Top 10 Life Drawing Tips

These top 10 life drawing tips are designed to help you draw what you see (the figure) quickly and accurately. The goal is a finished, interesting drawing of the human figure.

  1. Look at the Figure

  2. Plan your Composition

  3. Quickly sketch in the entire figure

  4. Draw fast

  5. Practice good line economy

  6. Don’t erase

  7. Add shadows and highlights

  8. Draw the whole pose

  9. Ground your figure

  10. Date your Drawing

  11. Mystery tip

Tomb of Lorenzo by Michelangelo

Tomb of Lorenzo by Michelangelo

  1. Look at the Figure

Take just a few seconds to mentally take notice of a few things.

  • Is the figure taller, or wider? The figure on the right looks wider at first glance, but is actually taller. The reclining pose of the figure, horizontal lines, the cropping of the photo, and even the format of your monitor all lend to this illusion.

  • How is the figure supporting its own weight? This is important to consider to prevent your figures from leaning over.

  • Hold your pencil up to the figure and visualize three lines, one each through the shoulders, hips and knees (see image above). Keeping in mind the relationship between these lines while you draw will help with your proportions and placement. Even taking 2-3 seconds with this step will help the layout of your drawing and save you precious time later.

2. Plan Your Composition

From step one you should have a general shape of the figure and be able to visualize a composition. Using your hand, and without marking the paper, motion the general shapes, then very quickly sketch the general composition. Sometimes it is easier to draw a box (like the one above) around the figure to help visualize. You may want to divide the box up further to help you place landmarks. Think of those drawings you may have done earlier in your career where you draw a grid over your subject and a corresponding grid on your paper. These are accurate because they break the composition down in bite-size pieces.2

3. Quickly Sketch in the Entire figure

This will help your composition and proportions. Get the whole thing sketched out in a few seconds. Then do your drawing on top of it. Your accuracy with the sketch will improve over time.
Don’t draw detail, just the basic shapes. Use broad, light tones, by using the side of your Conte, or with your dirty (with charcoal or Conte) chamois