Portraying the Human Figure

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Figure drawings begin with a stick figure, a skeleton of sorts that will hold all components of the composition in the subsequent stages. An important factor of this stick figure is the action line, which will take up most of the figure's body: from the neck to a single foot. It is an uncomplicated and sweeping line that will crucially determine the pose of the figure.

The action line also determines the personality of the figure in that characteristics are adequately portrayed in the manner a line is bent or stretched. Heroic figures are usually rendered with a strong vertical stroke; the weak-bodied, including the evil-genius, is usually drawn like a bow that is being strung. This often proves effective in portraying characters through silhouettes.

From the stick-figure stage, the artist has already determined the height proportion of the subject. The average height of a human male figure is usually rendered to be around six heads high. In doing this, the artist measures his figure's head and calculates six of these stacked above the other. The normal female human figure stands at five heads; and the human child at four. This is easily done when the figure is meant to be drawn standing up and viewed on a normal perspective. At a foreshortened perspective, however, this measurement is not applicable and the part of the figure closest to the viewer is usually the largest drawn.


Artists often are known to insist on dynamic figures, and many beginners relate this type of drawings to the figures seen in heroic comic books, which exhibit exaggerated poses and postures. Dynamic figures simply mean illustrations that adhere to the basic harmony of elements, like perspective, line, and proportion. Artists advise trainees to take time in shaping their characters, to take special care on a figure's balance in relation to its pose. It must be observed that all the elements of composition, including volume--the illusion of a character's mass--do not conflict each other.

In determining a figure's balance, the artist decides on the center of its gravity. From then on, proportion must adhere to this suggestion. Even without the use of shadows, it must be without a doubt that a figure of whatever personality is portrayed positioned firmly upon its center of gravity.

Paying close attention to the lines used determines the figure's success. An artist must understand the basic uses of the line from the stick-figure stage of his drawing. Horizontal lines are usually lines of rest. Though there are a multitude of actions a figure can be drawn in on a horizontal plane, it is customary for both viewer and artist to envision one in repose with this line.


Verticals are also considered lines of rest, but suggest a surge of energy ready to flow. Upright figures in a standing pose portray this suggestion.

Diagonal lines are the lines of action. A walking figure is made up of two legs diagonally spread apart. The action line of a runner is a slash, and so is every limb of its body.

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