"Drawing is the honesty of the art. There is no possibility of cheating. It is either good or bad.” - Salvador Dali
This is not to mean, however, that only drawings that look identical to the real thing are classed as good. For, if so, how did Monet become such a master of his own generation when drawing geometric figures that don't resemble natural curves of bodies at all?
Learning to draw can be a creative and stimulating endeavour, but most artists want to better their style. Whether you’re drawing a face, a landscape, an object, or animals, art is a way to express your creativity and feel good about yourself when you achieve your very own little masterpiece.
Of course, we can all express ourselves by drawing minimalist, abstract images of people, places or objects around us, but what about those who are compelled to create a drawing that really resembles someone, and wants to create a familiar, lasting image of a person using nothing but the naked eye and some pencils, paints or charcoal?
Here’s how to realistically draw a human being from head to toe.
What Do You Need to Draw a Man, Woman or Child?
Firstly, you don’t need to spend a lot to get started.
Don’t you need a sketchbook and some pencils to get started?
To learn how to realistically draw the human figure, you’ll need just a few things: Some pencils, paper, and rubber will do it.
Depending on the technique you want to use, you can also get ballpoint pens, fountain pens, coloured pencils, charcoal, felt tips, pastels, a sketchbook, or even a graphics tablet, all of which will create different effects. If money isn't an issue or, if you are lucky to know someone with this kind of equipment already, then go ahead and trial the different mediums so that you can settle on your desired effect.
But first, practicing with a simple pencil is sufficient enough to study the human form.
The Type of Paper
To start drawing, the paper is the place to start. There are different types of paper according to the grammage:
- From 90g/m² to 120 g/m²: For sketches or drafts with pastels, charcoal, sanguine, or pencils.
- From 120 g/m² to 200 g/m²: For painting.
- Layout Paper: for inks, felt tips, and markers. It’s resistant and bleed proof.
To do sketches and draw people, paper between 90 g/m² and 120 g/m² will do the trick. Watercolour paper creates a nice textured effect which can help with sketchy drawings however it may impede the smoothness of your lines if you are looking for a clean finish.
Types of Pens and Pencils
Whether you’re drawing a comic, manga, animals, or portraits, you need to choose your pencil according to the lead (which is graphite):
- H: Pencils with a hard lead for doing quick sketches and fine lines (eyelashes, for example).
- B: Pencils with a dark lead, perfect for drawing curves and simple shapes.
- Blue lead: perfect for construction lines.
- Fountain and ballpoint pens.
- Coloured pencils: for colouring comic books and manga, for example.
Depending on the type of drawing you’re doing, you’ll need different pens of pencils.
You’ll need to rub out your construction lines once you’ve finished your drawings. White rubbers are better than coloured rubbers, especially when it comes to sketching people.
Still Life Drawing Tips
Below, we will outline the basic stages for drawing a man, woman or child using your imagination, as in a step by step tutorial. However, you may decide that you prefer to draw a model. Some people attend still life drawing classes whereby a model will remain in a certain pose or series of poses (often naked) in order for you to study their figure using different forms.
But you don't necessarily have to try to draw nudes if that is not your preference (although the great benefit of this activity is getting to study the natural human form).
Some artists choose to draw from photographs or images when they don't wish to draw from memory. For instance, someone drawing a portrait of a person may use a still of the person to practice and work from. The benefit of this is that they can spend more time studying the proportions of the face and actually completing the drawing, whereas if you are drawing a real-life subject at home or in a class then you cannot expect them to stay still for numerous hours on end. The bad side, however, is that without a view of the person in the flesh it can be hard to ascertain their true personality in order to capture it in your sketch.
Regardless of what or who you choose to draw, here are some tips for beginners:
- Don't press down too hard on the pencil.
One of the biggest mistakes that newbies make is pressing down on the nib of the pencil too hard and then struggling to erase mistakes, thus ruining their picture. Keep pencil strokes light until you are happy with them. You can always go over them again at the end!
Top tip: If you do find yourself unable to get rid of lines drawn in error, don't fret! Get yourself some tracing paper and transfer your image to a clean, fresh sheet of paper and start over.
- Don't use continuous lines.
When drawing, especially when drawing realistic people, don't use continuous lines.For example, a person's face should not be drawn as one solid circle or oval. Use small, short pencil strokes to build up longer lines as these look more realistic and less harsh or 'childlike'. So, if you are drawing a face and neck on an A4 sheet of paper, take your pencil and mark out no more than a centimetre at a time, lifting your pencil and putting it back down to your paper moving in the direction of the line.
You are less likely to make mistakes when taking it slowly because you can see the picture coming together almost in slow motion and can identify areas of weakness before it is too late.
- Don't expect perfection
It's hard to break this to you, but you will probably only like about 10% of your work as an artist, if that.Many artists sketch people and discard their image because it either doesn't look like the person or because it doesn't look as they imagined it would. The point I am making is that no artist sits down and draw the most perfect, realistic image first time every time. Often, you must take the time to keep returning to your picture and touching it up, erasing and re-drawing areas or adding shading until you are comfortably happy with the outcome.Don't expect to spend an evening drawing and for that to be the end!
Top tip: A lot of the time, passion can be felt in art so it is often the case that images people are really excited about drawing turn out better because they have that love and motivation driving them. If you simply pick up a pencil and draw a celebrity from a book, it may not make your soul happy and therefore it may not look anything special when you come to finish the piece. But it's always worth practising, even when you don't feel inspired.
Learning to Draw the Upper Body
So how can you draw a chest or torso?
