Want to get better at drawing human mouths? This drawing reference guide is for you.
A simple reference guide that explores the difference techniques you can use to create anime characters.
Here's a fairly comprehensive reference guide about drawing the human hand.
Learn everything you need to know about the foot's anatomy with this detailed reference guide.
Learn and Grow
Character Drawing: 10 Beginner Tips To Take It To The Next Level
Great characters make great stories.
Character drawing is one of the first steps to bringing your character to life.
Sketching out your idea on paper is a great way to turn an idea into a real, tangible concept before molding it into its full potential. Learning how to draw characters that go with the voices in your narrative is definitely not an easy job, but it is one of the most important ones. After all, great characters make great stories.
They are the boats that carry us through the wavy oceans on The Titanic, that swing us through the skyscrapers of Spiderman, and they bridge the gap between our lives and a completely new world. They keep us engaged and connected.
If you’re a creator who’s interested in getting started with illustrations and learning how to draw characters that fit your vision, we’ve rounded up ten of the biggest drawing tips to help inspire you, starting with:
10. Know Your Character’s Story
Writers know everything about their character and, as the artist designing them, you should too!
Try to focus on building a design that reflects the character, personality, backstory, and current situation. That way, your character fits into its own world and its own personality. When doing this, the small details can really make all the difference.
Sometimes small, hidden visual details of your drawing can add a whole new layer to your story. Try using symbolic elements, colors, and shapes. The details are what can really take your drawing from good to great. But it’s also equally important not to overdo it, and to not force symbolism when it just doesn’t suit the drawing.
An easy way to start this process is to make a list of adjectives, features and personality traits – this will help you know your character and decide what you want it to look like” This way, you can understand who they are and how your drawing can incorporate those elements. You can add other columns that might help you understand your character even better, but here’s a simple example of an exercise you could do to get started:
9.Use Other Character Drawings As References
We believe in helping each other learn and grow. And part of growing is looking to other artists for inspiration.
Yet, there seems to be a certain stigma around artists using tools like reference images for their work. But really, every artist does it – and every artist should do it!
Just keep in mind that you don’t have to follow them exactly. Don’t put yourself into a box or restrict your artistic eye because of them. Find your own unique take on the picture, and let yourself adjust elements as needed to make your drawing the best it can be.
Better yet – switch up your references. Compile a bunch of pictures together that give you a rounded out view of what you are drawing and create your own interpretation. You can even create your own reference images by taking photographs.
Especially when starting out, learning from the work and experience of past creators is how we can get inspiration and ultimately grow as artists.
This goes for any creative work including character drawing. With character design, sometimes looking at other people’s sketches and processes can be a really great tool to spark some new ideas. Then, you can apply that to your own work.
Combining elements, helping one another, and sharing ideas is how we gain momentum and inspiration to move forward; it’s how we make progress.
As they say, the greatest things are never created alone.
8. Give The Pencil The Power
Sometimes we just don’t know what to draw. And one of the best ways to improve our creative drawings is to just let the pen take over.
Just try things and pull yourself out of that restrictive mindset of forcing yourself to be creative. But if you struggle with the blank page and still need a bit of guidance, you could pick a very general topic, color, mood or a theme and just see what you happen to come up with.
Draw from your imagination, even if your drawings don’t turn out as planned. That is the whole point, after all – to find those hidden gems you know are buried in you somewhere, but just need a little light to help them shine.
Pushing through a lack of inspiration and just letting your creativity run wild, might just be what you need to help improve your design and character drawing. By allowing yourself the space to be free and creative, you’re allowing the space for solutions to present themselves and for your character to speak for itself.
“It is only by drawing often, drawing everything, drawing incessantly, that one fine day you discover, to your surprise, that you have rendered something in its true character.”
7. Divide Your Character Into 3 Different Sections
If you’re stuck on where to start for your character drawing, some artists like to divide up their character into three different sections: The head, the torso, and the bottom.
Once you’ve done this, decide the height of each section. Then, decide the width.
You can draw them just as boxes like this:
6. Mix And Match Your Shapes
When you’re first learning how to draw characters, it’s great practice to try and design them with as much of a unique look as possible. This will help them stand out in the sea of content. So, when you dive into your character drawing, make sure to use your creativity!
People are always looking for new ideas. The creator economy is so large, and the amount of talent out there is overwhelming. Using your perspective and your creativity, and applying that to your character drawings, will make your designs feel fresh and unique. And that’s what will catch the eyes of your audience and keep them interested.
Most characters can be drawn by just stacking simple shapes and then adjusting them from there. So, a technique that many artists use to make their characters unique is mixing shapes – like circles and triangles – to combine a look of harsh angles and soft angles. This can be a great way to create a cool contrast within your character drawings.
5. Try The Silhouette Test
Part of great character design is having your characters be memorable.
And making your characters memorable means being able to recognize them even without their inner details. In other words, you should be able to tell who your character is by its outline alone.
To make sure you’re on the right track, it can be great practice to turn your drawing into a silhouette or outline (to see if you can still distinguish their unique features). This can show you whether or not they’re recognizable enough against the other characters in your story, or against other characters that are already out there in the world.
Turn them into silhouettes and try using the “squint test” to see if you can identify their outlines. If it starts to get messy or questionable, you may need to work on it more. Create exaggerated hairstyles, clothes, heights and widths of your different characters that will show up clearly in their outlines.
