Gesture basics #2: Head, ribcage and pelvis

Once you have established the line of action (See Gesture basics #1) you are ready to place the three major ovals of the body: The head, ribcage and pelvis. Noting their locations should take you 5 to 10 seconds.

When viewed from the outside, it’s harder to see the underlying skeletal structure, and beginners are often tricked into thinking of the human trunk as being one shape like so:

But in fact, keeping the rib cage and the pelvis separate is critical to accurately recording a pose and allows for a much broader and more convincing range of expression. The rib cage and pelvis can each bend, flex and twist independently of one another, allowing for interesting twists like this:

This image has tilt lines on it, that clearly establish the angle of both torso and pelvis. You may wish to note these down as part of your process of recording the underlying positions of the three ovals. Personally, I find that if I am trying to create a pose with a great deal of energy or tension, clearly defining the angles of the body is essential.

As you can see, what’s going on internally influences what we can see externally in a number of ways, both overt and subtle. Most people don’t consciously know what they’re seeing, but humans are closely attuned to other humans and will be able to detect that something is “wrong” in an image that doesn’t pay attention to the details of underlying anatomy, even if they can’t put their finger on what.

When a body leans, one side contracts and shortens, while the other side stretches and lengthens. We may see folding of the skin on the shortened side. A “notch” where the rib cage protrudes may become visible on the stretched side. What else can you observe about these underlying structures as a body bends and twists?

As you practice your gesture drawing, spend 5-10 seconds noting down the location and angles of the head, ribcage and pelvis. “Hang” them on the line of action, but keep in mind that they can each twist and bend along that center axis.

Go to gesture drawing lesson #3

20 thoughts on “Gesture basics #2: Head, ribcage and pelvis

    • I suspect that’s valid too.. In college, they occasionally had us do exercises where we used different shapes for our foundational notes, and it made a huge difference in the sort of figure that we ended up with. The oval just seems to be the most “vanilla”.

  1. This is very helpful for a beginner like myself, thanks very much!

    It’s very easy to get overwhelmed with the complexity of the human figure so breaking it down like this is a huge help.

  2. ok, so first, the line of action, the “spine”, than, the torso and pelvis, with the angles, ok. So that’s about 15 seconds, we’re getting there ^^

  3. haha I love this whole series, so useful, but I really just had to mention that I love that the teal you used is the same as in the logo of this site! heehee

  4. This is nice and all, but how do you “hang” the ribcage and pelvis in terms of foreshortening? Like, what kind of form/shape do you use? And with the line of gesture as well. How do you manipulate it when it comes to foreshortening? Sorry, but I’m confused.

    • This article doesn’t really deal with foreshortening, but the basic rules remain entirely the same. As the body moves in space, its proportions remain the same, only the arrangement and what is visible to you changes. Foreshortening means that the angle is causing parts of the body to cover other parts. Your lines of gesture might be shorter or squashed, and your major body parts might overlap or hide each other entirely. You’re still trying to figure out where the spine is and where the major body blocks are in relation to it.

      So draw what’s visible to you. If the person is bowing, such that the spine is pointed directly toward you, your line of gesture might just be a little dash upon which you overlap pelvis, ribcage and head, almost one on top of the other, so that very little of each is visible in the final drawing. But you’ve still recorded the essence of the pose.

      Trust what you see in front of you and draw it, over and over and over.

        • You’re welcome! I’ll see what I can do about wrangling up a proper article on foreshortening at some point. :) Examples would help.

  5. I am so EXCITED that I found this site! After reading the “Gesture Basics” tutorials, it’s ALL coming back to me now. It’s been several years that I’ve drawn from the human figure and after doing some 30min and 60 min sketches… wow, am I rusty! This site will definitely encourage me to draw more. Thank you.

  6. 고등학교 2학년..
    그림을 시작한지 얼마 되지않은 나에게
    이 사이트는 가뭄의 단비처럼 찾았습니다.
    좋은 사이트 감사합니다.

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