10 steps to improve your figure drawing

Artist John Watkiss breaks down compositional and anatomical techniques to accurately illustrate the classic fantasy character Tarzan.

10 steps to improve your figure drawing

John says, technique is important as a language, but it's what you have to say with it that counts

The two key words in the field of art illustration are principles and technique. Principles involve sub-titles such as composition, structure and expression, while the means by which these three sub-titles are presented are by technique.

Technique is the use of any physical media, but note that oil, watercolour, pencil, pen, Photoshop and so on are ineffective if the first three principle sub-titles aren't understood.

This workshop will demonstrate both aspects in harmony. Many people fall foul of technique workshops and very often neglect composition.

Technique has a lot in common with effect – and effects can sometimes blind us to the cause of things. Knowing what causes light and shadow – beautiful contour shapes, strong visual impact – makes our work stand out.

Here, I'll encourage you to develop an all-round approach to drawing, which will aid in greater confidence in expressive vision. I'll finish things off with the issue of technique. Technique is the language and principles are the thoughts.

Thoughts without language are useless. I'll demonstrate the art of rendering with pen and pencil, showing the media that I've used. I developed this technique over many years of working in the film world, trying to find the most powerful way to express myself with traditional media. Let's get the show on the road – and remember to have fun!

01. Composition

10 steps to improve your figure drawing

Although this article is an exposition on Tarzan's anatomy and illustrated completion, my first instinct is to talk about composition. This is the important stage of the figurative procedure.

I start with straight lines to create a powerful silhouette of Tarzan in action impacting the picture plane. This is the groundwork for dynamic anatomical placement.

02. Skeletal synthesis

10 steps to improve your figure drawing

The skeletal realisation is the next consideration. Here I've simplified the bone groupings: the black line gestures symbolise only one bone count.

The elongated rectangular elements symbolise only one bone count. The elongated rectangular elements symbolise a two-bone grouping. The arms, legs, feet and hands are asymmetrical, whereas the skull, rib cage and pelvis are symmetrical.

03. Skeletal detail

10 steps to improve your figure drawing

The previous construction has paved the way for this literal rendition. The important factor is to compare the asymmetric with the symmetric bones.

I've labelled the most important bones in this diagram. You'll see later why the understanding of asymmetry and symmetrical play an important part in realising our anatomical Tarzan.

04. Anatomical synthesis

10 steps to improve your figure drawing

Once again I'm starting with the general groupings of the muscles with an idea of realising the detailed aspect. Notice the tumbling asymmetry of the muscles that run along the asymmetric bone beneath.

Note also the solid symmetric muscles that lie upon the symmetric bone mass, and how this affects the contour of the figure.

05. Anatomical detail

10 steps to improve your figure drawing

From the general to the particular is a compositional principle. The muscles have their own compositional dynamic. Here, I've labelled the most important muscle groupings.

The Latin names may seem a bit exotic, but I would point out that remembering their unique shapes is more important that their Latin names.

Next page: Explore the sculptural aspect of Tarzan...