If you just started on your Life Drawing journey, you might not yet have attended a figure drawing lesson, and you may still be trying to figure out if drawing and sketching the human body is the right kind of art for you. Although it may be difficult to progress on your own, it is not entirely impossible. If you are determined to learn how to draw we highly recommend that you attend drawing lessons or a life drawing class. But in the meantime, here are five tips that should help you improve your drawing skills.

Get The Proportions Right

Getting the proportion right is an essential part of getting an accurate sketch, illustration, portrait or artwork that resembles your drawing models accurately. It is one of the most complicated things to do for beginners.

The Virtuvian Man by Leonardo Da Vinci
The Vitruvian Man representation by Leonardo Da Vinci is still used today.

The Vitruvian Man and Human Proportions

The human proportions tend to all be within a certain average. The famous artist, Leonardo Da Vinci quickly realised that and came up with his Vitruvian Man drawing. The figure dating all the back to the end of the 15th century is accompanied by notes from the Roman architect Vitruvius, which Leonardo used to determine the perfect human measurements. These measurements are for Vitruvius and Leonardo the principal source of proportions for classical orders of architecture. Leonardo considered that the perfect body should be eight heads high. These proportions realise today.

The Grid Method

One easy way to get proportions right is to start with a rectangle in which your whole model fits. Such a box can be divided into smaller squares for each part of the body, hence forming a grid on your canvass or drawing board. Using the proportions given by the Vitruvian Man, it is then easy to place each element of the body, head, shoulders, torso, legs, in the right place on the grid.

This method is mostly used by beginners, and with time you should be able to simplify it by just having the outside rectangle.

"A painting is finished when the artist says it is finished." - Rembrandt

And Measure, Not The Other Way Around

Some artists and teacher think that you should measure your model on you drawing media before placing any marks representing the body parts of your model. We think that it is true if you are just starting to learn to draw.

Use Your Pencil

You could use any tool you want to measure your model before drawing it, he or her but because you will be using a pencil most times, it just makes sense to be using it to take measurements. It works well too! Taking measurement is easy:

  • Hold your arm straight, making sure you are not bending your elbows. Locking your elbow every time will assure that your measures are consistent (when bending your elbow, you will bring your pencil closer to your eye and make the figure appear more massive).
  • Bring your head against your shoulder to make sure that your eye is always at the same position when measuring.
  • Close one eye.
  • Use the tip of your pencil to mark the top of your model and use your thumb to mark the bottom of it.
  • This length of the pencil is now your measuring unit. Use it and compare it to other parts of your model to keep all the measurement accurate and consistent.

Louvre gallery in Paris.
The Louvres museum in Paris holds ten of thousands of painting, drawing and sculptures using life art. But only 10% of it is on display at any given time.
As said previously, one of the most common proportion is to take eight head lengths as the total height of your model. As you get more experienced with body proportions, the grid that you may have drawn just before should not limit your artist's instinct.  Once you will have learned the fundamentals of anatomy drawing you should be able to check your measure after you drawn your model. If you draw first and measure next, you might not have to measure as much!

"Drawing is the honesty of the art. There is no possibility of cheating. It is either good or bad." - Salvador Dali

Use Your Arm, Not Your Hand

One of the most common mistakes a beginner can do is only to be using his or her hand and wrist to draw or sketch.

Let Your Body Move

It is normal that when holding a pencil, someone might be using it like a pen, only using the wrist to move it and draw detailed figures with it. However, most drawing classes will involve an easel, a canvass or drawing board, and a stool. No tables involved. So you will not have anything to rest your wrist or elbow on. But that's the whole point. Most art classes will have you use charcoal to learning to draw, and you will quickly realise that it is impossible to use charcoal as you would a pencil. You will need to sit well back from your drawing media and use your arm extended so only your instrument touches the paper. Life drawing is all about capturing the figure of your model, sometimes even showing the way he or she moves, how the muscles stretch and relax. Everything from your shoulder to the tip of your fingers should be drawing. If you are looking for life drawing classes in the capital, check our guide to the best drawing classes in London. Or if you live too far, check out our guide to online life drawing lessons.

Do Not Erase, Keep Drawing

Most beginners will want their drawings and sketchings to be perfect. Each line, dots, shade or shadow to be immaculate. Wrong! Drawing is a living art form. Using an eraser will often damage the canvass or sheet of paper you are tracing on, and the more you erase a particular zone, the less perfect it becomes and the more you will use your eraser. A vicious circle of perfection! Instead of erasing, let go of what you think is a mistake and maybe draw over it. Or even better, use a tissue to lighten your mistake and add some shades to your composition. You can also paint over it and mask you error completely. A lot of Tudor-era paintings which have been X-rayed show that artists, once their drawing is done, used paint to cover some of the mistakes they had done and to improve the final rendering of the portraits they were commissioned for. Or just start over. You will most likely get a better (more satisfying) drawing, after a few minutes of redrawing, rather than spend half an hour trying to correct something you've drawn wrong.

"In spite of everything I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing." - Vincent Van Gogh

Figure drawing sketch.
Using charcoal or graphite pencils, life drawing takes a lot of practice before resulting in accurate sketches. (l by steve_huison).

Look At The Whole Figure

Taking two or three seconds to analyse the whole figure can have a big impact on the final drawing. Most artists mentally draw three lines, one from shoulder to shoulder, one from knee to knee and one from hips to hips. This way you should be able to observe how the figure support its weight if it is taller or wider. Drawing a quick outline of the model this way and then drawing the rest over it should make your life easier and you should become better at it over time. An intermediate drawer should be able to get the contour of his or her model within 30 seconds. It is also vital that you get every part of your models when drawing it. No matter what life drawing poses your model is adopting, having all the elements of him or her before the end of the class is essential. First, because you won't have a full and accurate representation of him or her Second, because if you take too much time on the head, torso or pelvis of your model, you will never learn how to draw people, or how to draw hands and feet. Your time in art classes is limited to each session, make sure to get everything before times runs out. Drawing hands or drawing faces, which are expressive parts of the human figure, full of light and shadows and intricate textures will require confidence in your creativity and talent. If you never learn how to draw an eye, probably the most challenging part of the human head, then you will never be an accomplished drawing artist. You can take a drawing class London here.

Avoid These Classic Mistakes

While following the tips above will make you better at drawing, painting or sketching, avoiding the classic mistakes that beginners often do will also make you a more accomplished artist.

  • Have realistic expectations: many beginners want to be perfect from the start. That (almost) never happens. Yes, some people are prodigies who are born with an incredible 3D representation, but most 99% of great artists had to learn how to perfect their skills. Not every drawing you will make will be a masterpiece and it will take many life drawing classes before you artwork gets exposed in galleries.
  • Practice regularly: it is especially true when you just began your journey into the world of figure drawing. People that are not ready to put in the hours of work required will never progress. Some say that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a craft, so be patient and tenacious.
  • Don't keep your work to yourself: this will limit constructive criticism that another set of eyes could have and most likely, it will prevent you to receive any praises for your work. Positive reinforcement is just as essential in learning how to draw than it is in any learning process.

So get out there and let your creative spirit out!

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