Lesson 5: The Figure, Part 1
Hi! Welcome to Lesson 5 in the portrait and figure fundamentals classroom. My name is Don Ketchek, a.k.a. DAK723! If you are just stopping by for the first time, the first 4 classes dealt with all aspects of portraiture. Starting with this lesson, we will be applying many of the same principles to the figure. This class is all about fundamentals – so folks with all experience levels (including none) are welcome!
Don’t worry if you have never done a figure drawing or painting before! You have to start somewhere – it may as well be here!
For those interested in looking at the previous lessons:
Lesson 1 started with eyes and noses and can be found here:
Lesson 2 covered mouths, ears and hair, and can be found here:
Lesson 3 was all about measuring, and can be found here:
Lesson 4 covered backgrounds and depth.
In general terms, all the information in the first 4 lessons can be (and will be) applied to the figure lessons as well.
As in the portrait lessons, I will be emphasizing the modeling of our subjects through the use of values – values being the degree of light and dark. My examples will begin with a fairly simple value sketch or underpainting. This sketch delineates the light and shadow areas. It can be very broad and rough or it can be tighter and more exact. Starting with a simple underpainting allows one to concentrate on the values, the proportions, and the composition, without the additional complications of deciding on the correct hue, intensity and temperature of the colors used.
In other words, when starting any drawing or painting, I try to simplify. When working with a complex subject such as the figure, finding the right values, getting proportions correct and working out compositional decisions can be a difficult enough task. Those are the foundations that, if not correct at the start, are difficult to correct and change later. For many people (myself included), it is hard enough to concentrate on those elements and also choose the correct colors needed. So I lay my foundation first using a very simple color scheme, and then begin building with additional colors. Since pastels are fairly opaque, and many of the pastel papers can hold multiple layers, adding colors over the top of a monochromatic base is usually fairly easy to do. Although that is the method I use, it is by no means a necessity. One can choose a more colorful palette to begin with if one desires.
I want to point out that there are many methods and techniques that are used by artists to draw and paint the figure. In this class, I will show you my method, which is a synthesis of various methods I learned over the past 30 years. It is by no means any better or worse than other methods you may be familiar with, or may encounter. There are no rules here, and if you find other techniques that work better for you on your artistic journey, by all means use them.
Before you begin a figure drawing or painting, I would recommend taking a minute or two to observe the pose and the lighting. If we skip the observation stage, we are likely to draw what we think we see – and as we discussed in lesson 1, what we think we see is often wrong. It is often a visual shortcut created by the brain and not what is actually in front of us.
For those who have been participating in, or just following, the first four lessons, the basic procedures for the figure will be the same as they were for the portrait. Place the big shapes first and then work towards the smaller, more detailed shapes. We will define those shapes by the depiction of light and shadow. In the case of the figure, we will try to place the most emphasis on those areas that best help depict the gesture of the pose.
As mentioned, we want to think big! You may draw or paint a beautiful shoulder, but if the shape and rhythm of the arm is wrong, then the shoulder won’t look right. You may paint the arm wonderfully, but if the arm doesn’t look right in relation to the other arm and the torso, you may have to do it over. The figure, perhaps more than any other subject, needs to start with the whole, before approaching the next largest shapes and then finally the details.
While we will discuss proportions and measuring in more detail in future lessons, our goal as we begin will be to stay loose and gestural and not worry about precise measurements.
Before we begin, I would like to mention that there will be nudity in this lesson. I know that everyone has their own comfort level in regards to nudity, so I will definitely include both clothed and nude figures for reference. Hopefully, all nude reference chosen by me will be tasteful and not objectionable to anyone.
I would like to thank “yolanta,” whose photos of dancers from the reference library will be used in this lesson. Unfortunately, the amount of figure reference in the WC reference library is limited, so I have had to find reference material elsewhere. I would like to give special thanks to two photographers who have given me permission to use their photos for this lesson. I will be including a notice by their photos as they appear, but I would like to acknowledge them here as well. They are:
Marcus J. Ranum - www.ranum.com
and Hong Ly - CharacterDesigns.com
Start with a Stick!
