Basic Figure Drawing Guide

This is by no means the only way, or the "right way" to draw people. These are just some techniques that have worked in the past. This should help you capture more dynamic poses and get an idea of body proportions.

Stickfigures: Mastering Proportions

If you don't have a model, you will want to start off by drawing a few stick figures to get an idea of the pose you want and how the limbs and body will be positioned.

For your stickfigure sketches to be at all useful you will have to have some idea of how the body is proportioned. Here are some basic proportion tips:

  • Everything can be measured in reference to how big the head is (from the top of the head to the chin, this will be the unit of measurement from here on out.)
  • The average person is about 7-8 heads tall, just about everyone is between 6 and ten.
  • The shoulders are 2-3 heads wide
  • The distance from the hips to toes is half the total height of the body (typically 4 heads)
  • The distance from the top of the head to the bottom of the chest is 2 heads.
  • The waist is about 1 head wide
Some of these proportions were used by Leonardo da Vinci in his Vitruvian Man. To see an example go here:

Balance and Movement

A person's center of gravity is the middle of their mass typically located in the lower abdomen just above the hips (legs make up nearly half the average persons body weight). In tandem to the center of gravity, you must consider the resting points of your figure. This is where the figure rests weight against something (feet on the ground, hands leaning on something, shoulder against a wall, etc.) Weight is applied to these points by the figure (a persons hand resting on a chair is not a resting point, a person leaning on the chair is a resting point).

A balanced figure's center of gravity will either be between their resting points (two feet, if standing. shoulder and foot if leaning, etc.), or directly over their resting point (standing on one foot). If a figure leans to one side, the center of gravity will also shift to that side, making the figure unblanced. A running figures center of gravity will be shifted forward.

A balanced figure will create a feeling of ease, relaxation and calm. An unbalanced figure is more dynamic, creating tension and a sense of movement.

It is important to keep in mind that the body is not ridged. The back bends, the hips and shoulders rotate and move. Limbs that support weight (resting points!) will tend to shift the shoulders/hips on that side higher than the other side (creating a diagonal). In moving figures (walking, running) the motion of the shoulders tends to be the reverse of the motion of the hips (the sholders are downward sloping like this \ and the hips are upward sloping like this / or vise versa).

Advanced Stick Figures: the Body

Once you have an idea of your pose and proportions you can add some shape to your stick figure. At this point all the shapes in the body can be roughly described by circles and ovals. Joints can be described by tiny circles, limbs by ovals. The chest is a squarish shape, and by far the largest shape. The hips are also an important shape to remember. These begining shapes don't connect (the flexible stomach is between them). When drawing your shapes keep in mind the shapes of the actual body parts (ex: calves taper at the bottom).

Keep in mind the various body shapes: men have wider shoulders than women (more of and upside down triangle shape), women have wider hips (more of a pear shape). Fat figures will have much rounder limbs and mid section then an athletic figure.

Outline and finish

From here you can outline your body. You have the basic shapes, it is just finessing from here. Add clothing over your figure (or don't), and details.

To see the progression check this out:

Helpful Nodes!

These nodes will be helpful when adding details to your figures:

Note: I welcome spelling and grammar corrections and general drawing tips you think should be included.The drawings in the two links where both done by me for tutorial purposes.