10 Tips for Mapping Out the Figure

During the mapping out stage of a drawing, it’s important to consider the small individual shapes you see and also how those shapes line up with other parts of the figure. Vincent Giarrano, featured in the October 2011 issue of The Artist’s Magazine, shares these tips for mapping out the figure.

The Red Room (oil, 16x20) by Vincent Giarrano

  1. Look for any smaller shapes that can help you define the larger shapes in the figure: shadow shapes (outline them), muscle shapes, creases and negative shapes (for example, the spaces between the limbs and the trunk of the body.
  2. Try to ignore detail. I find it helps to think of the figure as a flat arrangement of shapes rather than a human body.
  3. With each new shape, cross-check it against the surrounding shapes to confirm that it’s right.
  4. If the shape you see is too big or complex, imagine a line closing off part of it so it’s more manageable.
  5. When you come across something wrong, make a bold correction. Don’t follow your previous lines.
  6. If you get stuck, ask yourself, What am I really seeing? Imagine that you’ve never seen a figure before or that your subject is a pile of dough.
  7. When necessary, use information you have about perspective and anatomy to support your observations—rather than letting this information lead you.
  8. Keep hands and feet very simple at first, such as a mitten-shape for hands. Then, when you have initial shapes established, you can break out the smaller shapes you see within.
  9. For the head, use a simplified shape with only a cross to show what direction the head is facing (one for the eyes and one following down the nose).
  10. Just as you did for the figure, map out the head by looking for strong shapes and then pulling out the smaller ones. Resist the urge to draw things you know—the eyes, the nose and the mouth. Just look for and render shapes of value. Squinting can help to simplify what you see.

To learn about Vincent Giarrano’s urban paintings, get your copy of the October 2011 issue of The Artist’s Magazine and read the feature article, “City Stories” by John R. Kemp.
Click here to order the digital version.
Click here to order the print version.

Related Articles
Why Do a Drawing Study by Vincent Giarrano
Vincent Giarrano | Painter of Cityscapes and Interiors

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