It can be difficult when you are looking at a figure to decide where to start. The body is a not a straightforward shape, and the figure’s pose can confuse things further. Twists and turns, pointing and bending limbs all serve to complicate the shape of the body.
Continuous Line (or gesture) drawing is one method to help make the figure drawing less complex. This method helps you to get the whole figure down on paper quickly, and to focus on the aspect of the whole figure, not smaller details.
Another method to help us see how to draw figures, and make figures less complex is to use geometric shapes to build a simple view of the figure. This could become a foundation layer for a more detailed drawing, or you can use this approach for short poses to provide practise on capturing the figure.
How does this work? An obvious start might be to use a sphere or oval for the head. Just draw the shape, nothing more. So, if you are using an oval, just draw the oval. Don’t try to capture nuances of shape or the facial features, just use the shape to capture the overall shape and position of the head.
You might then consider using a cylinder to capture the shape and position of the neck or torso. Again, just capture the overall shape and position. Don’t worry about the kind of detail you put into other kinds of drawings, or might add to this drawing later.
You might use more cylinders for sections of arms and legs. You might use smaller spheres for elbow and knee joints. But don’t do this automatically. Look at the figure, consider the pose and then decide which shape makes sense. It might be a triangle for the shoulders, or the foot, or a square for the head. You are trying to capture the figure in front of you – not what we consider a figure should look like.
Continue adding shapes to your figure until you have the whole thing. Work quickly. You should not be trying to draw your geometric shapes with trigonometrical accuracy. Re-draw or overdraw if you like, but keep moving the same way you would with a continuous line drawing. If you’re using this to block out the shapes for a more detailed drawing you will want to keep the lines light.
You should end up with something that looks a little like one of those posable, wooden maquettes you can find in art shops. Or it might look something like a robot. But you should also be aiming to produce something that looks like the figure you are drawing.
You can use this technique to help you see how to draw hands too. Do the same thing as with a figure: view the hand and decide which shapes you can use to build the hand. You might use cylinders to represent sections of fingers. Maybe spheres for the knuckles. The back of the hand might be built with triangular panels. The fleshy palm of the hand might best be represented by circles and ovals.
As with figures you should not focus on details. Just capture the overall shape and position of each part of the hand.
Keep practising. I found this technique very difficult at first, despite its seeming simplicity. I was stuck in the habit of trying to produce a realistic drawing first off, and found the use of geometric shapes frustrating. But stick with the technique, maybe using it for a few short poses next time you draw, and will start to see how useful it is to simplify that complex human figure.