How to Draw People: A Fundamental Guide to Draw Anyone

how to draw people

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Learning how to draw people is often one of the most frustrating aspects of being an artist. Fortunately, your hurdles are as old as humanity itself – this guide will help you clear them more easily.

Drawing humans is no more difficult than any other subject. The biggest reason why it may feel that way is because we interact with people on a regular basis. This constant proximity means you’re more sensitive to what doesn’t look right.

Say farewell to stiff drawings and slow progress. This guide will teach you how to draw anyone at any time.

What You’ll Need to Draw Natural-Looking People

 

what you’ll need to draw natural-looking people

Since we’re focusing more on replicating the human body or facial features, let’s step away from a complex supply list. You’ll only need the following to start improving your human anatomy:

  • A dry medium such as pencil, pen, or charcoal
  • Drawing paper
  • Reference photos or a reference book
  • A mirror (optional)

Step #1: Find an Easily Repeatable Source of Inspiration

 

find an easily repeatable source of inspiration

If you want to master drawing the human form, you have to find…a lot of humans! An easily repeatable source of inspiration ensures you don’t run out of references to study.

I have an example from my own art growth – I used to practice life drawing on the bus back when I went to community college. Not only did it make the ride go by faster, I got to draw people of different shapes and sizes without going out of my way to find them. All I had to do to start drawing was sit down, whip out my sketchbook, and zone out for an hour.

I later attended figure drawing classes to learn fundamentals such as gestures, proportion, and drawing more quickly. Since these classes were also at my community college, I didn’t have to break the bank with long travel sessions or expensive coaching.

Whether you swing by the park on busy weekends or draw during your bus commute, an easily repeatable source of inspiration makes learning much faster – take out as much busywork as you can.

Step #2: Get a Book or Resource With the Fundamentals

 

get a book or resource with the fundamentals

Now that you have a source of inspiration you can regularly fall back on, get a book you can fall back on, too. These books will distill years of useful inspiration to take some of the pain out of learning proportions or drawing more loosely.

To help you narrow things down, below are a few niches of reference books you should check out (with recommendations):

Pose References for Creating Dynamic Pieces

It’s incredible all the diversity you can find in poses alone. Alongside posing in the mirror with your phone camera, you can check out online pose references such as:

These resources are fun with quick drawing challenges and a regularly updated roster of high-quality stock photos. I regularly use them to help me loosen up before I start a long drawing session.

Human Anatomy Book to Understand Bone and Muscle

human anatomy
(Image source)

You’ll draw more natural humans when you understand what’s going on beneath the surface. An artist’s anatomy book will help you understand the human figure’s muscles and bones.

It’s amazing how understanding how to draw a pelvic bone can change how you draw hips or legs. A few classic resources for both hobbyist and professional artists are:

A Collection of Master Works From Classical Artists

Art books that compile the masterworks of famous artists are some of my favorite forms of inspiration. They remind me of all the different ways of drawing people and inspire me to stay dedicated to my craft.

A few art compilation books you should check out for inspiration are:

Step #3: Organize Your Supplies For Easy Retrieval

 

organize your supplies for easy retrieval

Sharpening your sketching skills is the goal here, so there’s no need for elaborate painting set-ups. However, you should organize your supplies so they’re easy to whip out quickly.

Sometimes you encounter a fantastic drawing opportunity out of the blue, so you need to pull out your supplies quickly to capture the moment. It’s incredibly frustrating to fumble through endless backpack pockets when you’re ready to draw.

You can purchase an affordable pencil kit and bag to kill two birds with one stone – have all the dry mediums you need alongside a small kit to hold them all.

Popular art supply combinations include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Ballpoint pen and paper
  • Pencil, paper, and eraser
  • Colored pencils and paper
  • Marker and paper
  • Oil pastels, paper, and tissue (for smudging)

The Heshengping Sketching and Drawing Pencils Set is a great pick thanks to its variety of tools and all the different colors the bag comes in.

Step #4: Do Quick Drawings That Capture Movement and Form

 

do quick drawings that capture movement and form

Now that you’ve got your supplies and references ready to go, it’s time to hunker down and do some old-fashioned practice. I highly recommend starting off with quick, loose drawings that focus more on movement or form – no need to over-commit to any one drawing yet.

