This year I participated in an event called Figuary: figure drawing month, where you complete a figure drawing session every day of February. I used the Croquis Cafe video sessions on Vimeo, though I accidentally started on the ones from last year, and followed it through for consistency. Excellent resource for figure drawing so check them out if you ever want to do some.
I took in as much as I could from their partners, Love Life Drawing’s accompanying lesson videos, they were really helpful for things to watch for and techniques to try.
If you want to see all my final results, the best of them are mostly up on Instagram so check that out. When you get back, here are my take-aways from the experience.
I chose a facsimile of a dry ink brush as my tool for the month. I figured sticking with and learning to use one tool would let me focus on the figure drawing instead of how to best use the tool, and I was having fun using it at the time.
I was right in some regards, however the particular tool I chose meant that some techniques were particularly difficult or not available, such as softly blocking in forms before defining them more sharply with hard lines, and shading for shadows. It lent its own unique look and feel, and had its own things it was good at like easily making dynamic lines and bold shadow shapes. However next time I would try and find a tool closer to the charcoal they use in the demonstrations and lessons, to be able to use more than pure black.
The Pain of Outlining
(…but also how to do it properly.) The brush I was using was perfectly suited to a technique beginners usually fall into of outlining what they see in full detail sequentially. This makes it very difficult to get proportions right as you focus on each part as an individual instead of seeing the whole body at once. It also isn’t very compatible with the time limit as if you start at a level of detail too high for the time, you get a very small part of high detail like one arm and a head, instead of a general form with a couple of pulled details you add if you have time.
There were a few things I did to combat this:
- Just pause the pose to be able to complete it with my desired level of detail (what I fell into most often). Start with one line as a landmark, and try to get everything else accurate in angle and length in relation to that mark. The more accurate marks you put down the easier it becomes, but if you get them wrong it can easily spiral out of control.
- Quickly lining only one side of a shape, leaving the rest to the viewer’s imagination. as long as there’s an indication to work with or you line the other side on the next part, like the top of a thigh and the back of a calf, there’s enough information there the that you can fill in the blanks.
- Being fine with just doing a bad drawing, believing that the process was valuable in some other way than the final product. Improving line quality, one tiny step in accurately seeing proportion, practice avoiding my usual pitfalls… I’m sure it was worth it.
One of the most gratifying parts of this exercise was looking at a figure and simplifying it into some basic, appealing lines and shapes, deciding what was important and what could be blended together or glossed over. Some of my favourite pieces are ones where I simply left lines out, because they were implied by what was already there (and also I ran out of time). I often, especially on longer times or ones where I paused to capture more, fell into a trap of wanting to show everything. However the times I let go and am fine with it being “incomplete”, because there’s already enough, felt powerful, like I had confidence in my decisions and the in audience to appreciate them.
People have a tendency to flatten things out, make them closer to a front view, and lessen twists and angles I guess because it’s closer to a straight-ahead mental model of “what a figure should be”. Though I did tend to want my figures to be realistic for fear of getting the proportions unappealingly wrong, I think I did do a good job of at least not going even flatter and more toned down than reality. There are some short timed figures where I highly exaggerated and those have some of the most life and energy to them.
Appealing gesture is a combination of simplification and exaggeration, with a couple of other considerations like flow and balance. I had a lot of times where I’d take a long time on a pose and because I was slowing down to show too much, it wasn’t working together. It didn’t flow. I’d then try again trying to keep to the time limit and while they weren’t as realistic or clean, they did have more energy to them and most of the time were more appealing. The first session probably helped a lot by studying the figure in detail.
Taking Note of Shadows
The bits of the body is just a small part of what you’re looking at. Almost equally important for showing the form is drawing or shading the shadow shapes. If the shadows are strong enough, they can even eat and blend together parts of the anatomy as they are too dark to see. The heavy lifting they perform is adding information to the middle of an outlined shape, to break the flatness by showing it’s not.
I did one figure where I only tried to draw the shadows. It was incredibly difficult as I had to draw accurate shapes while leaving out a lot of information, and the proportions needed some tweaking, but the final results were quite cool.
Drawing from life made me notice a few things about the body I was either simplifying or just getting wrong. I’ll go over them quickly now.
- The shoulders and neck are not an L shape. They’re made of an appealing arrangement of the clavicles, trapezius and the muscles that go from the middle of the chest up to the sides of the head in a V shape, the sternocleidomastoids.
- For the upper arm, the shoulder is a much bigger part of it and the bicep a lot smaller than I had in my head.
- The calf muscles are heavily weighted towards the top of the leg then peter out, more like an S curve than a C. There’s very little going on in the bottom half of the leg.
- Given time pressure my natural instinct was to draw the legs absolutely massive, probably from being excited about drawing the big flowy lines they’re made of.
I’m happy I did it and a little proud I kept up with the whole thing, though I do tend to be good at longform challenges. I was feeling a little fatigue towards the end but the fact the sessions were only supposed to be 15 minutes made it a lot easier to start, even if I ended up pausing it and going over most of the time.
Collating and posting the sessions was almost as hard as the sessions themselves, as I felt like I had to do more work after I was finished, so that was sporadic. I’d like to do better at that next time I try something similar.
I’ll be posting timelapses of my sessions with chill music over the next few days, so subscribe to catch those if you want something relaxing to put on in the background. In the meantime, thanks for watching, and I’ll see you next time.