With the possible exception of the face, no subject matter is more intimidating to new artists than the figure. To simplify figure drawing, I think it’s best to break down the figure and “rebuild” it on paper. The most important step in this recreation process is achieving a strong sense of structure. Though there is certainly more than one way to create structure, I prefer a simple combination of line and shape.
I always begin a figure drawing with a simple outline of the head. Since figure proportions use the head as the primary unit of measurement, determining the size of the head at the start will easily allow you to calculate the basic size and layout of the figure on your page.
Once I have an oval shape for the head I use a line to represent the shoulders. Look to see which shoulder is higher and by how much to determine the correct angle.
Next I will add the ribcage/chest. For this I use a rectangle. Because the ribcage contains more structural elements than, say, the stomach, it’s important to outline the basic shape at this early stage.
I then look for the center line of the body. This is a line that runs from the nape of the neck down the middle of the chest, through the naval and to the crotch. When drawing a figure from the back one simply needs to follow the spine. Look for sweeping gestures and a gentle “S” curve to the center line. Finding this will help your figure feel balanced.
From there I add the hips. As I did with the shoulders, I look at the angle of the hips. I use a rectangle to indicate them, this one a little shorter than the ribcage. Make sure the hips are in line with the center line.
Finally I indicate the legs and arms with simple lines. I concern myself less with their outline or mass at this point. I am looking for their gesture (that is to say, the general sweep or flow of the arms and legs) and basic proportions.
Now that I have the basic structure of the body I can begin building the rest of the figure. It is important to begin with these simple structural elements since the rest of the figure will be based off of them. Setting up structure in this way also allows you to address the entire form before getting too involved in one particular area.
Once you’re comfortable with the figure drawing process you can exaggerate certain aspects of the structure to emphasize different elements. For example, if you’re drawing a male model, try making the chest slightly larger. This will help the figure feel more muscular. For a female model, try accentuating the S-curve of the center line. This can lead to a more elegant figure. Experimentation and practice are the keys to building structural and unique figures.