I'm trying to break down what skills I need to develop to draw a realistic human figure.

At the moment I got:

  1. Gesture I have no good idea on how to exercise this, I mean, I have no good way to know if I'm doing gestures correctly and if I'm improving.
  2. Finding Forms That is, drawing the figure using spheres, boxes and other volumes. Easy to self test, You just have to look to the drawings and see if they somehow match the original subject.
  3. Perspective Starting to read and exercise this book http://www.amazon.co.uk/Perspective-Made-Easy-Dover-Instruction/dp/0486404730/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1340813163&sr=1-1
  4. Values Again, I don't know a good way on how to improve this skill
  5. Anatomy How can you know you're improving your anatomy?

Am I missing any fundamental? Please give in your answer specific exercices on how to improve any of this skills.

  • Can you clarify what you mean by 'Finding forms' and 'Values' in the context of figure drawing? Examples would be great. Also is there a reason why anatomical proportions isn't on this list (e.g. have you already mastered that)? Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 17:03
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    I can answer the 'how to improve part': draw. and draw some more. keep drawing. draw, draw, draw, draw. And when you're done drawing, do some more drawing.
    – DA01
    Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 20:52
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    That list isn't in order of importance is it? From 1-5 I'd list them as Anatomy, Forms, Perspective, Gesture, lighting. Then follow DA01's comment. In the end it is practice, practice, practice. :) Ever read any Burne Hogarth books? He's got some great approaches to figure drawing.
    – Scott
    Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 21:10
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    I'm voting to close as "not constructive." Sorry but in its current form I think answers will be highly opinionated and entire books can and have been written on the subject and still there is no definitive answer as to what makes someone good at drawing the human body.
    – Ryan
    Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 22:41
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    @vandell This site tries to be about solving specific problems and tries to avoid discussions that end up with a long list of equally valid points. What might work better here is, to break up your question into more specific things. E.g.: "How to objectively judge if a stylised figure drawing is balanced and well proportioned?", "Drawing exercises best suited to [example of a drawing style]", "How do I judge if gesture drawing exercises are working?", or "What are the fundamental principles..." separate to how to improve. Constructive questions need a criteria to judge the answers against. Commented Jul 4, 2012 at 16:16

2 Answers 2


A 'gesture' drawing should be an extremely quick sketch that you make just to place the basics of the form on your page. They are almost always LESS than 1 minute long, both the poses and the drawings based on them. It's important not to look at your page when you draw these except perhaps for a starting position. It's very important to look AT your model as you draw. The purpose of these is actually to teach the artist to SEE the model - do not think of the exercise as making a drawing. Plan to throw out your gesture drawings. If you simply LOOK at figures as you draw quick gestures, (make lots and lots of them), you will be well on your way to solving problems 2 and 5, since gesture drawing is designed as a process which will 'teach' to find form (2) and the basics of anatomy (5) as you do them.
Finding forms and the basics of anatomy in the context of successful gesture drawings means to place the head correctly, get the angles of the spine, shoulders and hips and show which leg the figure's weight is on. You will probably naturally indicate the important joints such as knees as part of this process. If you find yourself with a few extra seconds to spare, try to hang the pelvis off that hip line, or the rib cage off the spine. Do not look at any of your gesture drawings until after the 'drawing' session is over. Just do one, then another and another. One final word of advice - you do not need a nude model or an art class setting for a session of gesture drawing. Indeed, un-posed unaware 'models' are ideal for this. People waiting for a bus, in line at a bank or movie and so on present a perfect opportunity to practise gesture drawing. Some will be looking down at cell phones or books, some will stare off into space, some will lean against walls, some will stand quite heavily on both feet, most will have one leg bearing the primary weight. Draw them all.

Perspective and values (by which I assume you mean light and shade) can be dealt with at later stages in your development. Most people learn them intuitively as they try to match what they see in their models or scene to what they are representing on their page. But first, try to learn to SEE, and any technique that has you drawing without looking at your work as you do it, such as a gesture drawing will teach you to see.


I agree with Ryan: off topic and not constructive.

As a foil to Scott, I would say none of them are important.

Gesture: there is no "correct way" and also if you are "gesturally drawing" you are departing from observation.

Finding forms, while an interesting way to compose your thoughts, simplifying forms is one of the primary reasons why what you draw departs from the reality of your observation.

Perspective as a deep study is worthless. Single point perspective is synthetic and does not exist. Knowledge of the mechanisms for manipulating scale is important, rigid adherence to a framework is again a departure from observation.

anatomy is only valuable to fill in gaps in your ability to directly observe, and to aid in fabricating scenes in your mind. If you focus on drawing what you see and actually seeing what you are drawing, you have no need of any deep knowledge of anatomy.

What most new artists do is set up their things in front of a subject and then pretend to look at the subject, ignore what they see and draw what they think it should look like. The trick is to not do that, to really look at your subject and then determine why what you have done doesn't match.

Aside from lots of time, which is THE answer, there are two very basic things you should do: 1) find a head position, and always place your head in this position when looking. If you move your head, the scene changes, 2) measure and triangulate.

New artists need tools to do both. Look into what is known as a Durer grid.

And lastly: an eraser is a drawing tool, not a weapon of last resort. Learn to love it.

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    While I disagree with some of the statements... +1 for the eraser comment :)
    – Scott
    Commented Jun 28, 2012 at 21:58
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    offtopic? In what stackexchagne site I would ask this?
    – Vandell
    Commented Jun 28, 2012 at 22:21
  • Graphic design and intro to figure drawing are quite different topics, and require and use different skills. In big art schools, they are completely different departments. I don't think there is a stackexchange where learning to draw is on topic. As far as "not constructive" there are going to be as many opinions on this topic as there are schools of art.
    – horatio
    Commented Jun 29, 2012 at 13:49
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    @horatio If every related discipline used by designers was closed as off-topic, we wouldn't have a site left... Typography was (arguably, still is) a separate related discipline. And text layout. And illustration. And photo montage. And computer drawing. etc... Check AIGA's definition of graphic design: arguably, it is and always has been a mongrel discipline, picking those artworking disciplines that are most relevant to meet a design brief. Drawing is one of them. Do you really think the site needs LESS interesting questions? (There is however a problem with the scope of this question) Commented Jul 4, 2012 at 16:04
  • @horatio - re your last point, "As far as "not constructive" there are going to be as many opinions on this topic as there are schools of art" - this is very true, and is an important part of the answer to the question, "What are the fundamentals of human figure drawing?". "There is actually no one right answer, for the following good reason" is a type of answer. If you show how varied different ideas of the "fundamentals" are, that would be a great answer to the question, and will be very useful to the asker as it gives them a way to begin to research the approaches most relevant to them. Commented Jul 4, 2012 at 16:27

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