I don't see figure drawing studies shared from members of the Paper Demon community too often. I suspect figure drawing is one of those things artists only study if they are forced to as part of a larger art program. Perhaps people think it's boring? Or they tried it and didn't like it?
But I'm here to tell you that studying figure drawing is one of the best things you can do for yourself if you want to improve your drawing skills. You can study it on your own. And it's even quite fun.
What is figure drawing?
Figure drawing, or life drawing, is the study of the human figure. It usually involves creating drawings from a live nude model reference, but can also be done from photographs. The goal being to capture the emotion and rhythm of the subject as well as indicate the anatomy and structure of the human form.
Why studying figure drawing is so essential
You'll learn fundamentals
Many beginning artists start out producing drawings that look kind of stiff or rigid. Through studying figure drawing, and artists drawings will begin to have more expression and aesthetically pleasing rhythms in the line art and will begin to look alive.
Through studying figure drawing, you'll learn to make your drawings look more three-dimensional, as if they have volume and weight. And you'll learn the foundation, structure, and anatomy of the human figure which will make your drawings more accurate and believable.
“If you’re designing without a foundation, you’re designing a lie from a lie; Something from an abstract idea. And the further you get from the truth, the more it gets distorted. Like the telephone game.”
– a panel member from a panel of Disney animators at WonderCon
You'll be able to draw almost anything
“My work for Disney is more environment-based. But it still involves construction, rhythm, shape design, and how shapes are related to one another. It’s the same, whether you’re designing an environment or piece of a body.”
Dan Cooper, Disney environment illustrator, Source
The fundamentals described above apply not just to figure drawing but to any type of drawing. Once you learn them you can reuse them in many situations. And you'll be able to learn to draw new things really quickly.
It's how the professionals learned to draw
Disney animators have relied on figure drawing and life drawing for decades as an essential component to producing great animation. It's also standard curriculum for anyone who studying animation or illustration at the university level.
You'll be able to draw from your head
After you've had some time studying figure drawing you'll begin to notice you'll have an easier time drawing human figures from your head. Over time you'll begin to remember how to draw the human figure at various angles and can draw upon that whenever you need it.
My figure drawing journey
The first time I tried figure drawing I didn't really care for it. Though looking back now I think the reason for this is I didn't have a great teacher. Most of the time we just spent watching him draw and he didn't really explain the techniques. And my drawings didn't really improve as a result.
Finally I had a good figure drawing class once I began studying animation and illustration at San Jose State University. After just a couple months, my drawings began to loosen up and have more life and expression. And I actually enjoyed it. It was clear to me the positive impact it was having on my drawing, so I repeated each of my figure drawing courses multiple times. Most of the courses I took were with her on, a student of Glenn Vilppu.
Eventually, I got to the point where I could draw people in many different poses without even looking at a model. As many of us feel there's always room for improvement, but I try my best to revisit my figure drawing studies in between drawing my usual stuff because I know how powerful it is at taking my drawing further.
What's holding you back?
What sorts of stories are you telling yourself about why you haven't tried studying figure drawing? Perhaps you're saying to yourself...
figure drawing is too hard
it's awkward looking at poses of nude figures or looking at a live nude model.
I tried figure drawing before and I was dissatisfied with my drawings.
I'm not ready to study something like that
How might you rewrite the stories in a way that serves you better as an artist?
I've done hard things before. I can do them again.
It may be awkward at first but I'll get used to it.
With persistence and the right instruction, I'll be making awesome drawings and see results within a few weeks
There is never a better time than now
How to get started
Look for a figure drawing course at your local community center, school, or art store. Or take an online course like the one from Stan Prokopenko or Glenn Vilppu. Or you can watch Proko's free figure drawing course on YouTube. Prokopenko and Vilppu are awesome instructors that break things down into easy step by step instructions.
If you can, try to integrate a bit of figure drawing into your daily drawing routine.
I hope I've convinced you to give figure drawing a try. If not, what's still holding you back?
As always I'd love to hear what you thought of this article. And don't ever forget the community is here to support you.
Line-of-Action is a tool with clothed and nude photographs that rotate on a timer.
Croquis Cafe has video recordings of nude models for figure drawing
The Posefile book series has nude figures which you can use as reference for your figure drawings
ArtModelTips has a lot of photos of nude figures which you can also use as reference