How to draw the human figure

Artist Houston Sharp explains how to nail those tricky proportions in your figure drawing.

Learn how Houston creates the perfect human form, artistically speaking

Learn how Houston creates the perfect human form, artistically speaking

Drawing figures with correct proportions boils down to memorising a few key measurement comparisons and body part alignments. Using the height of the head as a standard unit of measurement is the most useful, and most universally used, way to maintain proportions when creating figures.

The standard human height is measured at about eight heads tall. The landmark breakdown of the torso – starting from the top of the head and moving downwards – is as follows:

Top of head to bottom of chin; chin to nipples; nipples to belly button; belly button to pubic bone. From there, we move down two heads to the bottom of the knee, and finally two heads more to the soles of the feet.

proportions secret

Using the head as a unit of measurement and comparing natural alignment points throughout the body, we can create a figure that is proportioned correctly.

This is the most basic of breakdowns, but there are many others that are useful when you're inventing your own figures. Studying anatomy books and photos of models in standard standing poses is the best way to learn all of the size comparisons and alignments throughout the body.

01. Imagine it

proportion step 1

Before sketching, I solidify the pose I want in my imagination. The mind is surprisingly good at recalling realistic proportions. It's how we create normal-looking humans in our dreams. If I can imagine a pose well, sketching it will be just a matter of fine-tuning what's in my mind, using head length measurements.

02. A strong foundation

proportion 2

It's good practice to hold off on drawing clothes until after the figure 
is correctly established. Think of it like building a house: making the outside look nice won't mean anything if the foundation isn't strong and the essential problems haven't been solved yet. If it's a weak structure, the entire thing will collapse.

03. And now for detail

proportion step 3

Once the problems of proportion and how clothes and armour fit over body parts are solved, you're free to render and detail without worrying if the drawing will be off. Some artists jump to this stage too soon, creating figures that are heavily detailed but with wonky proportions and anatomy. It pays to be patient!

Words: Houston Sharp

Houston is a freelance illustrator and concept artist for film and games. He’s also a student at Art Center College of Design, in Pasadena, California. This article originally appeared in ImagineFX magazine issue 127.

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