Drawing the human form is one of the most challenging and rewarding artistic projects you can attempt. It's challenging because our brains are wired to recognize other people in a fraction of a second, and if the image is flawed, we can see the problem immediately. It's this challenge of getting it right that makes it so rewarding. The secret to drawing faces and bodies realistically is getting the proportions right. While individuals vary, everything from the size of the mouth as compared to the eyes, and the position of the knees relative to the size of the head can be drawn using simple ratios. If you get the ratios right, filling in the details is quite easy.
Practice, practice, practice! If your first attempts don't look as good as you'd like, keep trying. Even professional artists practice drawing every day.
Materials You Need to Draw a Person
While the back of an old envelope and a ballpoint pen will do, most artists have specific tools they prefer to use, including:
Soft Pencils: The standard HB pencil is usually too hard for drawing. Softer pencils give your portrait dark, rich tones and the lines are easier to soften by smudging. Try using a 3B to 6B pencil. The higher the number, the softer the pencil.
Charcoal: Compressed charcoal has been a popular material for sketching for centuries, and it's something you can pick up at any art store for just a few dollars. Like pencils, charcoal is rated with numbers to signify its softness. For best results, look for a 6B or higher. Charcoal smudges very easily so be careful when handling your paper.
Conté Crayons: Made of charcoal or graphite combined with wax, conté crayons don't smear as easily as charcoal or soft pencils. They also come in a range of colors. You can usually buy them in a set of colors or one at a time.
Eraser: Instead of using an eraser to remove mistakes, try using an eraser as a drawing tool. Use it lightly to soften shadows or try covering an area of your paper with graphite or charcoal and then use the eraser to "sketch" white over black instead of drawing black on white.
Paper: When you're first starting out drawing, any paper should serve you well. Pick up a few cheap sketch books of varying sizes and practice drawing whenever you can. Once you become proficient, upgrade to a higher quality paper. Thick, rough paper works best because it offers a texture for your charcoal or graphite to cling to.
How to Draw a Person Step-by-Step
1. Plan Your Working Space
Before starting your drawing, it's important to plan it out first, primarily so that you don't run out of space on the paper. Artists often use the size of the human head as a guide to planning the body's proportions. Standing upright, the human body is usually between seven and a half to eight heads high, so lightly mark out eight lines, each the size of your model's head. The body's width, from shoulder to shoulder, is two heads wide.
2. Sketch the Proportions
Lightly draw an oval for the model's head. Then, one head-unit below the chin, at about the same distance apart where the ears will be, place two light marks to indicate where the nipples would be – even if your model is wearing a shirt. One head-unit below the nipples, in line with the center of the head, make a light mark where the navel would be. One head-unit below this, make a mark where the pubic bone is. The pubic bone is at the half-way point between the top of the head and the feet. Two head-units below the pubic bone, is the bottom of the knees, so mark out the knees just above this line. The feet, of course, are at the bottom.
3. Draw the Face
Flesh out the oval you drew for the head, using a ratio of 3:4 – if it's 1-inch high, it should be 3/4 of an inch wide. Next, draw the eyes, making the pupils half-way from the top of the head. The bottom of the nose is about one and a half times the width of an eye. The top of the bottom lip is about one eye-width below the nose, while the corners of the mouth are usually right below the pupils. Many artists begin by drawing a light triangle from the pupils to the center of the mouth, with the sides of the triangle showing where the outside edges of the nostrils should be.
4. Flesh Out the Details
Once you have the face done to your satisfaction, it's time to draw the details of the body. When drawing the arms at the sides, place the elbows at about the same height as the navel, and the wrists should line up with the hip sockets. If you want to draw the arms extended or the elbows bent, remember that the length of each arm should be the same. Measure the distances with a ruler or draw arcs from the position the arms would be at the side of the body to where they would be when extended.
How to Draw a Person From the Side
If you are sketching a model's profile or a three-quarter profile with the model facing slightly to the side, the body's height proportions remain the same. When your model is standing erect, you will see that the small of the back tends to arch inward, while the chest extends outward. The back of the calves are normally in line with the outside edge of the buttocks, while the knees are in the same vertical line as the corners of the eyes.
When drawing the face from the side, begin with a circle instead of an oval. Extend the nose from the edge of the circle – either at the nine o'clock or three o'clock position, depending on which way the model is facing. Then, place the mouth and jaw below the nose outside of the circle. The center of the circle is about where the ear should be.
A published author and professional speaker, David Weedmark has advised businesses and governments on technology, media and marketing for more than 20 years. He has taught computer science at Algonquin College, has started three successful businesses, and has written hundreds of articles for newspapers and magazines throughout Canada and the United States.