Drawing the Human Figure from the Imagination – Mini-brief

This project was designed as a specific, self-initiated project with a student, looking at “Solid Drawing” and Rendering as part of their study of Underpinning Drawing Skills for Animation – but the project could equally be run as a lead in for a digital 3D/character design project for Games, or a refresher course for illustration students.
Without doubt, drawing from observation, and life drawing are the core disciplines behind successful figure drawing, however in the commercial illustrator or concept artists working life there will be occasions where the accessibility of first hand ref is not available, whether due to the location or the timescale of the project. In which case the ability to construct a figure from the imagination will be the only recourse the practitioner has.

Figure Drawing from the Imagination

Pt 1 – Investigation

As discussed in previous sessions – …you may find that exploring underpinning skills and techniques that centre on the ability to show 3D form and shape in drawings (through the use of perspective drawing and understanding how light strikes an object for example), will over time (and through purposeful, focused practice) lead to greater facility with much more complex shape compositions; the human figure included.

Screen shot 2011-11-10 at 12.31.54

With that in mind, you are to begin by investigating/revisiting some of the elementary drawing exercises discussed in the books below (some of these can be found in the old media section in the studio):

In these new investigations/revisits – rather than slavishly reproducing the images within the various books – try drawing the various exercises from a new angle not shown by the author (if an example face is looking down and to the right, try drawing it using the same technique looking up and to the left), truly implementing the principles discussed rather than copying as you might from a photograph or image on Google (this can actually be an interesting exercise with any given image).

Also take time to read the text and make notes on some of the principles discussed, and annotate your drawings as appropriate.

Pt2 – Skeletons and Basic Primitives

  • A – Try creating a series of images just using the the skeletal frame of the human figure in a variety of poses, your aim is to get the proportion and sense of movement or poise of the figure to look naturalistic, rather than render a fully detailed figure. Try to get a sense of the sex and body shape of the characters, without adding the flesh. You may need to refer to an anatomy book at this point, in order to see the basic skeletal composition of the human form. Have your stick(ish) figures hold props, or interact with 3d forms such as boxes, spheres or cylinders… Fill a couple of A3 pages (or the equivalent in your sketchbook/daybooks).
  • B – Take two or three of your favourite/more successful figures from part A, photocopy the images (perhaps enlarging them) and bulk out the forms using cylinders, spheres, truncated cones, boxes etc, don’t worry about accurate anatomical detail, just try and block out the shapes as if you were designing a wooden puppet.
  • C – Now try the same exercise again this time adding more organic shapes denoting muscle and/or fat instead of simple shapes, consider how the flesh would be relaxed or tensed dependent on the pose. Walt Stanchfield has some excellent advise on the quick rendering of the human figure, particularly his advice on straights and curves (Drawn To Life, p19), or lines to denote the stretched and clenched/bunched muscle or body mass of the human figure in dynamic movement, as does Michael D. Mattesi in Force.

Pt 3 – Heads and Hands

Without reference or use of mirrors and ref photographs, fill an A3 page+ (or the equivalent in your sketchbook/daybooks) with heads using the principles discussed above (Pt 1). Try to get some variation into the angle and positions of the head; leaning back, looking down, turning up and to the side, three-quarter, profile and portrait. Make sure the image is based on a solidly rendered form and not just details filling a flat 2D line. No need to add hair, or other extraneous detail (facial hair, hats, earrings etc), just the forms of the head and face.

Are you able to differentiate the sex of the character (perhaps not so differentiated in non-human characters) without accessories such as hair or body shape? If so, does this mean you’ve found he right balance within the features, or that you have over-emphasised and are making stereotypical choices?

Do the same again, this time with hands only.

You may want to look at the basic forms again as discussed in pt 1 of this brief; both Burne Hogarth (in Dynamic Anatomy), and Walt Stanchfield (in Drawn to Life – p17), discuss this.

Try drawing the hands in a relaxed state, bunched into a fist, pointing, holding a simple object (a sphere or a cube, etc.). Can you differentiate the physicality of the hands? Are they a soldier’s or a farmer’s hands, or a model’s or pianist’s hands?

Pt 4 – A final figure drawing from the imagination, based on the following definitions:

The Character Shape/Body Type (a combination of two of the following )

  • Tall
  • Medium
  • Short


  • Ectomorph
  • Mesomorph
  • Endomorph

If appropriate you may wish to consider body types that fall into categories both medically recognised (Gigantism, Dwarfism etc.) and the Fantastical (Giants, Dwarves, Elves, Gods, Monsters, Aliens etc.).

The Characters Job/Role/Vocation.

  • Pirate
  • Head of Royal Family
  • Priest
  • Spy
  • Merchant
  • Construction Worker

The period or fictional setting for your character should develop out of your choice, I see no problem developing a regular pirate, or a space pirate for example.

The Characters Sex

  • Female/Male/Asexual

This is purely a visual task, but if writing for the character, gender should also clearly be a consideration, you may wish to consider that here if appropriate; but try to avoid stereotypes.

Character Pose/Action

  • asleep/in repose/reclining
  • running/jumping/leaping/landing
  • fighting/punching/defending/enraged
  • using/wielding a tool/object/accessory
  • seated/crouching
  • falling/unsteady

Use all the techniques discussed and practiced above to develop the pose and the fleshing out of your figure.

Try to avoid using photographic ref, whether your own, or Google Images etc, where possible, though I have no problem with ref for individual elements of costume/equipment etc.

And try to have fun!

~ by hesir on March 21, 2014.

2 Responses to “Drawing the Human Figure from the Imagination – Mini-brief”

  1. […] – Drawing the Human Figure from The Imagination – Mini Brief – Characters/Figure Drawing/Drawing […]

  2. Really it helped me….thank you

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