To lay out the basic shape, rhythm and proportions of the figure we will use guidelines and landmarks (just as in our portrait lessons)! Our most important guidelines will be a centerline, a line for the tilt of the torso at the shoulders, and a line for the tilt of the torso at the hips. The landmarks we want to locate are: the shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, ankles, and the head. When we connect the dots, so to speak, we will end up with...a stick figure!
Our first example is from an original photo by yolanta, from the WC reference library.
The center photo shows the initial guidelines – centerline, shoulders and hips. All these guidelines can be very generalized compared to those guidelines we made for our portraits. We are concerned with capturing the gesture, not the likeness (yay)!
On the far right, I place a dot at each landmark. My shoulder and hip guidelines give me the location of each shoulder and hip. I also place a dot to locate elbows, wrists, knees and ankles. I also add a rough egg shape for the head. I connect the dots for my stick figure. I use these steps in all cases, regardless if the figure is clothed or nude.
Take a moment to study your stick figure. Check the proportions. Corrections at this stage are quick and easy!
Or next step will be to create our value sketch, mapping out the basic light and shadow shapes. Most likely, you will want to sketch in some sort of indication of the entire figure – mapping out the values with just the stick figure is possible, but is difficult.
So let’s sketch in the basic figure – whether you actually sketch in an outline, or block-in the shapes as a sort of silhouette is totally up to you. You can use any method you want. Just remember, if you are sketching in an outline, keep it light and loose. We don’t want to outline the figure like in a comic book. The outline is just another guideline and most, if not all of it, will be covered by your value map.
On the left, I demonstrate an outline sketch. The center example shows a simple “block in” of a silhouette. The final example is the value map - a general placing of light and shadow shapes. It is the foundation of all that comes after, in terms of adding additional values, colors and details.
Here is another. This example also shows how the curve of the centerline is connected to the angle guidelines of the shoulders and hips. We will also discuss how to place those landmarks – after all, you won’t be tracing them from the photos like I am showing here!
Original photography used with permission, ©
Hong Ly - CharacterDesigns.com
On the left we begin with our guidelines. The curve of the spine, or centerline is often the most important indicator of the overall gesture of the pose. The angle of the shoulders and hips are also very important. These three guidelines often directly influence each other. If the centerline is curved, as shown above, the shoulders and hips must be angled in opposite directions.
Again, we want to locate the important landmarks – in this case, the head, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and ankles. One important technique for establishing the location of the landmarks is to use horizontal and vertical plumb lines. These plumb lines were one of the most important guidelines at our disposal when doing the portrait. They are perhaps even more important in working with the figure!
Most, if not all of these horizontal and vertical plumb lines will be visualized, not drawn, although one can draw them in lightly if one wishes. We can use them to compare the location of all the landmarks to one another. In many cases, none of your landmarks may line up exactly, so one needs to judge distances and use distance comparisons to locate those landmarks.
If you are unfamiliar with the concept of plumb lines, you may be asking, “What the heck are all those yellow lines and how do they help me locate the right shoulder?”
Here is an example of how they work. On the left, we have located the angles of the hips and shoulders, but how do we find the location of the right shoulder itself? If we visualize (or draw) vertical or horizontal lines on our reference, we see that the right shoulder (A) is slightly to the left of the right hip (B). Plumb lines help us judge the approximate distance of how much higher one shoulder is than the other shoulder. We notice that the right shoulder lines up roughly with the bottom of the chin. We see that the right elbow (C) is slightly to the right of the shoulder and is the farthest point to the right. That elbow is just slightly to the right of the right hip (B). If we move up to the right wrist (D), we see that it is approximately over the center of the neck, also lines up with the bottom center of the buttocks, and also lines up with the left ankle (E). And so on and so on. Landmarks are checked against other landmarks and checked against other points as well. Multiple comparisons are made for every landmark to ensure accuracy. It is probably your most valuable measuring tool.