You can learn to draw by starting with simple geometric shapes. Firstly, you need to split your page into a grid so that your subject will be in proportion. In this example, we’ll be drawing a man facing the observer.
Let’s start with the upper body.
For the outline of the head and the neck, you’ll want to draw a circle and a curve below. The circle will be like an upside-down egg. Then start drawing the neck: under the chin, draw two curved lines starting where you’ll later draw the ears.
Under the neck, draw a horizontal line larger than the head at a right angle to the neck. Don’t press down too much as you’re still sketching basic shapes. These lines will act as a guide for the collarbones and shoulders. You need to keep in mind that men’s shoulders are generally broader than women’s.
When drawing men, you want the shoulders to be around 3 times the width of the head whereas they’re only twice the width of the head when drawing women. You can draw two lines from the to the end of the shoulders.
Now let's move on to the chest cavity. This is generally more triangular than that of a woman. It goes from the centre of the neck down to the bellybutton. To make things simpler, the chest takes the shape of two inflated lungs, the shape of two ovals clinging to one another.
You now need to draw the stomach. To do this, draw two straight lines down towards the hips. Now you add the pectoral muscles under the arms. They form a curve that meets upwards at the sternum. Of course, how you draw them will dictate how muscular your subject appears. Underneath, there are the abdominal muscles. These can be drawn as two slightly approaching lines that go down to the genital area.
Don’t forget the arms, of course. Draw three arcs to ensure that they’re in proportion with the rest of the body.
- The first arc will the elbow at the level of the thorax.
- The second arc for the wrists will be at the level of the genitals.
- The third arc for the fingers will be halfway up the thighs.
You need to ensure that the muscles are curved, especially at the biceps.
All of this said, we must remember that all bodies are shaped differently, so while the above might lend itself to a typical, muscular male torso, these precise rules or instructions would not work when drawing someone as buff as The Rock, for instance, or someone as slender as Mackenzie Crook.
That is the beauty of the human form, and why drawing people can be so fascinating.
Struggling to draw hands?
There are plenty of great tutorials online to help you.
Drawing the Lower Body
From the hips to the bottom of the page, you need to draw the legs. This part is difficult because there are several muscle groups in the legs.
You need to draw four horizontal lines to draw the legs. You need to draw two circles half-way up the legs where the knees will go. Draw two straight lines that get slightly closer towards the bottom.
Next, draw a diagonal line from the hips to three quarters down the thigh. This will be the vanishing points for the adductors.
Now let’s move onto sketching the thigh muscles, which are larger than the adductors and run from the pubis to the knees.
Are you still struggling?
To sketch the legs, you might want to look for drawing tutorials with a private tutor or invest in a book on how to draw.
Let’s move onto the tibias. Each needs to bend slightly (you can use parallel lines to act as a guide). For the calves, you need to draw two light arcs around each tibia. On the insides, this needs to be more pronounced.
You can use two circles to draw the ankles and a couple of rectangles for the feet. Go back over the contours and the muscles with a pencil.
Learn how to draw flowers.
How to Draw a Detailed Face
Finally, this may be the most important part: the face, nose, eyes, hair, and ears. You can also learn how to draw a mouth.
Pay attention to the eyebrows when drawing a face. For men, they’re often closer to the eyes and thicker than they would be on women. Similarly, men tend to have a stronger jawline and you need to use shading on the chin and cheeks to represent hair follicles or stubble. You can also add a beard to increase the masculinity of your subject.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- The proportions (ie length and shape) of the nose.
- The height of the mouth.
- The chin.
- The jawline.
- The thickness of the eyebrows.
- The eyes and mouth are generally smaller on a man’s face than on a woman’s.
To make your sketches more realistic, you need to focus on the contours and then move onto adding shading (this can be in simple black, white or grey scale or by using colour). Focus on the muscle groups and remember to erase your construction lines.
If you’re not drawing nudes, as in still life drawing, you’ll need to consider clothing: trousers, a shirt, a hat, tattoos, etc. Remember to pay attention to the folds in the clothing and how shadow and light affect them.
Find out how to draw women.
Enhance Your Drawing Skills with a Tutor
For more help, consider getting private tutorials from one of the many talented tutors on Superprof!
There are three main types of drawing class available: face-to-face tutorials, online tutorials, and group tutorials. Each type of tutorial has its pros and cons (although all should be nothing but helpful!) so take the time to carefully consider which type is best for you; your preferred learning style, your learning objectives, your budget and if you're new to Art or are already an experienced artist...
Face to face tutorials
Face-to-face tutorials are a bespoke service in which you'll have a personal tutor and you'll be the only student in the lesson. The lessons will be planned with you in mind and your tutor will be available to answer any questions you may have. Of course, a tailored service comes at a price and when you hire a private face-to-face tutor, you'll also be paying for all the extra time they put in planning your tutorials and travelling to and from your tutorials.
Online tutorials are also a bespoke service between a single tutor and student. However, both parties won't be in the same room and the lesson will be conducted using video conferencing software so that the tutor and student can see and hear one another using a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Since the online tutor doesn't have to travel and can schedule more tutorials per week, they have fewer outgoings, a greater earning potential, and will often be able to charge a more competitive rate as a result. Some tutors may give you documents or homework to download and study offline.
Finally, group tutorials are a great option for those on a budget. While you won't get a tailored service as you're sharing the tutor's time with other students, you will be able to save money as each student is footing the bill for the tutor's time. Similarly, if you and a group of friends would like to learn how to draw, you can get group tutorials together.