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Figuring Drawing: Practice Makes Perfect

Aug 17, 2007
The best way to hone your figuring drawing skills is to practice. Even if you are primarily interested in landscape painting, you should be able to depict incidental figures to give a feeling of life to the subject. The figure is a foil to a landscape, and if it is not executed convincingly it can destroy the effect of an otherwise good canvas.

Life drawing should be a part of your training, and, if possible, should be acquired in an art school. However, you can learn to draw the figure well by sketching people at every opportunity. Sketch people in the subway, in the park, at home, at play. Draw at all times.

Observe how people walk, sit, and stand; notice their gestures. You will discover that you can often identify someone you know at a distance by the way his head rests on his shoulders, and you will see the different postures of the old and the young. Make notes on how clothes are draped on a person, and how wrinkles form in a sleeve when the arm is bent, raised, and hanging at the side.

The drawings do not have to be large - from 2 to 6 inches will do. They will probably have to be small if you are trying to capture any action. Indicate the line of action first and then draw the figure around it. Some of your early attempts may resemble scribbling, but get the action.

Obtain a small sketchpad that can fit into your pocket or purse and carry it with you at all times. Fill the pages with sketches, using a pencil, a fountain pen, or the newer felt-tip pen. If you use a pencil, don't use an eraser. You are not out to collect neat pads of figure drawings. If the line is not right redraw a corrected heavier line over it.

The advantage of using a pen is that it leads to a more direct handling. But do not be concerned about technical handling of the pen. Put the lines down as you feel them. Observe how the shape of a suit or a dress is affected by the figure.

In time your pads will contain a collection of both action sketches and studies of form. As these pads are filled you will develop your figure drawing and acquire enough knowledge to place a single figure or a group of figures convincingly in your composition.

While constant sketching will increase your powers of observation and general facility in handling incidental figures, some time should be spent learning at least the rudiments of anatomy. Study bone and muscle structure, so that you acquire knowledge of how it affects the figure. It is not essential to know all of the anatomical designations, but you should be able to identify and know the function of the main bones and muscles. You should know the relative proportions of the male and female figure. Most important is to know the working of the movable masses, that is, the head, the rib cage (chest), and the pelvis.

There is no substitute for drawing the figure from life, but you can get a great deal of help from wooden or plastic manikins, which are for sale at most art shops. They can be studied to advantage by checking with an anatomy book in arranging the various positions.
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