When you focus too hard on making the human figure accurate, you can get tunnel vision and end up creating a stiff, awkward drawing. The finer details will come with time, so focus more on basic structure – a horizontal line for measurement or simple shapes for structure.

Gesture drawing is one of the most dependable ways of learning basic shapes on the fly, such as how square a torso looks or the oval shape of a person’s head. It focuses on gestures – simple, quick lines that suggest detail instead of committing to it.

Proko has a wonderful, in-depth video on how to improve your gestures with loose hand movements. With just a few strokes, they capture the nuance and twist of an upper body:

Another dependable way of nailing down accurate proportions quickly is with the envelope method. This useful tool allows you to reduce a human shape into angles and lines, narrowing down just how long or how short any body part should be.

You can see an example of the envelope method from Phil Davies Artist’s sketching guide. Notice the difference between the finished drawing and the first few lines on the first layer – the sketch starts out almost geometric before it start narrowing down details. This is a fantastic demonstration of how drawing can actually be simpler than we give it credit for.

Step #5: Do Longer Drawings That Focus On Finer Details

Once you’ve loosened up with gestural drawings, dedicate yourself to longer pieces where you commit to finer details like fingers or hair. It helps to think of your gestural sketch like a skeleton: once you have the ‘bones’ of your sketch, everything else will fall into place more easily.

Jumping straight into detail is best done with a lot of experience under your belt (and even experienced artists don’t always do this). Building up the details in a longer drawing will be easier – and look better – with a dynamic gesture as your base.

(If you’ve ever felt like your loose drawings look more natural than your ‘tight’ drawings, you already know what I’m talking about.)

Richard Smitheman has a great demo that starts off with a gestural, then gradually shifts to fleshing out the muscles and underlying bone structure. Look at how natural the final result is after a base of a straight line and a simplistic overall shape:

Another useful example of how to flesh out the human form with a simplistic base is this charcoal figure study from Mad Charcoal. They literally begin their first layer of an upper body with smudges and scribbles, then gradually flesh it out as they start shading. With just a few well-placed shadows and tightly defined lines, body parts such as the arms and back start emerging from the page as if they’re about to start moving:

Step #6: Frequently Compare Older Drawings With Newer Drawings

 

compare older drawings with newer drawings

The urge to crumple up and toss away your work can be overwhelming at times. Resist the urge as best you can – comparing your older drawings with your newer ones is the key ingredient to building up your artistic confidence.

Think about it: how can you gauge your improvement if you don’t sit with your work? You can’t judge nothing after all – crumpling up your drawings literally destroys what you need to improve.

Huma Humsta did a 30-day art challenge drawing people to see how much they’d improve. This video is a solid demonstration of how much you can grow in just a month with consistent practice and constructive feedback:

Jonnel Art has a 30-day challenge of their own where they practiced drawing people from various fashion shoots, particularly portraits. They gave themselves a focal point where they could easily assess their project – in this video, that meant drawing more natural faces.

Step #7: Switch to a New Source of Inspiration After Some Practice

Let’s say you’ve been practicing for a few weeks or a few months with a primary source of inspiration. If you want to inject some fresh life into your work, consider switching up your surroundings to literally see your art in a new life.

You see, there’s a really solid trick that comes with switching things up periodically: you start noticing similarities between people more easily.

While humans come in so many different shapes and sizes, some details remain consistent. Human proportions are a fundamental detail that you might have seen in techniques such as the eight-head method. This beginner technique will help you draw more natural-looking people by using a basic measurement.

Below are a few easy ways to switch things up as you draw:

Ask a Friend or Family Member to Be a Live Model

 

ask a friend or family member to be a live model

Do you know anyone who’d be happy to sit down and strike a few poses for you? If you can’t afford figure drawing classes – or just want to do some studies at home – reach out to your community for help.

There are many ways to get extra mileage out of having your very own live model. You can provide prompts as you draw, such as:

  • Holding on certain facial expressions for a few minutes so you can study
  • Having your model wear different outfits so you can draw the folds of clothes
  • Posing in dramatic poses to snap photos of and reference later

Remember: always compensate people for taking time out of their busy workweek to help you out. Buy them dinner or drive them to their next doctor’s appointment – in one way or another, thank them for being a resource for your art.

