One of the comments I often get at art festivals is along the lines of "You're not afraid to paint figures and faces! So many painters avoid them completely, or paint people with their faces averted." That always makes me smile, and makes me glad I worked so hard to understand how to draw the human body. I feel that my studies are far from complete, but I would like to share a few things about drawing figures that help me make them look correct. I'll save the subject of drawing faces for another post.
1.Define the Vertical Midpoint
I think the most important thing about drawing figures is getting the vertical proportions right. I start by deciding how tall I want the figure to be and I draw horizontal lines for the top of the head and the bottom of the feet and connect them with a vertical plumb line Then I divide that in half and look to see where that halfway mark falls on the figure.
2. Use My Plumb Line
Next I will use my plumb line to see what angles are involved. This line extends from the base of the throat down to the ground. If my figure is standing perfectly straight this line bisects the body.
However in my example, the plumb line for the man on the left falls down the middle of his left leg. This is because his body is angled to his right to support the weight of that heavy case. Also notice that most of his head is on the right side of the plumb line, because his head is turned to his left.
For the man on the right, his plumb line falls closer to the center line of his body (his briefcase must be lighter) but it is still a little to his left because his weight is on his right leg.
3. Block in the Figure
With the vertical proportions and the plumb line I can block in the figure. Notice that I draw the torso as two trapezoids, with the chest piece wider at the shoulders and the pelvis piece wider at the hips.
As I draw my shapes I'm looking carefully at the angle of the shoulders and the waist so that I understand how the torso is tilted side to side. For both of these men, their weight is on their right leg so their right shoulder is down and their right hip is up. It's just a slight angle but it makes all the difference in terms of conveying movement.
4. Measure, Measure, Measure
I don't use a ruler for my measuring. Instead I'm marking units of distance on my pencil with my thumb. I'm only interested in relative sizes, and this way is fast and accurate enough.
Now I'll correct my drawing by looking more carefully at the vertical proportions. I'll measure the height of the head use that unit to see how many heads tall the top half of the body is. I'll also measure from the halfway point to the knee, and then compare that to the distance from the knee to the floor.
For both of these figures I had to make the head a bit bigger and lower the knees. At every drawing stage I find something to correct from the previous one. Drawing is a process of looking, drawing, and correcting, over and over again.
5. Refine and Recheck
Lastly I'll put clothes on my figures, which also helps me to correct proportions. I'll recheck the shoulder angles and make sure the line of the shoulder intersects the head at the correct spot. I think the angle of the shoulders is very important in interpreting the figures' emotions, and I want my paintings to convey the feelings of being in the beautiful location that I paint.