the proportions are off.

    Perhaps one arm is too long or the eyes are too far apart. It’s easy to make these mistakes when you first start out (which is why a reference is so useful).

    To keep the sizes of your drawings proportionate, I suggest using a shape as a unit of measurement (or you can develop your own).

    For instance, I like to use squares. So, I would look at my first arm and measure it in squares. One arm is equal to four squares. To make sure the other arm is the same size, I’d see if it also equals four squares.

    By doing this:

    Over time, you’ll be able to train your eyes to see the differences in shape and size

    This isn’t a tip, more so an assurance. The more you draw, the more you’ll be able to subconsciously tell when your drawings are disproportionate.

    By doing the previous practices, using references, shapes, and lines, you’re training your brain to get used to the different shapes and sizes that make up figures.

    Eventually, you’ll barely need the help of references or shapes to draw. It’ll just come naturally to you because of how many times you’ve done it.  

    Of course, that doesn’t mean that when you reach that stage, you should start being complacent and stop practicing.

    The thing with art is that there’s always room for improvement, so even when you reach the point where stop needing to measure every limb you draw, it’s always good to do so once in a while just to keep you on your toes.

    Using Comparison and Relation to Get your Body Accurate

    When drawing a figure, especially when they’re doing a complicated pose, always try to keep the relationship of each body part in mind.

    If your figure is throwing something, what positions are their legs in? What about their arms? What angle are they tilting their head at?

    All of these are what make your figure feel more real. If all parts are in harmony with each other then your drawing will feel authentic.

    Using references to compare your drawings will help you in this case. By comparing your drawings to real-life pictures, it’ll be easier for you to spot the mistakes you’ve made and what you can do to fix them.

    You can also use references to study how each body part moves in relation to the other.

    Frequently Asked Questions:

    How Can I Get Better at Drawing Bodies?

    To get better at drawing bodies, you simply have to rinse and repeat. Start with a gesture line then build the figure using shapes. Once you’ve got the shapes down, draw the outline and keep the proportions in mind.

    Don’t fixate on one figure for too long.

    The end results won’t always be perfect and you’ll likely end up frustrated most of the time, but the goal is to get better every time you draw a body.

    So don’t spend too much time on one figure. If you’re not satisfied with it, brush it off, and try to make sure you’ll be satisfied on your next drawing. And if you’re still not satisfied with your next drawing then that just means you need to practice more.

    Keep using references as a basis for learning and don’t be afraid to circle the spots in your figure that needs improving. Always keep the relationship of each body part in mind when drawing and don’t forget to make sure the sizes are accurate.

    Most importantly, have fun. Give a body three nipples if you’re starting to get frustrated. Make yourself laugh by putting an absurd mustache on your artwork’s face. Unless it’s commissioned, don’t take your drawing practices too seriously. That sucks the joy out of drawing and, to be perfectly honest, negatively affects your art in the long run. Keep practicing but also keep it fun.

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