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First Attempts at Figure Drawing – Gesture and Pose

(Contains nudey pictures)

I had been itching to get started with figure drawing. I have a feeling that once I settle into my own style more and off the safety of the beaten track of my course, that people will end up being my main subject-matter. I love that every single person you ever try and capture will be vastly different from the last. I love how even just a slight change in their expression or pose will lead to an entirely new drawing. And I love the idea that maybe you could try and capture something of their personality or mood in the way you choose to make your picture.

It was this module that really introduced me to, and warmed me up to the idea of sketching, developed my confidence working MUCH faster and less fussily than I had been, and more than anything has wet my appetite to keep working on my people drawing longer term.

First attempts were shaky, inevitably. My initial problem was who the hell I was going to draw. I know the course states early on that you will need to arrange for someone to act as a model for you but, man alive, is that easier said than done. People I’m close to either don’t have time, or live too far away to be able to make themselves readily available for hours on end over a period of weeks, fitting into times I was well enough to work or not looking after Kai. Really tricky.

Sooooo… I improvised. For a lot of my initial figure drawing work, I had to become my own model. And as I was really determined to get to grips with how the body was strung together and proportioned, this meant nude, I decided. So much harder to draw people with clothes on if you haven’t taken the time to understand how the body is composed underneath and as I was going to be my model, I might as well, right? Eeep. Yes. So cue setting up a camera on a tripod on a few occasions and lots of giggling. I would take lots of shots, from all angles, changing my pose frequently. Then when it came to work I would blow the photos up BIG and print them out at home, or have them directly on my iPad screen propped up just in front of my easel. I tried to imagine I was working live, working quickly, changing to work from a new pose or a new angle as frequently as I could.

I know this isn’t quite the same skill as working drawing people in real live drawing situations, but it was the best I could do, and it still taught me a lot. I don’t think of the drawings I did as of me, they were of my model, so weirdly I have no embarrassment posting them. We should give my model a name, I think, an alter-ego. Lets call her Tabitha. She seems like the kind of girl that wouldn’t mind taking her kit off in an arty sort of way. (Sorry any Tabithas reading – I mean it as a compliment – you go girls!)

So here follows, and in the next post, a fair few drawings of Tabitha in the altogether. If you’re offended by nudity for any reason then look away now.

(for my tutor’s benefit, apologies that the illustrations for each exercise are a little out of order than given in the course book – I actually ended up doing ‘Proportions’ and then, thanks to a stuck-together page (!) ended up doing the ‘Gesture’ project before I did ‘Form’. Actually this was no bad thing and meant I’d got a better sense of capturing both proportion and stance, before I started to add in shading. Apologies if this confusing!)

At this stage I concentrated mostly on proportion – getting the relative size of body parts right, and on stance – how the body’s weight was distributed and how the pose affected this, as well as starting to think a little about foreshortening (how limbs stretched or moved away and towards change the body’s proportions). In the pictures below you can still see the faint guide-marks that I used to try and gauge the proportions between head, torso, legs etc.


^ Project ‘Proportions’. Exercise: Quick poses ^

A more longer, more detailed drawing – spending longer than just ten minutes allowed me to go beyond the ‘mannequin’ look and starting to make my figure look more like a human being. At this stage I was struggling to achieve a lot with quick drawings, not confident enough yet to be able to express any kind of style or real interest in that time. The proportions did look right but it felt laboured working it out, and still a bit trial and error.

My longer drawing below does look proportionately accurate and captures the lithe stretch of the pose well (although the feet are NOT good. I HATE FEET!) A longer time to spend meant it was easier to begin to introduce elements of placing the figure in its surroundings, and I started to look at giving form to muscles and joints to make the figure look more fleshy and real.

^ Project ‘Proportions’. Exercise: The longer pose ^

Working in pen made me braver and although less accurate, I like the sense of energy that you get with bolder marks. Early pencil drawings seemed to come out quite stiff, looking like mannequins. More dynamic poses help to create more energy in drawings, I think, as do strong angles made my hips, knees and elbows. Feet and hands still always difficult, I’m finding, although at this stage I tried not to worry about details, concentrating much more on line and shape. I didn’t always achieve complete accuracy – getting the head the right size was especially tricky to start with.


^ Project ‘Gesture’. Exercises: Stance, and, Energy ^

Techniques learnt from Life Drawing: A Journey to Self Expression by Bridget Woods really helped in learning how to ‘place’ a figure better on the paper and to help me start to see how the human figure is made up of a number of shapes, lines and angles. Learning to see the ‘point’s of the body made by the top of the head, knees, elbows, feet, hands etc, even chin, nipples, hips, and then trying to mentally calculate their relative distance, and the angles made by imaginary lines between them, allows you to draw onto the paper a map of lines and points to use as a guide when starting to draw the figure. Suggestions also included encouraging you to draw the negative space around these outer ‘lines’ and points first, using an imaginary picture frame around your subject, to achieve better accuracy.

‘Mapping’, using points and looking at shapes, lines and angles helps to compensate for issues in drawing like foreshortening, when your eye needs to try and forget that arms and legs are the same length, etc, and you must train yourself to LOOK at how the body is positioned in a 3D space and how you need to adjust proportions to accurately achieve the same sense of perspective in 2D. Using these techiniques, as well as helping me to more confidently achieve more accurate proportions and represent more complicated, challenges poses, helped me achieve a sense of whether the figure and its limbs were moving towards or away from the viewer,

All this was helpful at a point of beginner’s low confidence and helped me not to feel like I was working blind, and overall began to speed up my drawing time. (The whole book is excellent, by the way, and one I’m hoping to spend more time studying as I move forward).


^ Project ‘Form’. Exercise: Essential shapes, and continuing work on Stance ^

 Looking back, they’re a bit safe, these early drawings. I wish I’d been braver to do more work like the pen examples, or in charcoal and made bolder, looser marks to try and give some energy to the poses. However I think as a beginner, these careful drawings were probably inevitable so I could get a sense of whether or not I was getting the shapes and proportions right. I was aiming for as anatomically correct as I could manage, rather than introducing much element of style at this stage. Moving forward I would want to focus more on energy though.

Right then, onwards! Next I needed to get past the idea of the human figure just as a 2D outline and start to look more at how tones and shadows can start to give more form to drawings – and make them slightly more interesting! Time to give Tabitha some fleshy bits, and, (thank goodness as this was much more fun) finally have a chance to try and draw some male anatomy too.



1 Comment

  1. Looking forward to Tabitha’s fleshy bits ;)


  1. More Life Drawings – Looking at Structure and Form | Sleep is for the Weak - [...] in the last post I introduced you to my model and talked about starting to come to grips with the body’s …

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