Similarly to brands that we can recognize in any color or setting, this helps your character be recognizable the moment your audience sees them.
You can see in the picture below that the most popular characters start with great designs that can still be identified even if you can’t see their face.
4. Show All Their Sides
Drawing every side to your character is important to really get a rounded feel and look for your character.
Most character designers and artists will display the character in multiple drawings, with different expressions, movements, clothes, and more. They will also create what’s called a character turnaround, which is a 360 view of each character.
It usually consists of 5 different views. The front, back, left profile, right profile and a 3/4 pose. This process is made easier by starting with the front side and also creating guidelines to keep the right proportions for all of the angles of your character drawing.
It gives you a chance to decide whether or not you are happy with the way your character looks in action before they’re brought to life in your story.
3. Step Away
Just like with any kind of content creation, sometimes we just need to take a break.
In today’s world, we are so focused on productivity that we forget to take breaks and take care of ourselves too.
It’s been proven that taking downtime is essential in order to develop our understanding of others, grow as people and even properly build our own code of ethics. It allows us to think, reflect, process information we’ve learned and apply it to our lives.
The best ideas are drawn from experiences, so taking time to let our brains rest and reflect can actually make our work better. It helps give it meaning. It’s in that time off that we get those “ah ha!” moments that we’re always looking for when we’re sitting at our desks trying to create.
If you find yourself stuck or struggling during your character drawing process, you might find it really helpful to just take a break from it for a while. Sometimes you need to let yourself gain a bit of perspective.
Then, once you come back, you’ll be able to look it over with fresh eyes. You might find you have a completely different outlook on your character afterwards, and you might realize that a simple break is enough to give yourself the space you need to see an answer that has actually been there all along.
2. Start Over
Sometimes, if the design isn’t there – it just isn’t there.
You’re going to have to face a lot of challenges as a content creator, and it takes a while to get through the not-so-great ideas to get to the great ones. Starting from scratch when you’ve worked so hard might feel impossible, but remember: being a creator is a process. A lifestyle. And that means you’re constantly going to be reinventing and improving.
All storytellers have to find a way to be okay with scrapping ideas. Part of learning how to draw characters is learning to let go of a design if the concept isn’t strong enough, and moving on to something new. No matter how strongly we might feel about it.
You’re not a “terrible” artist just because something you made doesn’t work. It means you’re human, and it means you’re learning. And it means you’re on the right track. Just take some time to reflect on what went well, what didn’t go well and then move on.
In the end, part of being a great content creator is knowing when to hold on, and when to let go.
1. Learn to Draw From Your Imagination
Learning how to draw characters, like anything else, is a skill we can all build. An ability we can practice and turn into a strength.
It all starts with understanding and practicing techniques.
Understanding shading, shapes, textures and color are all going to help you pull ideas from your mind, and put them on the page. You have to get used to drawing things from what you see around you, in order to be able to draw from your imagination.
One of many great exercises you can try is focusing on drawing just one subject for a whole month. Practice and practice again until you’ve understood its shapes, shading, color and form. Then, next month, move on to a different one. You could start with something like dogs, then move onto people and so on.
Once you’ve mastered drawing these subjects from reference, try drawing them from a different angle without a reference image. Getting used to drawing something that is already somewhat familiar without guidance will help you draw subjects directly from your imagination much easier.
Drawing from the imagination is exactly what Anthony Fransisco, a Senior Visual Development Artist at Marvel Studios, believes is crucial to successful character drawing and design. He believes everybody has the ability to draw, and he follows a three step method for teaching artists how to draw from the imagination. By focusing on these steps, you are bound to learn how to take your drawing abilities to the next level.
These 10 tips for character drawing are only simple starting points to consider on your illustration journey. If you want to learn drawing tips and learn how to bring a character idea to life with Anthony’s three step process, be sure to check out the Anthony Francisco Academy course.
10 Things You Need to Know to Be a Better Manga Artist
Big eyes, exaggerated expressions and cute chibi characters are only some of the appeal of drawing anime. But before you launch into a drawing tutorial, it helps to have a few words of wisdom from a manga pro. To be a better manga artist, here are some essential, actionable tips — and some pointers on avoiding beginner mistakes.
1. Study Real Anatomy
Just like with any figure drawing, knowing a body’s anatomy is vital. You need to know how a real body is put together and how it functions — even though the shapes and proportions of manga characters are often exaggerated.
2. Find Reference Images
It’s tempting to skip this time-consuming step, but if there’s something you don’t know how to draw, go online and find a reference image. Look up poses, props, environments — your art will look so much better for it. Don’t try to draw something purely from memory, because you’ll miss important details.
3. Use Guidelines
Though some artists balk at them, guidelines are super useful. They help you quickly draw a pose, compare body shapes and sizes and avoid anatomy errors. Every professional — every professional — starts with basic shapes before drawing a character.
4. Don’t Copy
Studying your favorite artist shouldn’t turn into copying that artist — if you start copying as a beginner, you can easily end up mimicking the artist’s flaws. Instead, examine their art closely to figure out what parts you like, and why.
5. Be Open to Criticism
This is tough advice to follow because criticism can feel like a scolding. You don’t have to accept every critique as legit, but you do need to keep an open mind. The other person may have a valid point.
6. Be Skeptical of Praise from Family and Friends
People who love you will always say your artwork is perfect, but here’s the thing: they’re not being totally truthful. Sometimes, artists end up buying into all that praise and stop trying to improve. Always seek out people who’ll give you honest feedback and constructive criticism. It’s the only way you’ll grow as an artist!
