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Figuring it out

Ozoneocean at 12:00AM, Aug. 4, 2017

Let's talk figure drawing again.
We've discussed this in the past but it's ALWAYS worth talking about. In fact one of the lost Quackcasts was on this very subject.

Figure drawing isn't easy, you need constant practise to maintain the skill. If you neglect it degrades slowly over time. As for myself, I always had a knack for figure drawing as a kid. I drew life models in high school and later on at art school and university. Outside of an academic environment I've often been to life modelling sessions as well. I studied skeletons, the underlying structure of muscles the comparative body shapes of other mammals, people of different sizes and shapes, different ages, clothed as well as unclothed, draped, speed drawing, statues etc, and yet my figures are no more realistic than anyone else's, in fact they're a little LESS realistic due to over-stylisation and being a quite stiff.

But if drawing from life is the gold standard for doing good figure drawing, how can that be? Well, firstly because I don't keep up my practice and secondly because it simply ISN'T the gold standard and never has been. Life drawing teaches you a few specific lessons: how figures look in a pose from three dimensions, how weight, mass, and gravity affect them in different poses, the typical shapes of certain body parts (ankles, the curve of the shin, the bow of the forearm…), and the effects of light and shadow. Life drawing comes from fine art, where you would have a person pose so you could do your own visual copy of them in sculpture or painting so you can get the most accurate version possible. Comics don't feature too much of that. If you want to be good at drawing figures for comics there are other skills you have to pick up.

Be wary of learning from photos! Photos are an artificial representation of reality There's the old myth that goes “the camera never lies”, this is bullshit. Cameras catch impossible split seconds in time, they see reality in ways we don't: strange fleeing expressions, floating body mass as someone moves or jumps, distortions due to the size and shape of a lens, artificial flattening etc. Digital cameras are even worse since the sensors adjust for colour and light to create new and strange distortions, which is just the tip of the iceberg. Photography is useful, but inferior to life drawing.

Life drawing is a good basic foundation, but most comicers can't use that. So here are the things you need to learn:
- Simple wire frame bodies in the poses you want. As long as your proportions are right, this helps you get good at poses and positioning.
- Simplify body parts into basic geometric shapes. This helps you with mass and the perspective on unusual poses.
- Look at how others have drawn their figures or the poses that you wish to draw; copy them so you can understand how they did it. Do not use the copied work as your own though!
- STAY AWAY FROM STYLES! Do not ape the styles of others and don't learn from very stylised art like manga or Disney; this will handicap you. Don't try and develop your own style either. All this comes later. When you understand how real figures work only then should you dive into the styles of others. Your own style will happen naturally later.

Assuming you're well on your road of comic drawing, how do capture those tricky poses?
- Get a maquette, which is a small posable figurine. Or get a couple of them so you can get your figure interaction better.
- Do quick sketches of real people in the poses you need (if you have access to them).
- Photos of yourself or other people are useful guides.
- Look at the work of other artists.
- Use a mirror to draw yourself.

Most importantly: practice!

There are really no rules though. People have different approaches and what I've said here is only a guide. There are professional comicers who've never drawing from life or even a realistic figure, there are manga artists who started with that style and never moved outside of it, people who've always drawn with their own individual style, comic artists who use life drawing for ALL their figures, and there are plenty who simply trace photos as a matter of course, there are other who's work mainly consists of the copied art of others (please don't follow that example), and then there are people like me that think drawing entirely from imagination is enough. That's all great and it's really just a matter or whatever gets the job done, but you don't want to find yourself locked in by your own limitations, which is what all these things lead to.

Do you have any figure drawing advice?



AmeliaP at 3:10PM, Aug. 8, 2017

I found something, maybe this is interesting: Advanced figures for artists, with joints and different parts with different poses, as hands and feet.

Ozoneocean at 3:11AM, Aug. 5, 2017

@Bravo- I prefer a tilt to the hips. Controposto is a beautiful classic mode to use as a base. It gives you a subtle, dynamic asymmetry. Some artists make characters bent at the knees always... I don't really get that, it looks goofy. They used to do it in Scooby Doo a lot.

Ozoneocean at 3:08AM, Aug. 5, 2017

@MOrgan HAHAHA! And of course wearing a coat or a big jumper that giant boobage actually give the woman and circular figure... so it's not ideal for a character.

Ozoneocean at 3:04AM, Aug. 5, 2017

Yes! Silhouettes! I forgot that from my list: instead of drawing the limbs or the outline of a figure, just draw their rough shape instead, it can give a more real appearance and you're not as hung up on the construction.

MOrgan at 1:27AM, Aug. 5, 2017

Also the London Sun had a website that had pictures of current and former Page 3 girls, and some of the naturally well-endowed could hit that uncanny boobvalley you mentioned. Most when filmed from the front were okay, but when shot from the side you could see the effects of weight and gravity stetching them out so they almost resembled hounddog ears. (Yeah, there's a sexy look. ;-)

MOrgan at 1:21AM, Aug. 5, 2017

Ozone, reminds me when I got onto the old ABPECOA newsgroup ( and some of the artists would draw these unbelievable giant boobs, and there was always someone who wanted them bigger.