Strike Poses in the Mirror to Study the Human Body

Sometimes you can’t quite find the pose you’re looking for online as you get ready to draw. When in doubt, strike some poses in the mirror or study your facial expressions in the bathroom.

A full-body mirror is one of the best tools for having an entire library’s worth of poses at your fingertips. Combine this with a phone stand tripod if you want to capture all kinds of angles of different body parts at a low cost.

An affordable tool I bought a few years ago is the ATUMTEK 51″ Selfie Stick Tripod. I set it up to take photos of me in various sitting and standing poses when mirror selfies aren’t cutting it.

4 Tips for Adding Extra Fun to Drawing the Human Figure

 

tips for adding extra fun to drawing the human figure

While learning how to draw people is fun, sometimes the repetition can wither your motivation. Below are a few tips you can try to make the process enjoyable and educational.

Do Fun Prompts That Add a Layer of Unpredictability

Art prompts are incredibly fun for giving you quick ideas to draw on the fly. Many social media hashtags will revolve around these prompts, offering a collective online space for artists to share their takes on the same idea.

For example, the Sketchbook With Prompts: Self Reflection Journal for Drawing is an involved book that offers a series of daily prompts. You could use this journal to give you something to focus on when you’re low on ideas or are facing down blank page syndrome.

There are plenty more books, blogs, and social media hashtags that offer prompts. A little online digging and you could find some seriously fun drawing ideas.

Flip Through Fashion Magazines or Blogs for Inspiration

Are you a fan of fashion? Not only do fashion blogs and magazines offer tons of stylish and expressive poses, but you’ll also get extra inspiration when you add clothing – outfits, hairstyles, and additional details like jewelry and make-up.

One of my absolute favorite fashion blogs of all time is Tokyo Fashion’s street snaps section. This blog is filled with fashion photography from everyday people in Japan, showcasing some truly unique and playful outfits. They also take different angles of each person, a useful feature when you want to truly understand the fundamentals of form.

flip through fashion magazines or blogs for inspiration

Do Studies From Your Favorite Movies, Shows, or Videogames

A fun way to combine both your figure drawing skills and love for your favorite media is through some ‘homework fanart’. Pick a favorite movie, show, or videogame, then do some studies of human characters.

Ideally, pick live-action or highly realistic graphics so you can focus on the fundamentals of everyday life. Even if you want to develop a more cartoonish style, it’s essential to learn how to interpret life before you stylize it.

You can then compare your studies side-by-side to the scene you drew. You can look at what worked out and what could be better.

Do Time Limits With Permanent Marker or Pen

“Wait, how does limiting my ability to erase and improve my work mean fun?”, you might be asking. As it stands, using permanent drawing tools to study people helped me improve the most quickly.

When you draw with erasable tools, you can indirectly enable your perfectionism. If you’ve ever spent more time erasing a drawing than actually drawing it, using a pen or marker will change your perspective.

When you can’t erase, you have to think more critically about where each line goes and why.

When you inevitably make a mistake – that’s part of learning! – you have two options. You can try to make it work or simply move on and keep drawing. Both contribute to your creativity by either pushing you to turn a mistake into gold or staying determined and pushing through.

This live drawing session with Bryce Kho from Proko is a masterclass of going with the flow. While fleshing out a series of fantastical human and animal characters, they talk about the benefits of drawing with a pen or marker. They outright state that not being able to erase makes it easier for them to draw almost like a child – focusing on the moment instead of the end result.

As such, they noted their ink work helped them draw more loosely and more thoughtfully:

Learning How to Draw People is a Skill You’ll Master With Time

Learning how to draw humans well begins when you start drawing. No matter how many courses you take or books you read, nothing will replace simple, old-fashioned practice.

You never know what’s going to work for you or not until you try, so give everything in this guide a shot. It can be hard to keep going when you feel you’re not improving, but you level up every time you face down a sketchbook and refuse to give up.

That said, it helps to have some tools and feedback to remove some of the frustration. Speed up the fundamentals with Proko figure drawing course bundles.

figure drawing fundamentals

Featured Image: Source

 

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