7. Avoid Shortcuts
If you hate drawing hands, keep practicing! It’s too easy to hide ’em or just draw your characters from the waist up. It’s better to draw terrible hands and keep improving than to give up. With practice, you’ll get better.
8. Draw Different Kinds of Characters
We all have a certain “type” of character we like to draw and it can be easy to fall back on those drawings, whether it be a chibi, a pretty girl or a pretty boy. As you practice your anime drawings, it’s important to branch out and draw all kinds of people and characters. It’ll vastly improve your drawings overall.
9. Don’t Get Discouraged
It’s easy to start feeling down when you see other artists who are oh-so-talented. Before you start comparing yourself to others, remember: everyone has to start somewhere. Don’t let your peers make you feel bad about your skills; let them inspire you to improve.
10. Have Fun!
Improving art skills can be frustrating, but try not to let it get to you. Drawing should be fun. Just relax, do your best, and keep up with your practice.
Learn from Anatomy to Improve Your Poses
The key to improving is to do our best and put our heart into what we do. Anatomy is not an easy subject, but I hope that this article can be a quick guide for you and get you in the mood to keep learning. Let’s start with the building blocks of the human figure:
The spine is the body’s support, also allowing motion in the torso. Its vertical shape differentiates humans from other species. It is not a straight line, but a curve. Its shape makes the pelvis and the rib cage tilt slightly. Let’s divide it up into three parts to see it better:
- Cervical spine — supports and provides mobility to the head
- Dorsal or thoracic spine — supports the ribs.
- Lumbar spine — a little before the pelvis, connected to the sacrum.
In the neck, the cervical spine (1) is located just behind the jaw (2). There are a variety of muscles that operate the movement of the head. The most visible one has a very, very long name (sternocleidomastoid!), but you can easily recognize it by its V shape, parting from the ear to the center of the clavicles (3). In the center of these muscles is the Adam’s apple, which is more prominent in men (4).
The dorsal spine is the part that connects to the arms. You can draw it in many ways, I like to give it an ovoid shape that resembles the shape of the ribs (1).
The sternum (2) closes this structure in the front, creating, with the spine, an imaginary line that divides the body into two. Use them as a guide!
The clavicles (3) are like a bicycle handlebar, you can think of them as a shoulder support. Every time the arms move, they will change direction.
In the back, you will find the scapulae or shoulder blades. They are triangle shaped and help move the arms. The shape of the back changes following the movements of these bones.
The pelvis is located at the end of the torso, connected to the lumbar spine from the sacrum (1). On both sides you can see the ilium (2); and in the front, the pubis (3).
As these are somewhat irregular bones, I like to simplify them by drawing a pair of discs for the ilium, and the sacrum as an inverted triangle.
The ilium (1) will guide you to draw the angles of the hip. On the back, these two dimples at the end of the spine, before reaching the buttocks, will help us identify the sacrum (2).
Note that female hips are generally wider than male hips — one of the main differences.
Limbs can move in many ways, but knowing their limitations will save us from drawing unrealistic poses (or bone-breaking poses, ouch!).
In the upper part of the arm (A) there is the humerus, a long and strong bone that connects to the elbow and articulates the forearm (B).
In the forearm you will find the radius (1) and the ulna (2). These bones cross to allow the rotation of the wrist. Some artists draw part of the forearm as a box to define its volume (3).
Can you see a tiny lump just behind your wrist? (4) It is part of the ulna. You can use it as a reference point to locate the orientation of the arm.
In Fig. A we have the leg bones:
The femur (1) in the thigh; the knee (2) in the middle of the leg; the fibula (3) and the tibia (4) in the calf area.
The legs should support the body and give it the balance it needs, but there is a detail that sometimes escapes us: the legs do not have completely vertical line. In order to achieve balance, there must be rhythm. Notice the slight inclination in the femur from the hip to the knee, and the curves (fig. B) that create the contour of the leg (side view).
Other interesting details about the leg:
Between the hip bone and the femur, there is a space that can be seen as an indentation in the skin, mainly in men who have less muscle mass in that area.
In figure C, we have the ankle. Its bones are placed at different heights, with the fibula on the outer side (*) being lower.
Figure D is a back view of the knee. On the outer side (*) the muscles do not generate too much change in the contour, but on the inner side a small lump is created (I have also pointed this out in figure A).
According to some academic standards, 7 or 8 heads is the ideal height of an adult. However, each person has different proportions according to their physical characteristics. If you compare people of different heights you will notice that individually they maintain proportions according to their own body.
To prove this, let us look at the following example: two adults, a man and a woman. Although the female figure is shorter, her body is divided into 7 heads (which fits within the standard) and the male figure is only a third of a head taller
In the example I have also included the figure of a child. Take into account that, at early ages, the body has not developed completely, so their measures are a little undefined. This one is about 5 heads high.
Aside from this, artists do change their characters’ proportions totally out of these “ideal” ones, to emphasize their unique characteristics or to enhance their drawing styles. (But this is not an excuse to ignore the fundamentals!)
A trick! I like comparing elements of the same length, just to make sure that everything is well proportioned as I draw. For example, the hands are about the size of the face; the feet are as long as the forearm.
Another piece of data that I find fascinating is the fact that, if you extend your arms, they are side to side the same length as your height!
Finally, four points which will help us to get better at drawing day by day.
