How to Draw Figures – technique # 5 – Stick Figures

Stick figures, you cry! Stick figures! I didn’t come to this site to learn how to draw stick figures! Hold on, maybe these stick figures can help. One of the most difficult challenges when learning how to draw figures is how to get the proportions of the figure right. It is frustrating to complete a drawing, even if this only takes you five or twenty minutes, only to find that the leg is too long, or that the figure has a pin-head, or an arm that is too short.

The stick figure can help you overcome this problem by forcing you to consider the stance, gesture and proportions of the figure very quickly, and early in your drawing.

Use twelve (yes, just 12) lines to capture the figure.

  1. Draw a line to represent the spine. But don’t just draw a vertical line, look at where the figures back is, look at the angle, the curves, and draw that line. But draw it quickly.
  2. Now draw a second line to represent the shoulders. Again aim to capture the angle and curve, but also consider the size of the line – it needs to be in proportion to the spine as you see the figure.
  3. The third line should represent the width of the hips. And by now you know to watch the angle, curve and proportion.
  4. You can draw a circle or ellipse for the head. Don’t just draw it on top of the shoulder line. Draw the line where the head is on the figure, is it lifted from the shoulder by a neck, crossing the shoulder line?
  5. Arms – two lines each. One shoulder to elbow, the second elbow to wrist or hand. Think about the proportion. Use the other lines as anchor points – hang the upper arm from the end of the shoulder line. Use the other lines as guides: where is that elbow – halfway down the spine line, below the shoulder, out to the side?
  6. Legs – same deal, two lines each. Hang the upper legs from the ends of the hip-line.

There, twelve lines, that you can complete in 15 seconds. You can use this an exercise to help you observe and capture poses. Or, you can use this stick figure as a framework on which to draw the figure more fully.

Why does this work? Drawing the stick figure forces attention on the whole figure. We should never focus on a single part of the figure, as it can become overworked, and can lead us to neglect the overall pose. But when you are trying to capture the light and tone and colour and shape of that arm it is easy to neglect the direction and size.

Drawing the stick figure first works because it helps you break down the drawing exercise and get size and overall pose down straight away.

A couple of other points to help you along:

  • Don’t allow your preconceived notions of what a stick figure looks like to get in the way of what goes on paper. If the pose is such that the spine line will be short (maybe the model is leaning forward, towards you), then draw it that way. If the shoulder line is short because it is parallel with your line of sight then draw it that way.
  • I often add four more lines, small ellipses, or even squiggles, to capture the hands and feet. Sometimes I will use tiny circles to capture the knees and elbows, so my stick figure looks more like a small maquette. But the principal is the same.

Practise this next time you have a model, and I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how well it helps you to consider and capture the proportion and gesture of the pose. Twelve lines, fifteen seconds.

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