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Don’t Get Lost in Figure Drawing
The mapping out stage of a figure drawing is crucial, whether it stays in your sketchbook or eventually lead to a final painting. It’s vital to consider the small individual shapes you see and also how those shapes line up with other parts of the body. Artist Vincent Giarrano shares his tips for mapping out the figure so that you have a step-by-step process to get you to a finished figure and a road map of sorts to follow so that you don’t get lost from top of head to tip of toes.
The Red Room (oil, 16×20) by Vincent Giarrano. Article contributions from Vincent Giarrano and Cherie Haas.
Small Shapes What to Do with Detail
- Look for any smaller shapes that can help you define the larger shapes in the figure: shadow shapes (outline them), muscle shapes, creases and negative shapes (for example, the spaces between the limbs and the trunk of the body.
- Try to ignore detail. I find it helps to think of the figure as a flat arrangement of shapes rather than a human body.
- With each new shape, cross-check it against the surrounding shapes to confirm that it’s right.
- If the shape you see is too big or complex, imagine a line closing off part of it so it’s more manageable.
Figure drawing leads to powerful paintings that have so many narrative possibilities. Stick with your practice to get comfortable with anatomy and form. Work by Vincent Giarrano.
Corrections, Mistakes, Re-Routing
- When you come across something wrong, make a bold correction. Don’t follow your previous lines.
- If you get stuck, ask yourself, What am I really seeing? Imagine that you’ve never seen a figure before or that your subject is a pile of dough.
- When necessary, use information you have about perspective and anatomy to support your observations—rather than letting this information lead you as you create your figure drawing.
Head, Hands and Feet
- Keep hands and feet very simple at first, such as a mitten-shape for hands. Then, when you have initial shapes established, you can break out the smaller shapes you see within.
- For the head, use a simplified shape with only a cross to show what direction the head is facing (one for the eyes and one following down the nose).
- Just as you did for the figure, map out the head by looking for strong shapes and then pulling out the smaller ones. Resist the urge to draw things you know—the eyes, the nose and the mouth. Just look for and render shapes of value. Squinting can help to simplify what you see.
Now you have 10 guideposts for figure drawing. From head to toe, there is room in the human body for artistic expression and your unique take. We are just here to give you the basic building blocks so you can set that inner vision free. With Brent Eviston’s Figure Drawing Essentials: Getting Started with Gesture Shape video download, you will get a giant leap forward–and every step will be easy, engaging and fun. Enjoy!