- Observation: Study how people walk, their poses, the different types of bodies… Create a reference gallery in your mind and, if possible, take pictures!
- Think in 3D: To understand a figure/shape, the best thing is to analyze it from different perspectives.
- Research: Read about body parts, bones, muscles, functions, etc. From an artist’s point of view is fine, you do not need to become a doctor! We are interested in those anatomy parts which affect the shapes and movements of the body.
- Draw, draw, draw! Practice drawing the whole figure and detailed studies of some especially difficult parts.
Thank you very much for reading!
If you like, you can check out my social networks and my portfolio to see some of my work.
Bring Energy and Life to Your Poses!
References beginner drawing
Best Figure Drawing Books for Beginners
ResourcesBooksDisclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. That means if you buy something we get a small commission at no extra cost to you(learn more)
Every great artist will tell you about the importance of figure drawing. Whether your goal is a realistic figure or a quick gesture the process is the same.
Drawing the nude figure forces you to consider all the fundamentals. Shape, proportion, light, perspective, anatomy, and all of it comes together in your figure drawing(or painting). But this can also be incredibly intimidating if you’re insecure about your skillset.
Thankfully there are plenty of books to help you get started. I’ve cataloged the best figure drawing books you can get to improve your technique and your knowledge of the figure drawing process.
Figure Drawing: Design and Invention
Michael Hampton’s book is widely regarded as one of the most useful tools for figure drawing. This book is made for both beginners and experts who want to improve their technique in the figure room.
Figure Drawing: Design and Invention comes with 240 pages of tips to help you analyze and construct the figure from eye. The skills taught in this book are very practical and meant to be applied to the live figure whenever possible(as opposed to photos).
You’ll find yourself referencing this book many times over for the sheer amount of information and practical techniques.
I think it’s well worth the price and would make an excellent addition to your art bookshelf.
Figure Drawing for Artists: Making Every Mark Count
This is a much newer book written by fine artist Steve Huston. The goal of this book is to help artists master their figure drawing from the very first mark all the way through to the final stroke on paper.
All the methods taught in Figure Drawing for Artists are used in the top art schools and in the figure room for major entertainment companies like Dreamworks, Pixar, and Lucasfilm.
The examples in this book are glorious and they range from rough sketches to final completed drawings. Steve is the perfect teacher and his writing style is easy to pick up, even for a complete beginner with zero figure experience.
Figure Drawing Studio
This incredible book covers many of the same topics as previous figure books. But this one also comes with a CD full of 1,500 full-color poses for reference.
If you’re a complete beginner then Figure Drawing Studio by Butch Krieger would make an excellent starting point. The writing style is very simplistic and while the topics do get a bit technical they’re still incredibly poignant.
Plus the CD full of poses should be more than enough material to keep you practicing your figure work on a daily basis.
However anyone with a bit of experience in figure drawing will not get much from this book. The CD can be valuable to anyone, but you could also get high-quality photos for a bit cheaper from Proko’s website.
Sketching People: Life Drawing Basics
What I like most about this book is how it goes into detail about facial expressions and clothed figures. Most artists think of figure drawing as nude poses in an art studio. But how do you draw people at the park or walking down the street?
This is why Sketching People: Life Drawing Basics can be such a valuable life drawing book. It helps you draw poses as they move so you can memorize the poses and get them down quickly without the model being stiff as a rock.
My biggest complaint is that the book is a tad short with only 128 pages. But you learn so much including gesture, body language, weight, and even rendering drapery/clothing which is a rare topic in figure books.
Human Figure Drawing: Drawing Gestures, Postures and Movements
A big part of learning and growing as an artist is screwing up. Making mistakes is part of the process and you have to learn how to embrace that rather than fear it.
Human Figure Drawing: Drawing Gestures, Postures and Movements takes you through a series of exercises to improve your form and your mindset when starting a figure drawing. But the exercises are not aimed at the complete beginner, so if you have no experience this book may not suit your needs.
I think this would be the perfect book for someone who already has some experience but wants to get better at realizing their own mistakes.
Part of being an artist is critiquing your own work and fixing your own mistakes. And the exercises in this book will help you get past the fear of making mistakes to turn them into valuable learning lessons.
The Anatomy of Style: Figure Drawing Techniques
This is one of the newer books in my list and it’s also one of my favorites. The Anatomy of Style covers foundational techniques for capturing realistic yet stylistic figure drawings.
This may seem like a contradiction since realism seems like it would inherently have no style. But the best artists know that true realism isn’t just hyperrealism. Realist art takes life and emphasizes certain areas while still staying true to the form.
The Anatomy of Style gets a huge recommendation from me just because of the illustrations and teaching style. It forces you to think about different parts of the figure and how to accentuate your drawings to give them a sense of style.
You will get a few exercises but most of the book covers tips, suggestions, and techniques shared by Patrick J. Jones. This book is perfect for aspiring illustrators, animators, and concept artists who use figure drawing as an exercise rather than a final product.
Figure It Out! The Beginner’s Guide to Drawing People
I’ve read plenty of criticism surrounding Christopher Hart’s work and I personally find many of his books to be hit or miss. I think this is also true of Figure It Out! for the reason that not everyone will find value in the writing.
It’s only 140 pages and it’s targeted primarily at illustrators. This book will not help you improve your fine art skills or help you draw with pristine accuracy.