AmeliaP at 10:51PM, Aug. 4, 2017

"Do you have any figure drawing advice?" I have one. The silhouette, or the form, is one of the most important points which will put together the whole image. Modeling (3D in the digital way or in polyclay, in the "analogical" way) helped me a lot to memorize forms and anatomy. So my figure drawing advice is: Everyone has different ways to learn and if you understand your own process, you'll get better in no time. Modeling your own figure drawing can help depending if your learning process is compatible with that. :)

bravo1102 at 10:36PM, Aug. 4, 2017

I almost always pose my figures slightly bent in at the waist to avoid straight up and down posture. Most people if not in a military formation just do not throw their shoulders back. ;)

bravo1102 at 10:34PM, Aug. 4, 2017

Get a full range 1/12 scale action figure. They actually make ones now specifically for manga artists. You can find them on Amazon. There's also the Art Buck figures like the Grey Guys from my Robofemoids comics. Double jointed, they twist and even shrug and slouch. Kind of cool to flex the shoulders in to give it bad posture and not fix it for the whole comic. Remember real people are very rarely straight up and down, side to side. They're always skewed and bent balancing their weight back and forth. Dancers are often bad examples to use for life drawing as their poise (not pose) can be so artificial. Do you want a runway model, a ballerina or Jane the girl next door?

Avart at 3:55PM, Aug. 4, 2017

I use a lot of references, my style is based on manga but a more realistic one (I draw big eyes and exaggerated gestures once in a while) and I mostly get references from pictures (real people and scenarios) which I believe fits well on my style. I tend to emphasize the body curves of the women I draw but always keeping body proportions. Also I use 3D models within my software when a pose is hard to figure it out. My first challenge is to create a good looking draw, the next challenge is to shade it properly but... that's another story :D

Albino Ginger at 3:16PM, Aug. 4, 2017

I had one of those generic wooden maquettes; I didn’t find it to useful… it didn’t seem to work like actual human anatomy. Here’s a fun game to play with one; set it in an odd pose and see if your friend can copy it with there real body… if you have a friend…

Udyr at 1:22PM, Aug. 4, 2017

I bought my doll at a hobby shop, I got a HAND like that too and its absolutely USELESS. I think real life models is a better option or 3d like mentioned earlier if wanting to do proper anatomy. If we were to relate on those stiff things, we would all be doomed! I get my S/O to pose for me sometimes to help out with difficult poses, it helps.

cdmalcolm1 at 10:36AM, Aug. 4, 2017

Well, I copied copied copied until I got it. The figure drawing thing was ok but it was the gesture drawing combined with figure drawing was what really did it for me. I never used the maquette because I thought that it always looked unnatural. Humans worked better for me. Comic drawing came from almost everything for me. Copying, pictures, and looking at my hands to name a few. But the one thing that always helped is references.

KimLuster at 10:06AM, Aug. 4, 2017

I got a couple Anatomical Models from DickBlick - they're pretty useful! Price is pretty steep - but not totally outrageous!

Ozoneocean at 9:00AM, Aug. 4, 2017

Good advices, keep it coming! The maquette shown is crap. I don't use it for anything... A friend gave it to me years ago, I think it came from Ikea, they were selling them as gimmicky home decoration things.

Udyr at 6:57AM, Aug. 4, 2017

I had one of those dolls and they're soooooo stiff, at least mine were, it was hard to even make it look natural. I think gesture drawing is nice to know when doing comics, you can spend 30 sec-1 min etc on drawing poses, as well as go a bit in depth into how muscles works and where they are located. Im currently trying to study muscles myself and its pretty interesting stuff. My sister were a physioterapist student for a while so I got her books on anatomy :-D Go to the library and find books about it is also nice. Youtube has alot of cool teachers and people going into depths in anatomy. Proko and Jazza are pretty good in my opinion! is good for gesture drawing as well as!

KAM at 6:53AM, Aug. 4, 2017

Bravo's comment about "the figure at the extreme effort" reminds me of the comic book artist who would use a photo of a pitcher throwing a fastball as a reference for drawing a superhero throwing a punch.

Tantz_Aerine at 6:16AM, Aug. 4, 2017

I would also say "study gross anatomy". Teach your brain to anticipate how muscles work, how they are placed in the body and what there exists underneath the skin (much like the skeletons you drew that you mention your post). That way the stick figure or the mannequin you will use to pose your character will be complemented by your capacity to draw properly how the muscles have relaxed and contracted to place the body in the position you want, and it won't feel like a puppet relying on (your pencil's) invisible strings :) Great post!

bravo1102 at 6:04AM, Aug. 4, 2017

As a by the way, humans can do more poses than the Maquette shown. They make ones that have more realistic anatomy and greater range of motion. The Grey Guys and Gals in the Robofemoids series are examples.

bravo1102 at 6:01AM, Aug. 4, 2017

And body language. Watch how people hold their hands or just stand and fidget. Use that to convey what a character is saying. Sometimes it can say than a whole page of dialogue.

bravo1102 at 5:58AM, Aug. 4, 2017

Sticks and geometric shapes is what it's all about. Even just posing those maquettes you have to consider that. And one great tip I borrowed from diorama builders. Always model the figure at the extreme effort of a fluid pose for the most dynamism and drama. Another thing with using figures is you can look at the whole range of a pose to pick what is most dynamic, appealing and works best.

KimLuster at 4:58AM, Aug. 4, 2017

Good stuff! All good advice, but the biggest (which you emphasize over and over) is practice! Doing it over and over, and eventually 'muscle memory' kicks in!! Like, you don't have to keep looking at references to draw an ear right!! But hands!! Drawing good hands!! I still have to look at references (pics or my own hands) ALOT!!

Ozoneocean at 3:08AM, Aug. 4, 2017

Boobology is a careful science. There are specific ratios to observe... too big and the effect you get is gross and unappealing. Although you can go pretty big before that happens, the uncanny boob-valley (sounds like another word for cleavage) is pretty forgiving.

MOrgan at 1:27AM, Aug. 4, 2017

Big boobies are popular. You can forget to draw a head, but no one notices if there are big boobies to look at. ;-)

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