Tips for a beginner

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This topic contains 4 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by Torrilin 5 years ago.

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    As a complete newbie to figure drawing on this site, my attempts have shown to have proportions that are completely all over the place (overly large torsos, thin arms, ect). Alongside that, I feel as if I spend too much time on a songple prompt and the notion of drawing it too big on a single sheet of paper. I want to ask what are some tips you would give in order to improve in a smart way, rather than shoddily stumbling through the course.

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    The reason that proportions tend to get out of whack is because as artists while we draw we tend to focus on one portion of the body and it grows or shrinks based on our confidence, the time we spend on it, and how much we are actively looking at it.

    So if the way you build up your form is sort of like building up a set of legos, you draw the feet, the legs, put a torso on top, hang some arms, and then pop a head on it. The figure will be out of proportion and will likely list to one side or the other. Right hand dominant artists tend to have right leaning and left hand dominant artists tend to have left leaning figures.

    First focus on the gestures. Gestures are not full drawings, and your gestures may be really rough. And that's okay. The goal is not to have a smooth and finished drawing, it's to get warmed up. It's to learn to see the figure as a whole and not parts. Then lay down a light gesture, find the line of action, then start building your figure on that.

    I like to use small dots to mark out the outside portions of my figures. So I have the limits for my figures and I know where I am going with it. After 2 years of solid practice. Life drawing weekly, line of action daily, class mode, 10 minute morning sketches, and teaching other people. I can hold these proportions in my head and work without it.

    But it was hundreds of hours with this other work and even then when I do a longer drawing and want proper proportions. I lean in and focus and lay down those dots.

    It's so much easier to move a small dash or dot, than erase an entire arm. And then once I have these proportions correct then I get detailed on the areas I want. And the level of focus does not change the proportion of the figure.

    I also strongly reccomend rotation through subjects. I adore the human figure and it is the subect I like to do the most, figures and portraits. But every morning I sit down for 10 minutes and do a sketch. And I use Line Of Action to rotate through. I do figure, hand and feet, animal, portrait, then figure again. And drawing animals keeps me fresh.


    Your proportions are going to be all over the place at first, that's okay. Don't get yourself caught up in trying to get it 'perfect'. You're not there yet. What you want to do is capture the 'gesture' of the image. You're training your eye to feel the subject and to put it down as quickly as possible using sweeping gestures.

    Here's an exercise for a total beginner: go to a park or a cafe with a ream of paper and a big fat chunk of charcoal. Sit and start people watching. Each person that catches your eye, quickly put down a a squiggle, yes filling up a 3rd to a full page each, that captures the 'feel' of the shape their body makes. Maybe just a head and a curving spine here, a bent blob there. Are their shoulders hunched over, looking at their phone? Are they fat, tall, skinny? Old? Youthful? What's their energy like? Are they trying to hide from the rain? Are they skipping? Holding hands? Striding triumphantly? Depressed? You want to get the idea of this on the paper as fast as possible without lifting your drawing utensil. You're training your eye to see the whole person, rather than the parts.

    Do 20-40 of these as a warm up. Might take ya say 15 minutes or so. Maybe longer at first. I like to bring my sketchbook with me everywhere and do it when I'm sitting down. You could trying going to the park on the weekends and switch to the cafe with a good view of the sidewalk if the the weather is incliment, or go to different places so you can capture different types of people doing different things. Probably you're gonna see a lot of people walking, not doing anything interesting. In time you'll begin to see the subtle nuances and capture it more vividly with just scribbles. Here's some examples I threw together.

    Remember, don't life your pencil! You're trying to capture the whole imagine in a scribble! You want to train your eye to see the whole thing all at once, because that's what give you the sense of perspective. If you're looking too hard at one part, drawing it seperately, it's gonna be out of balance from the rest of the image.

    Another exercise is drawing stick figures. An oval for the head, two smaller ovals for the shoulders, a wide oval for the waist, then trace a line that follows of the curve of the backbone. ovals for the elbow, wrist, knee, and ankle joints, each connected with a curving line for the limbs. Set the figure study tool to 30 sec intervals and do it for thirty minutes. Just bust 'em out one after the other.

    Remember: don't get attached to any particular subject. Focus on getting the whole thing down as quickly as possible. If you don't finish just move on. In time your eye will start to fill in the blanks. The more your draw the better you get. It's better if your images are larger--it's easier to scale down than scale up.


    Use class mode. Seriously. It exists for a reason. Well, a giant pile of reasons.

    When I picked up figure drawing class again in about 2015 or 2016, my 30s poses were basically sperm or stick figures. A circle for the head, a squiggle for the gesture, possibly with other bits tacked on. It was ugly and it didn’t look like much, but I knew from prior art instruction that it was ok. Fast practice where you focus on the whole pose pays off. And the fast poses are primarily to warm you up and get your observation working for the long pose anyway.

    A big reason to use class mode is it’s possible to practice mistakes. A 30 minute class doesn’t give you time to settle into any one style of drawing. Especially if you’re new, it will push your skills hard. And you won’t have time to settle in to any one thing or think. Then you review your work after, make a note of the good bits, and go on to whatever drawing you want to do. It’s a warm up, not the whole of your drawing.

    Another reason to use it is those impossible feeling 30s poses let you make a lot of bad drawings very quickly. In order to learn a skill, you need space to screw up. Thousands upon thousands of bad drawings.

    Last biggie is most people have a finite attention span. A 10 minute stretch of focus is a long time. Really long. And in art terms, 10 minutes is nothing. A large piece can take 20 or 40 hours or more. So you need to build the ability to break a piece of art into chunks and tackle small parts. Trying to spend 40h on a piece as a new artist will not be productive. But class mode teaches you that you can do a great deal of work in small bits, and it has you practice exactly what you need to build a large piece.

    There’s loads of rules of thumb for proposition, but I don’t think they’re very helpful when you are new. If you have a sketch that you want to color and turn into a full on painting, definitely look it over with an eye towards proportion rules. Try mirroring it. Look at it upside down. But in the thick of getting an idea down, rules get in the way.

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