Instead it’ll help you identify the figure and learn how to break down shapes and gestures into simpler lines. Most of this book is about idealized versions of human figures like male/female body types and head shapes.
If you’re looking to develop your own style as an illustrator this book can be very helpful. But for any other purpose it’ll be a complete waste of money.
Principles of Figure Drawing
This is one meaty book with just over 270 pages in total. The author Alexander Dobkin has written many books and has a fantastic style of writing that draws you into the work.
Principles of Figure Drawing covers a step-by-step approach to the figure. You’ll learn how to identify landmarks and how to measure the figure for accurate lines. Then you’ll get deeper into the boney landmarks and muscle masses to help you render with accuracy.
There’s no doubt this is one of the most detailed figure drawing books on the market.
It’ll help you learn all the fundamentals of a great figure drawing and build your confidence when starting a new piece.
You also get a handful of diagrams and photos to help you analyze the figure from the inside-out.
Classic Human Anatomy in Motion
Animators should consider this book a must-purchase item. The author Valerie Winslow is incredibly talented and her method of teaching really clicks(at least for me).
Classic Human Anatomy in Motion looks at figure drawing through the lens of motion. Humans are mobile creatures and our movements are limited based on joint structures and musculature.
Valerie teaches artists how to see the figure for the movable body that it really is. You aren’t just looking at static forms; you’re analyzing forms that can move in 3D space, and they’re all connected. This book is full of charts and diagrams to help you see these movements and keep them in mind while you’re drawing.
You also get a handful of tips for both short poses and long poses in the figure room. Since animators are mostly concerned with movement this book is absolutely vital to their practice. But I think this book can be just as useful to illustrators and concept artists who want to create realistic characters from imagination.
Drawing Atelier – The Figure: How to Draw in a Classical Style
Classical atelier schools are traditionally from Europe but have found an audience in North America. These schools teach from the old masters and force artists to consider best practices & techniques for creating realist art.
Drawing Atelier – The Figure written by Jon deMartin is a tome of figure drawing techniques and exercises. Jon has over 20 years experience working as a fine artist and he knows how to teach in the atelier style.
If you can’t afford a local atelier or just don’t have one nearby then this book can be a decent replacement. Jon teaches you how to properly measure, how to study a figure, and what to look for when making your first marks on the page.
His exercises include short poses and long poses and this book should help you develop the necessary skills to improve your figure work.
Figure Drawing Master Class: Lessons in Life Drawing
Even though this book is a bit lighter than others it contains absolutely everything needed for a beginner to excel at figure drawing.
The author Dan Gheno is a professor of fine art and knows how to teach. Figure Drawing Master Class: Lessons in Life Drawing starts from the very beginning with exercises on drawing gesture and learning to see rather than just copy.
Later you get into more technical aspects like measuring solid landmarks and using the head as a comparison tool for the rest of your figure. The goal here is accuracy and Dan knows how to get you there even with zero prior experience.
The book contains a handful of diagrams and many figure drawings from the old masters like Michelangelo and Da Vinci. In my opinion this is a #1 must-have figure book for anyone just getting started.
Freehand Figure Drawing for Illustrators
Figure drawing is a big piece of fine art but it’s also crucial to every artistic career path. I’m guessing almost everyone reading this post wants to do something in the entertainment field from concept art to animation or comics.
Realistic drawing is valuable to all these careers, but so is drawing from imagination.
The goal of Freehand Figure Drawing for Illustrators is to help you draw figures and characters from imagination without any references.
Keep in mind this book will not make you skilled at figure drawing. You’ll always need to get in front of a model to really learn the life drawing skills that accompany drawing from imagination.
But the techniques in this book help you memorize forms, gestures, and theoretical mannequins that you can apply to any figure you want to recreate.
Force: Dynamic Life Drawing for Animators
I’d consider this book more like an “extra” and it’s primarily geared towards aspiring animators. Force: Dynamic Life Drawing for Animators looks at life drawing from the standpoint of an animator who needs to put down poses quickly while considering the movement of the body.
The author Mike Mattesi has a way with teaching that just makes sense. His writing style is perfect for a beginner who wants to understand why figure drawing is so important for animation.
You’ll learn techniques for analyzing poses to study where the weight goes, how the joints hold, and how the muscles contract to form the pose. This draws on anatomy but also considers form and rhythm to help you recreate these poses from scratch.
I do think illustrators and concept artists could get some value from this book. However it’s not a must-have book for anyone other than animators. And from all the animation-based figure drawing books to choose from I can say confidently that Force is my #1 pick.
There is no single book here that can take you from novice to expert without effort. Books can offer tips and exercises, but you need to put in the work if you want to see improvement.
There is a lot of value in figure drawing and most top entertainment studios actually pay for their artists to get studio time. You’ll absolutely need to practice figure drawing if you want to break into the industry whether it’s concept art, animation, or a related job like background painting or visual development.
Complete beginners and more experienced experts can all find some great books in this list. Browse through the titles again and if anything catches your attention be sure to check it out.
How to use reference images: 13 essential tips for artists
Reference images, if used well, can be dynamic resources. But knowing how to use them properly is vital if you want to end up with a believable piece. Simply relying on your visual recall is not the best way to end up with an exact representation because there are too many elements to drudge up from the depths of your memory. This is where reference images come in handy.
In this article, we list tips from professionals that'll help you use your references images in the most successful way possible. On page one, you'll find general tips on how to approach using reference images, and jump to page two if you want more specific advice on the principles to follow when using reference to create art.