OK, let’s move from our reference photo to our painting. On the left, I place those guidelines, landmarks and stick figure on the paper. I am conscious of the curving nature of the limbs. To help remind me to look for the curves of the limbs and to keep my drawing from looking too stiff, I curve the lines of my stick figure. On the right, I sketch in an outline of the figure, using my landmarks as a guide.
I create my value map, placing the general pattern of light and dark shapes. Usually, I do the darker shadow shapes first, then I do the lights, but you can do them in any order, or even simultaneously. Keep in mind, you are trying to put down general values for the light and the dark. The colors you use here are not necessarily the final colors, in fact, they may be very different. It is the values that we are concentrating on at this stage. These values will help you choose the correct value for the colors you put down in subsequent stages. For example, if you are going to use a different color pastel for the shadow color – either to blend in with, or to cover your current color opaquely – you can immediately compare the value of the new color to the one you already have on the paper. It will help you choose new values that are slightly lighter, darker, or the same, as you add more subtlety and variety to your painting.
In the first couple examples, I have been using basic flesh colors for my value map, but you can use any colors. Your value map can be done in black, white and grays also.
Here’s another stick figure example:
Original photography used with permission, ©
Marcus J. Ranum - www.ranum.com
Once again, let’s start by establishing a centerline and shoulder and hip angles. Then we will locate our landmarks. Let’s see how they look on our reference.
Again, I use plumb lines to help me locate the landmarks.
On the right; this is what it might look like on your paper, although your dots don’t need to be so large and solid!
Again, don’t rush to the next step. Make sure your stick figure proportions and gesture are OK before you proceed.
In this case, I have gone right to the value mapping stage without sketching in an outline or silhouette block-in, but you can use any and all methods to make it easier for you. For my value mapping, I started with the darks; then did the lights.
At this stage I am not interested in details, I am interested in the big, general shapes of light and shadow. You can see that if my value map is accurate, I am well on the way to a successful drawing or painting.
I mentioned making sure the stick figure is accurate before proceeding. Even though there is seemingly not much to the stick figure, it is the foundation of the proportions and the gesture.
Notice that in this photo (by yolanta), the back shoulder and hip are turned away and not visible. This will often be the case. In these cases, it is easy to misjudge the location of those landmarks. It was not my intention to misjudge the location, but it ends up being a good example of how easy it is to do. How do I know that I have misjudged the far shoulder and hip? By checking my stick figure carefully!
In this pose, both arms and both legs are in almost the same position. Therefore, the far upper arm and upper leg (green arrows) shouldn’t be longer than the front arm and leg (purple arrows) – but they are! So there must be something wrong. Upon closer inspection, I notice that the shoulder and hip angles are wrong. On the far right, I correct them.
The stick figure is a great guide for virtually all poses. It is especially useful when you have a pose where arms and/or legs cross, or a hand rests on the leg or the hip. When the landmarks are directly interconnected, the stick will help make sure you place them correctly in relation to each other. On the left; this would be a difficult pose to lay out without some sort of stick figure to guide you.
On the right; when the figure is clothed, it may be difficult to locate some of the landmarks, but the more you use the stick figure, the more familiar you will get with the proportions and the landmark locations. Do your best to locate those landmarks that are hidden. The stick figure will still be helpful for clothed figures.
Left, original photography used with permission, ©
Marcus J. Ranum - www.ranum.com
Right, original photography used with permission, ©
Hong Ly - CharacterDesigns.com
The stick figure is also very useful when you crop the figure and have limbs that leave and re-enter the picture. I would recommend sketching out the entire stick figure even when you are cropping the figure for your painting. In the example above, the location and angle of the lower arm and hand can easily be misplaced if you don’t sketch out the entire stick figure.