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Figure Drawing: How to Draw a Child
by Sarah A. Parks
When drawing a child, so many common figure drawing concepts come together:
- Block-in (quickly drafting the overall lines and shapes of a figure)
- Gesture drawing (capturing the energy of a figure)
- Relative proportions (using a base measurement in a figure to gauge other distances)
- Values (the range of tones/shades from light to dark).
This photograph of a little girl running shows energy and movement, especially because of the ruffled dress swirling around her. The body, however, is fairly vertical and the position is frontal so it will be easy to use the head height as a base measurement to draft the rest of the body (which is gauging relative proportions).
Figure Drawing Exercise, Step 1
Using the height of the head as a base unit of measurement, the girl is about 4½ heads tall. Children’s heads are larger in proportion to their bodies than adults. Typically, adults are 7 or 8 heads tall. Be sure not to underestimate the size of a child’s head for drawing. Using this method to break down a figure helps to ensure you don’t have some parts of the body too long or too small in relation to the rest of the body. Estimate those same divisions on your paper with light tick marks.
Lightly draft the basic shape of the head with loose, light marks and an easy-to-erase hard pencil (like an H graphite pencil). On the photo lay a pencil or a ruler vertically. Make sure it’s parallel with the side of the paper. Lay it at the inside of the left eye (her right eye, in this case) straight down and you’ll see it aligns with the middle of her weight-bearing leg and ankle. Lightly sketch that line down on your paper to act as the midline for the figure, making sure it’s vertical and very light, as you’ll be erasing it in the next step.
Because her head is facing fully forward and tilted, draft a very light line for her eyes, about halfway between the top of her skull and her chin. The ears, which usually sit between the eyebrows and nose, will be drawn a bit higher because the head is tilted down.
Using the vertical midline of the body on your reference image, observe on which side of it various body parts fall. For example, the hand falls just to the right of the midline, which intersects the wrist. It is also aligned with the line at the waist. Use some basic shapes like cylinders and ovals to sketch her arms and legs and a rectangle for her trunk. You’ll refine those shapes later. Even though the final figure with the clothing won’t show all the body parts, drafting all the hidden body parts in this step will help you make sure your proportions are accurate before you draw the clothing. You’ll erase the hidden lines as you develop the drawing.
Figure Drawing Exercise, Step 2
Keep glancing back and forth as you initially draft the skirt with light marks and no details (otherwise known as “blocking in”). Don’t get too caught up in the skirt, though, before refining the shapes and lines of the legs. The body is the important foundation of the drawing.
When drafting the legs, notice a couple of body alignments: the inner ankle bone is generally higher than the outer ankle bone, and the inner bulge of the calf tends to be lower than the outer bulge of the calf.
Remember, your initial marks and lines are just a guide as you start getting your subject completely blocked in; they’re not set in stone, so they will need occasional checking and tweaking as you refine your figure.
Erase your vertical midline and tick marks. Start to shade in some value lightly. To know where to shade more darkly, first observe what direction the light source is coming from. In this case, the sun is coming from the upper left so the left side and top of her head are highlighted, leaving the right side of the figure in shadow. Increase your pencil pressure as you shade in the darker areas.
One of my favorite drawing secrets I share in all my instruction is to periodically stand back from your work to view it from a distance. Distance is essential to evaluate your drawing accurately. When you’re too close to your drawing, everything becomes more distorted, which can lead to inaccurate marks and lines. If you’re working from a reference photograph (as in this case), every now and then, try to have your photograph and drawing side-by-side and step back to evaluate them both from a distance. Glance back and forth many times to see where your drawing diverges from the reference image. You can also turn both your photograph and drawing upside-down.
The purpose of these (and other) methods of evaluating your work throughout your drawing session is to get a “fresh eyes” effect because your eyes get easily habituated, numbing you to adjustments that need to be made. Having fresh eyes will show you these adjustments.
Click here for your Figure Drawing Made Easy collection, including Figure Drawing in Proportion by Michael Massen; Drawing Secrets Revealed: Figure Basics and Drawing Secrets Revealed: Figures, Step by Step by Sarah Parks!