Want to start with some brilliant drawing tutorials? See our guide to how to draw, which rounds up out pick of the best classes. For a more technical guide to image types, head to our guide to image file formats.
Should we use reference images?
Recently, the hashtag #ArtistConfessions took off on Twitter, and one of the most popular confessions artists shared was 'using references'. This is bizarre because, as British illustrator and caricaturist Neil Davies pointed out, that’s exactly what artists should be doing.
"That’s not something that needs to be confessed, we all use reference!" he tweeted. "Look at probably the most famous American illustrator, Norman Rockwell: I have a book just of his reference photos! Or Drew Struzan: he didn’t make up poses, he took photos of himself!"
So where has this idea – that using references is bad – come from?
"There’s a kind of purist mindset on certain parts of the internet that says using reference for anything more than studying is disrespectful," says North Carolina artist Ivy Dolamore "I think it stems from a frustration with people who trace and recreate what they see without really understanding it. Being a 'copier' isn’t flexing your creativity."
01. Identify the grey area
Using references isn't the same as simply copying, of course, but there can sometimes be a grey area between the two. "The biggest problem is when artists adhere too closely to the reference image," says California-based illustrator Kelley McMorris. "Sometimes a pose or perspective can look natural in a photo, but awkward and stiff in a drawing. It's important to modify the reference to serve your drawing, not the other way around. Or as my professors sometimes said, 'Don't be a slave to your reference!'"
Suzanne Helmigh concept artist and illustrator working in the game and film industry in The Netherlands, agrees. "The key is to understand what you're looking at and not simply draw what you think you see," she says.
"I used to teach people how to paint portraits and I made them study the skull and facial muscles before portraying actual faces. This helped them tons in understanding the proper volumes and proportions."
02. Combine your references
Davies feels it's important to use more than just one reference. "I'll always try to find a good selection of images to look at, even when I'm drawing from one main one," he says. "I'll often use one reference photo for drawing a face, for example, then another for a lighting reference, and maybe another for a colour scheme idea. Combining lots of different references is a great way to be creative."
Speak to most pro artists and you'll hear a similar story. Admittedly, one notable exception is Korean comic artist Kim Jung Gi, who famously doesn't use references. Even he, though, doesn't purely rely on his imagination. As he explains in an interview on his website: "I observe things all the time. I don't take references while I'm drawing, but I'm always collecting visual resources. I observe them carefully on a daily basis, almost habitually. I study images of all sorts and genres."
03. Watch out for copyright
So where can you find references? Google Images and Pinterest are the obvious go-tos, but don't forget about copyright. "Sometimes I worry that I've stuck too closely to a photo that I found online," says McMorris. "So if I do use photos from online sources, I try to find copyright-free stock photos, and I always try to change the reference substantially. For example, I might change the model's costume, or only use their hand for reference rather than the entire pose."
04. Create your own references
Alternatively, McMorris will simply cut out the middleman and shoot her own references. "I usually just dig through my closet for something I can use as a costume, grab whatever's lying around the house as a prop, and take a few shots with my phone," she explains. "It only takes a few minutes, but can save me an hour of struggling to draw from imagination. By taking your own photos, you'll not only avoid any copyright infringement, but you'll also learn about what kinds of poses, angles and lighting work best for reference."
That said, photography is just one way to create your own references. Dolamore, for example, creates her own 3D model references using DesignDoll, helping her to map out poses, perspective and shadows. "This gives me a result I like, although you can't just copy what DesignDoll gives you, either," she says. This does, of course, take a little time. And Samuel Read, a concept artist at Mighty Kingdom based in Adelaide, admits that, until recently, time pressures dissuaded him from using references as often as he should, even while he was recommending the practice to others.
As Read explains, "Although I used reference for things like inspiration and developing ideas, I was lacking in using photos and life drawing for task such as posing my characters, making expression studies, and designing different kinds of hands, feet, eyes, noses, mouths and so on."
05. Analyse your process
The #ArtistConfessions hashtag made Read rethink his process and focus more on these areas – and this approach has made an impact in his work. "The use of more varied reference photos, as well as drawing from life, have started to teach me more about the different ways in which people are constructed, and methods of communicating ideas, such as making someone's hands read as old, weathered and tired, or hard and strong," Read says.
Using references can be full of pitfalls, but done in the right manner it'll make you a better artist. "Listening to professionals proudly saying they use reference has helped me immensely," says Dolamore. "Learning that work I admire isn't created out of thin air gives me the confidence to think, 'Oh, I can do that, too'. I've stopped thinking as much about the purism and more about how I can achieve that initial vision. Why not use the tools available?"
The content was originally published in issue 177 of ImagineFX, the world's best-selling magazine for digital artists. Buy issue 177 or subscribe to ImagineFX.
Next page: step-by-step tips for using reference images
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Week 4: Construction, pose, proportions, muscle structure, hands, feet, hair and clothes
I hate drawing people. Stick figures are always just so easier, right? Well, that’s just because I didn’t know how to draw people.
Honestly, with a few key pointers on figure drawing… you could go from stick figures to a regular Michaelangelo. Alright, maybe not… BUT a week of a brief introduction to figure drawing could definitely upgrade your stick figure drawing skills. Check out what’s in store below!
If you are just joining us, this is part 4 of our 4-week series on the beginner’s guide for how to draw. Check the other guides out here!
