figure drawing fundamentals

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  • Erik M. Gist

    Figure DrawingFundamentals

  • Notes to the readerThis book is not meant as a step by step or a formula (art is not a for-

    mulaic pursuit) so do not study as such. This book is also not meant tosolve all your problems, which can only be done by you through diligentstudy and hard work. This book is intended to be a guide through theworld of figure drawing. Careful practice of the principles documented inthis book will improve your drawings more than copying the drawingsused to demonstrate these points. The best way to use this book is to finda good piece of photo reference, or better yet get into a life drawing classand apply what you have learned in this book to the problem in front ofyou. It does you little good to copy the drawings in this book because forthe most part the problems have already been solved for you.

    It is more important for you as an artist to learn the principles behindwhat I do and the reasoning used to govern my, or any one elses style.In so doing you will begin to produce original art, and not just mimic,what has come before. In art there are no rules. Rules are what we oftenuse to simplify key principles and concepts for those newly initiated intothe fraternity of artists. Always try to get from any instructor why they dowhat they do, not how they do it. Why we do what we do is what makesus good artists, how we do it makes us individuals. If you simply drawhow someone else draws you will never be an individual. So when youstudy from an artist or an artists work try to figure out why the make thechoices they do, not merely copy the decisions they make.

    My recommendation to you is get out your sketchbook, read throughthe following pages all the way to the end, and make notes where you feelnecessary. Then put away the book, and get out a good piece of photo ref-erence and your drawing pad and get to work. Only get the book outwhen you run into a problem. This is the best way to test how much of thematerial you have retained. Every time you get out the book make a markon the chapter you needed to review, this will show you the areas you stillneed to study. Next get your butt into a life drawing class... this is the bestway to learn.

    Good luck,E-

    Erik M. Gist

  • Erik M. Gist


  • Erik M. Gist

    Chapter 1: The GestureThere are few things in art more chal-

    lenging than drawing the human figure. I havefound that when facing a daunting challengethe best thing to do is attempt to break theprocess down and simplify. That is what I amgoing to try to teach you in the following chap-ters; to break down the process into separate butinterwoven steps and principles. The reason fordoing this, is so you only have to worry abouton thing at a time rather than fifty.

    The first step in this process is to estab-lish the gesture or linear lay-in. This is the mostimportant step of the drawing because it dic-tates all other steps in the process.

    Before going any further, lets define ges-ture. In its simplest form, gesture is the actionof the pose or movement between its forms.However, this is too vague because gestureshould also establish the length, width anddirection of all the masses of the figure. In amore abstract sense, the gesture is the life, flowand energy of the figure. This is why I say ges-ture is the most important step of the drawingprocess. If your linear lay-in doesnt have theforementioned elements neither will your finish.As you take your drawing toward completion, itwill typically become more stiff and uptight, sotry to give your gesture as much energy as youcan with out sacrificing accuracy.

    Lets begin to capture the gesture. Thegesture should be established using the longestlines possible. Anything else is a scribble not aline. In the first pass through the figure youshould find the triangular or pyramid shape ofthe pose. Almost all poses fit in to a triangle ofone proportion or another. Next, begin to estab-lish the gesture of the pose using those longlines we talked about earlier.

    Remember above all else, keep it light.Nothing is a mistake until you cant erase it.




    There are threebasic lines:c-curves-curvestraight

  • Erik M. Gist

    1) Establish the head first using either a bloatedtriangle or an oval (which ever works best foryou), and the sweep of the neck.

    2) Next establish the sweep of the shouldersfrom acromium process to acromium process(the acromium process is the visible and palpa-ble bump near each end of the collar bone)

    3) Now find your way to the ground as effi-ciently as possible. This is usually through thecenter line, or from the pit of the neck to theweight baring foot.

    4) From the acromium process on each sidedraw a line mimicking the center line down tothe crotch. Then draw a line from the outside ofthe neck to the hip on each side. These linesshould establish the gesture of the torso andhips while ignoring the true breadth of the ribcage and pelvis.

    From here you should inject only as much structureas is needed to connect the limbs.

