Creative Musings

25 Feb 2015

Figurative Art

The figure has a special place amongst subject matter for artists and is one of the most wildly used in art. It appears in all eras and in almost all cultures, from the cave men to Leonardo, Raphael, Degas, Francis Bacon and today Christian Furr who is kicking up a storm with his cheeky sense of humor. From great masters to children, we are all fascinated by the human figure, it’s compelling beauty and infinite variety. Exploration of the human figure is an important element in an artist’s development. It is a journey to explore, line, form and balance.

The iconic Vetruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci [Credit: WikiCommons]

The iconic Vetruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci [Credit: WikiCommons]

The human form is complex and can seem a daunting subject matter to tackle. Approach this genre like you would any complex task by breaking it up into smaller, bite size, pieces rather than tackling the whole thing as this is sure to overwhelm the most avid of artists. A good exercise is to draw parts of the body, fill a page or 3 with torsos, arms, legs, hands and feet. Gradually over time and with practice these areas will come together and as your confidence builds so does your ability to tackle the human figure in any pose.

You may regard your first attempts at life drawing as disappointing! You may approach this category as ridged and formal or with apprehension. Therefore it is important to breakdown these obstacles utilizing 2 main strategies for achieving this; a rapid warm up and blind contour drawing (see post Spring Term Kick-off). Remember the JFP rule everything is just for practice and if a happy master emerges so much the better.

If you look at young children’s drawings of people they are stick figures, this is a natural uninhibited starting point for the human figure.

Liam ArtConor. jpgChild's Art

Observe the flow of the line of the body, the tilt of the head, line of the shoulders, vertebra, pelvis, femur, tibia, humus and ulna. Imagine your figure without cloths striped down to the bone structure. Simplify the shapes into cylinders, rectangles, tubes, elongated spheres, break the figure right down into stick figures if necessary. Big shapes first then the little shapes will follow. Have a look at this link, a good starting point with some helpful hints on how to get movement into even stick figures

Proportions Of The Human Figure

There are no two individuals the same however human proportions have a standard range that we all generally fit into. The head is used as the standard unit of measurement; this is the distance from the top of the head to the chin. Most artists to help establish proportions use this handy unit of measurement.

Source Drawing the Head & Figure by Jack Hamm

Source Drawing the Head & Figure by Jack Hamm

The Standard proportions used in figure drawing are: 

Average person = 7-and-a-half heads tall     (including the head).

Ideal figure = 8 heads tall grace & royalty

Super models = 9-10 makes figure long, slender and accentuates elegant form

Heroic figure = 8 and-a-half heads tall gods and superheroes.

Cartoon figure = 6 heads or below such as the ever popular Manga.

A great way to establish proportions is using your trusted pencil. Closing one eye, hold your pencil in an out stretch arm with a locked elbow and leave your thumb free. Align the top of the pencil with the top of the head and use your thumb to mark the chin. Then holding this pencil-marking move down the figure to see how many heads fit into your study. To measure width simply turn your hand 90 degrees. This is a quick and easy method and very helpful for models reclining or sitting and an important measuring tool when your model is foreshortened (more on this in a later post) Remember to keep your elbow locked this will ensure a constant measurement.



For most figures, the standard proportions are a safe bet, and lightly placing your eight horizontals at the very outset can be a helpful way to ensure your figure will fit on the page. Then more careful measurements can be taken according to your individual subject. Remember that these proportions are for a basic standing figure, and changes in pose will affect the height.

8 Line Placement Exercise (Adriana's figure)

8 Line Placement Exercise (Adriana’s figure)

Keep in mind that proportion changes with age, young children have bigger heads in proportion to their bodies this is also the reason why their heads tend to get stuck in the most bazaar places. Andrew Loomis demonstrates this well.

Images from Figure Drawing for All It's Worth by Andrew Loomis

Images from Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth by Andrew Loomis

Check out this website for some life sketching practice, most images have a time frame to complete. Have a go remember it is JFP

Please don’t leave without commenting below did you found this article helpful?              Would also love to hear what tips or methods you use to ensure complexity of the human figure portrayed to the viewer?

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