Figure drawing has not changed over the past centuries. We humans still look the same so the techniques and tips are the same. I found the best resources to actually be some older publications. No need to reinvent the wheel, right?
Andrew Loomis’ “Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth” is a really meaty, technical guide for figure drawing. Like, seriously meaty. I would say it would be a great resource if you really want an in-depth study into the human figures. It’s available as a free download here.
My absolute favorite guide to figure drawing is this 100-something page book– “Drawing the Head & Figure” by Jack Hamm. Seriously, don’t judge this book by its cover! Hamm’s book was published in the 80s which is very evident as soon as you see the dated hairstyles. Just don’t mind the hair tips in this one.
Besides that though, this book is refreshingly straightforward and a highly recommended book for beginners as it is mainly consists of illustrations. Hamm covers figure and head construction, basic lines of the figure, head patterns, angles and comparison, movements, proportions and simplified figures. He also covers facial features, torso, neck and shoulders, arms, hands, legs and feet.
DAY 1: drawing CONSTRUCTION & POSE
This specific lesson will help you build a strong foundation for pose and construction for your figures… and it actually starts with improving your stick figures! It also involves some super basic anatomy. No need for us to recall anything scientific from your high school anatomy class, I promise.
STEP ONE: So we start with the stick figure. Which pretty much just has 4 main parts to it, right? The head, the body, the arms and the legs.
STEP TWO: With the stick figure, we can actually make a few modifications to help us put our figures into different poses. We can break up the arms and legs by adding elbows and knees.
STEP THREE: We can even take it a few steps further and add 2 things that are also important to the way we move…the shoulders and pelvis.
DrawStuffRealEasy’s video demonstrates this concept well. On Air Video also has a great demonstration on construction and pose using a photo of a model.
Now that we got that done, we can practice posing our figures. Try drawing your stick figure in a variety of poses –running, walking, jumping jack, throwing a football, sitting down, etc. If you are having trouble with these and they just don’t look right to you, look up photos of people doing this action and use those to help guide you as you construct your stick figure.
DAY 2: drawing PROPORTIONS
Now that your stick figure can do all sorts of things, we should probably make sure it’s proportional. There’s an easy way to do that. However, do remember that these just act as a good starting point. Not all people will follow these proportions as everyone is constructed differently.
The secret to a well-proportioned human body is to remember magic numbers as well as the alignment of our joints. A person’s height is typically 7-8x the height of their head. Many guides on figure proportions use the same method or varying methods. From what I’ve seen, the magic number for males is generally 8 while females are generally 7.
Envato – In my opinion, this is one of the best guides out there. Very thorough but easy to read with clear pictures to help you understand the method.
Mr. Otter Art Studio – This video has a great demonstration that utilizes the same method. However, the magic number used in this video is 7 (body height is 7 head heights). Often times, females follow the 7 head rule where males follow the 8 head rule.
Remember those stick figure poses you made earlier? Let’s try applying this new model to them. Remember your proportions and how each body part relates to each other. Follow the guides I referenced above to create a well-proportioned person.
DAY 3: drawing STRUCTURE
Understanding muscle structure is imperative to more realistic drawings of figures, but it actually also helps if you are just drawing cartoon figures. Even in simplified cartoon figures, a strong knowledge foundation of muscle structures will help you convey certain poses and action of these characters. Just think of the saying, “you must master the rules before you can break them.” Or something like that.
There really isn’t a quick and dirty guide I can give you on drawing muscles because there are literally SO many of them, but here are a few great resources you can spend day 3 on.
Envato: This online guide briefly goes over the muscles and body fat. It was definitely a trip down memory lane for me with flashbacks to Anatomy 101. It is a wonderful guide.
Stick to Figure: This 2nd video of a 3 part series teaches you how to move from stick figure to human figure by using simple three-dimensional shapes. The third part of this series helps you understand the body’s contouring.
Select a few poses of people in action –rock climbing, dancing, shooting a basketball. Focus on the muscles that are used during these actions and focus on the lines that the muscle creates on the body. Practice drawing a few people using three-dimensional shapes to first help guide you to form the body.
DAY 4: drawing HANDS & FEET
When I was younger, I drew people who always had their hands tucked into their front pockets. Actually, I probably still do that now. I hate drawings hands.
Hiding the hands is a huge disservice to your drawing. These can be just as expressive as a person’s face. Drawing good hands takes practice and again, a good grip on human anatomy.
Just like your stick figure (from Day 1), hands are more than just five straight lines for fingers. Your hands are composed of 27 bones, 14 of those are in your fingers. The small bones and joints of your hand are important to focus on if you want a good depiction of the hands for your drawing.
Many resources out there just give you a step-by-step on how to draw hands in a specific pose. I think the best guides are those who teach you the basic principles of drawing hands so that you can draw them in any pose.
Envato : I love this guide. It starts at the basic anatomy of construction of the hand and how you can utilize your knowledge of it to draw great hands. Highly recommended!
Art of Wei: This is another great video from this Youtuber. He also focuses on hand construction.
Draw with Jazza: This video is a quick and simple guide to drawing hands. He also has a longer, more detailed video if you want a slower and more comprehensive video.
Pick 5 different hand positions and draw them. You can use your non-drawing hand as a guide or you can search images that depict the hand position you want to draw. Pick a variety of hand positions, not just similar ones. Try a flat hand to start and work your way up to a more difficult positions.
