Figure Drawing Demonstration: Jacob Collins

Artist Jacob Collins gives his advice on how to draw the figure in this free seven-step demo, brought to you from The Artist’s Magazine.

Figure Drawing Demonstration

by Jacob Collins

I begin some drawings loosely, while others I start very carefully, drawing slow, crisp lines. When painting, I might start out with a transferred drawing or with a lot of messy paint and hope for the best. This demonstration for Marc (at bottom; graphite, 24×18) covers a few of the ideas that I think of when drawing the figure.

I don’t want to give the impression that these stages represent a set of drawing rules. There are many ways to draw beautifully. It’s important to let the drawing be an investigation and sometimes, in order to investigate, you need to go off the path.

drawing pose, how to draw the figure
1.  I begin drawing the simplest visual shapes. I’m looking for overall axes and directions. My main interest is getting the particular spirit of the middle of the pose, in this case the pelvis, torso and thigh. (one minute)


drawing shape, shape of the figure
2.  I refine the central shape while dividing it into subshapes, trying to see every tilt and shape as truly as I can. (10 minutes)


drawing the torso
3.  As the middle becomes truer, I build the outer parts onto it. So far, I’ve mostly measured ratios by eye, but now I start to loosely check a few measurements: halves, quarters, plumbs, horizontals. (25 minutes)


how to draw the figure
4.  I continue to make my shapes and tilts true. Measuring more now as I shift intervals and ratios, I divide the shadow and light shapes. I refine the middle first and then work my way out. (one hour)


drawing anatomy, the figure
5.  I patiently adjust the shapes and tilts. Up to this point, I’ve had anatomy and construction ideas on the back burner. Now I begin to engage the dimensional reality of the figure. (about six hours)


modeling the figure
6.  In this first pass of modeling, I develop my values by conceptualizing the surfaces and the direction of the light. (about 12 hours)


three-dimensional drawing, the figure
7.  As I push the modeling, I make the form fuller and clearer in the lights and subtler and flatter in the shadows: active lights, passive shadows. At this stage, I make every effort to think spatially. Sometimes I try to imagine that my drawing is a little three-dimensional sculpture, and that my pencil is a sculptor’s tool: I’m reaching my pencil through the paper and into an imaginary space to carve the figure. (two weeks)

Get instruction on drawing the figure from The Artist’s Magazine, available at in digital downloads, on CD and in print.

Born in New York in 1964, Jacob Collins studied art in Europe, at the Art Students League and the New York Academy of Art. He received a bachelor of arts degree from Columbia College in 1986. He is founder of the Water Street Atelier and co-founder of the Grand Central Academy of Art. Besides appearing in more than 15 group and solo exhibitions, Collins’s work resides in several notable collections, including the Forbes Collection and at Harvard University’s Fogg Museum. He’s represented by Hirschl and Adler Modern in New York City. Visit to learn more.

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