    5) Establish the gesture of the limbs by firstdrawing the flow of the limb (usually the tende-nous inner portion). Then by establishing thewidth (the boney outer portion). Also terminatethe limbs with the hands and feet, use simplegeometric shapes at this time.

    6) Complete the gesture with any supportingelements, in this case the stool, block, pole, etc.




  • Erik M. Gist

    Before moving on I want to discuss a fewmore principles of gesture with you. Lets startwith one of the most important, Stretch andPinch. Stretch and pinch is essentially the ideathat in any natural pose the body has an activeor pinch side and an inactive or stretchside. This is best seen through the bean bagmetaphor. When you bend a bean bag you cansee the fabric elongate on one side and bunchup on the other. In fact you can stick arms, legsand a head on the bean bag and have a decentrepresentation of a human figure.

    This theory actually applies to most partsof the figure, but none so obviously as the trunkof the body. As I mentioned, the stretch andpinch happens all throughout the body, even inrepose. As you can see, stretch and pinchappose each other on opposite sides of the fig-ure, and you will rarely have stretching orpinching simultaneously on both sides of thefigure. This creates a Michelein Man orsnowman effect, which is dumpy and undesir-able.

    Plumb lines are another helpful tool dur-ing the lay-in stage of the drawing. Plumb linesare basically straight vertical or horizontal linesto help establish proper placement in yourdrawing. This is especially helpful in the case offoreshortening. The way plumb lines work is tohold up your pencil exactly vertical or horizon-tal. Where things line up on either a vertical orhorizontal axis, they should line up exactly thesame way in your drawing. This is a good wayof double checking your drawing with themodel.

    bad good

  • Erik M. Gist

    Books and Artists To Study ForThese Principles

    Andrew Loomis:Figure Drawing For All Its Worth

    Glenn Vilppu:Vilppu Drawing Manual

    Frank Frazetta

    John Paul Rubens

    Steve Huston

    Henrich Kley

    Characteristics of Gesture

    1) Movement between forms

    2) Curved, fluid, graceful

    3) Lifeline

    4) Connecting line

    5) Long

    6) Keep it simple (s-curve c-curve straight)

    7) Stretch

    8) Two-dimensional

  • Erik M. Gist


  • Chapter 2: Structure

    Structure is the movement around aform. While gesture is more or less a two-dimensional lay-in, Structure adds a thirddimension, depth. Essentially structure turns ashape into a form. The main difference betweena shape and a form breaks down like this. Asquare is a shape, a cube is a form; a circle is ashape, while a sphere is a form.

    In the second stage of the drawing we aregoing be adding volume to our linear construc-tion. The reason for using this method is so wecan all be sure we understand the volumes andare not just mimicking superficial shading tricksthat we have seen used by other artists. Weshould understand the principles behind thetricks so that we can come up with our ownway of communicating with the viewer and notbe stuck being a second rate copy of some otherartist.

    Here we are mainly going to be workingwith cross contour lines, which essentially takethe gesture line and turn them either into arounded cylindrical form, a squared of boxyform or anything in between. This is basically atool for you to use later on in the drawing, ashorthand or road map for guiding you in yourshading of a the form, much the way you willdraw in a guideline before cutting a piece ofwood.

    So let us begin. First we need to analyzeeach form and decide three things:1) What is the primitive form, is it a cylinder, acube, sphere or a cone? 2) How rounded orsquared off is this form? 3) What is its positionin three-dimensional space? Is it angledtowards me, away from me, or parallel to me?These principles are going to dictate our crosscontours.

  • Erik M. Gist

    Characteristics of Structure

    1) Movement over form

    2) Three-dimensional

    3) Pinch, flexion, tension

    4) Form, depth, perspective

    5) Strength

    Books and Artists To Study ForThese Principles

    Andrew Loomis:Figure Drawing For All Its Worth

    Glenn Vilppu:Vilppu Drawing Manual

    Frank Frazetta

    George Bridgman

    Steve Huston

    Burne HogarthAll of his books

  • Erik M. Gist


  • Erik M. Gist

    Shape analyzation is