To me, the feet are even worse than hands…but thankfully, I could always hide them in a nice shoe. Even if you only draw shoes on your figures, it’s actually really important to get a good grasp on drawing feet too. It will allow you to draw the feet/shoes in a realistic position in relation to the legs and the body.
Envato: If Envato had a great guide for drawing hands, then it makes sense that they also have a great one for feet. Again, they start with the basic construction of the foot and go from there.
Draw with Jazza: Just like his video for drawing hands, Jazza also provides a quick and simple guide to drawing feet.
Draw the foot in different positions – a front facing view, side view, back view, top view and bottom view.
DAY 5: drawing the FACE
Ahh yes, the face. Not only are proportions important to making sure the face looks right, but learning the details of each component of the face can be quite a challenge. Eyebrows, eyes, noses, mouths, and we’ll even throw ears in there. With some quick tips, you can easily level up the drawing of your faces but of course, I have also provided some resources I have found to be extremely handy.
Envato: Envato’s human anatomy drawing series is amazing. The part on drawing the face is one of the best ones in my opinion. It starts with proportions and follows with great tips for the eyes, eyebrows, nose, mouth, and ears as well. I recommend this as the only online guide you need to reference to but I’ve provided some videos for those who prefer those. Envato also has an advanced guide for facial features that I also highly recommend.
87tors: This quick video teaches you how to draw a face utilizing basic proportions. Remember though, proportions may be a good starting but real people will not always follow these rules.
Jescia Hopper: A 10-minute video that looks at the shapes and anatomy needed for drawing realistic eyes.
Draw with Jazza: A great video if you aren’t looking to draw ultrarealistic eyes. It is geared towards drawing eyes for comic and cartoon characters, but still has very informative tips for eyes in general.
Draw with Jazza: I really like this video from Jazza because he goes over different drawing styles for noses exploring both a cartoon approach as well as a realistic one.
Lips & Mouth
Draw with Jazza: Again, Jazza has some great thorough how-to videos for facial features. This one is just as good as the others.
Proko: Proko’s video goes over more of the anatomy and structure of the ear so that have a better understanding of its construction before drawing.
Draw with Jazza: This is a shorter one from Jazza that teaches you how to quickly draw an ear.
Practice drawing faces in the correct proportions. Once you are comfortable with this, you can go outside the box a bit and alter some of the proportions to create more unique faces.
DAY 6: Drawing HAIR
Honestly, hair is just important as any part of the body. It can sometimes tell you a lot about a person. The four main things to focus on while drawing hair include volume, flow, values (shades), and texture. The depth of the detail you give to these elements will depend on whether you are trying to achieve a more realistic drawing or a cartoon portrayal of a character.
Easy Things to Draw: This video has a few helpful tips on how to draw hair that can really improve your skills.
Draw with Jazza: I just love these videos from Jazza. His video on how to draw hair does not fall short.
Draw 10 ovals to represent a person’s head. On 5 of these, draw 5 hairstyles for men using the tips learned from the resources. On the remaining 5, create 5 different female hairstyles. Try drawing your own hairstyle for one of them as well!
DAY 7: Drawing CLOTHES
Drawing clothes can probably be whole monthly immersion in itself (ahem, fashion illustrations). It requires understanding the folds in clothes as well as how to draw the textures of varying fabrics. Clothes are whole ‘nother ball game because you really need to understand the fabric’s weight and material to be able to draw them appropriately.
We covered textures in week 2 but we really focused on surfaces and anything non-fabric-related. When creating the texture of clothes, you’ll need to have a good understanding of the material and how the light hits the fabric. Silk is made of a thin thread creating a smooth, light fabric that is very reflective under lighting. Wool, on the other hand, is made from a heavier material and can appear rough when examined closely.
Paper Wing Comics: This video gives a few great tips to use when drawing different types of fabrics.
There are different types of folds that can exist in fabrics. As long as you know how the fabric folds, you can use the right method to recreate it in your drawing. Clothes will generally require more than 1 of these types of folds to look realistic. Thinner fabrics will fold easier, creating numerous more folds than thick fabric. Soft fabrics will fold rounder so you should draw softer curves instead of harsh lines for your folds.
Digital Tutors: An awesome online guide for the 6 different types of folds you should know when drawing clothing.
Draw with Jazza: Jazza demonstrates how to draw clothing by concentrating on how the fabric folds and how the clothes hang on a person’s body. Great video covering both thin and thick material as a loose and tight fit.
On your drawing for day 2 of this week (proportions), draw some clothes on your figure. You can select the clothes you are wearing so that you have a reference to go off of right where you are sitting!
Well, my curiously creative friends, that wraps it up for the first month of this hobby. However, drawing opens up many doors to different hobbies within this skill set. Because of this, we’ll be dedicating one more additional month to drawing. Next we’ll be the exploring different types of drawing rather than just learning the basics.
Well, that brings us to the end of this 4-week journey of learning how to draw! I hope you’ve learned some great basics that will help you build a strong foundation if you decide to pursue drawing further.
If not and you didn’t think drawing was your thing, no worries! We explore a different arts & craft hobby each month here so you can find a hobby you like. If you liked this guide and want more, join our mailing list (below or sidebar).
The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Drawing
The Quick Beginner’s Guide to Drawing Supplies
Week 1: The Beginner’s Guide to Drawing Basics: Part 1
Week 2: The Beginner’s Guide to Drawing Basics: Part 2
Week 3: The Beginner’s Guide to Perspective Drawing