Stuck with figure/gesture drawing



  • I've been watching the Figure drawing fundamentals and Introduction to gesture drawing, and I'm trying to do the exercises, but I feel stuck.

    Even when I'm starting with the line divided in parts, with the example next to it (figure drawing assignment 6), the figure I draw looks very out of proportion and weird. I've done that exercise for hours 2 days in a row, and there's been no improvement. When I'm trying gesture drawing, sometimes one part is okay-ish, but even when I try for hours to get the rest to match up with it proportionally, I get nowhere. I feel like any tiny succes is dumb luck, as I'm not able to recreate it when I sketch it again, and I have no clue what I'm doing different when it doesn't work. The problem is not even figure specific really - I'm having a hard time getting a vaguely believable flour sack (Introduction to gesture drawing exercise), too.

    I know I need to have patience and practise a lot more, and even then I'm not expecting to get results like the instructors do, but I feel like I'm practising without knowing what to do different, so I don't know what I'm focussing on at all with my practise.

    Would it help at all to first be able to draw individual parts of the body?
    Should I practise by drawing over photos first?
    Is there another system for proportions than the 'line divided by x amount of head heights' I should be looking into?

    Any tips for improving how I practise would be very much appreciated.


  • Moderator

    Finding points of reference, where things line up, help keep things in proportion. Looking back and forth quickly at the model and drawing will show where things are off. Breaking things down into the largest shapes first can help.


  • Moderator

    Poses .jpg bad example photo, looks like her arm is growing out of her back. If I look back and forth I can see her extended leg is too low, foot too long.


  • Moderator

    Also some people like to start with the head, that is impossible for me. I start with the torso and work outwards.



  • Lize

    The struggle is real 🙂 This may not be the response you want to hear, but I feel it could be helpful. I absolutely enjoy the SVS platform and have been an active consumer of the courses. Prior to SVS I spent 4 months of hard core focus (6 hrs/day typical) on life / figure drawing and courses at what many consider one of the leading online platforms for that subject, Watts Atelier.

    Of course I am just one data point but I would humbly suggest the following:

    • I wouldn’t try more complex gestural drawing until you have basic mannequins and standard static life poses down relatively solid ( front, back, and side view static poses from images or life similar to the mannequin poses). The human figure is incredibly complex and the minute you starting moving outside of those basic poses all of the realities of perspective, surface anatomy etc start adding a lot of cognitive load

    • Most people spend years to get life drawing down, with nearly exclusive study for that. And it can be very frustrating in the beginning because we have a lot of experience looking at the human form and noticing faults. I still struggle and actually regressed, as I put most of my time in these past months on SVS and my figure drawing suffered. My message is don’t be too hard on yourself in the beginning.

    • I absolutely applaud that SVS includes a figure and gesture drawing class and sampled them as well. There is great content in them and they definitely touch on many of the classical principles. Having said that, I think it would be very unrealistic for a beginner in life drawing to watch the course content and suddenly be producing amazing results. If you really plan to take on life drawing I would consider building on the SVS content with focused platforms in that area like Watts, Proko, or New Masters Academy.

    On your specific concerns:

    • If you are having issues with the basic mannequin form “line up” exercise there could be more foundational work that needs to be done. I don’t know what your experience level is but I am assuming you have basic, or maybe advanced drawing skills? My suggestion is that you draw the 8 head high grid lines, the dividing center line, and set of lines that bound the outermost contour of the body to set your boundaries. Hopefully with that template in place prior to drawing the actual mannequin, it will constrain and ensure your shapes land at the appropriate points on that line up grid. One other note is that the mannequins are 8 head high which is an idealized proportion as the actual figure is more like 7.5 heads high.

    • As you mentioned, I would definitely do drawing overlays/tracings on whatever you feel challenged on. This of course is not to copy the image but to understand better the relationships between the body and various shapes. If you are struggling on the mannequin line ups then start with those. I also find doing line of action over life images is a great exercise as well (just drawing the line of action without worrying about getting the figures right)

    • I think comparative drawing is the way to go, so suggestions that @CLCanadyArts made are helpful. Use imaginary plumb lines to check that parts of the body are lining up with other parts. Also use negative space shapes to compare your drawing with the reference (space between arm and body for example). Over time this will become intuititve. In the beginning it can be painful though 🙂

    • Practice every day as much as possible. Like most of drawing it is about mileage. If you can get 4+ hours/day in that could really shift rate of progress. But I still think getting into a focused platform on life drawing will get you the fastest results, assuming you are new to life drawing.



  • @Lize Yeah I hear you. Everyone has added some great feedback so far.

    I think your #2 point:

    Should I practise by drawing over photos first?

    Personally, I think yes. At a fundamental level you are building muscle memory on how big or small things are in relation with each other. I think the key is to make sure you don't end up being dependent on tracing, but I think it's a great way to start building muscle memory.

    An exercise that I thought was really helpful was to get a photo reference, and trace over it but only break it down into shapes. Then, move it to the side and draw the same pose right next to it on your own without tracing. Then compare the two and see what you're blowing out (like are you naturally extending the forearms, making it too tall, etc). Then do another one just like it but be aware of what you did last time and intentionally compensate for that.

    Eventually what feels "natural" will be more correct.

    Also, if you are not flipping your canvas often, definitely do that. It's amazing how things that are obviously wonky don't stand out until you flip the canvas and get a fresh perspective 🙂


  • SVS OG

    @Lize You'll get there! It sounds like you are working hard. Could you post some of your exercises so we could have a better idea of how to help? I personally think that gesture drawing can be a cruel place to start someone with figure drawing. A beautiful gesture drawing is usually beautiful because the person drawing already has a mastery of anatomy And line quality. I still think George Bridgeman's "Constructive Anatomy" can't be beat for beginning the figure drawing journey - you can get the kindle version for under a dollar too. (My first day of figure drawing in art school 1000 years ago, we were doing quick 30 second poses so we had to draw fast, the teacher made her way around the room and stopped at my easel and said "somebody taught you well"....i was stunned and i said "thank you, it's Bridgeman"...and she said who? And said "George Bridgeman, the books"... she looked at me disapprovingly and moved on ..but i was super happy because i thought i'd be way behind everyone else.)
    You mentioned drawing over photos - i think this is a great idea but maybe draw over well done drawings that you love instead? That way someone has done the step that you are wanting to learn already and you can learn how they did it. When you trace try not to go slowly and carefully. try to make quick confident lines that follow the image or forms. After you trace it try to draw it from memory then do it all over again. Starting with a simple image that you really love would be the best place to start.
    I think if you post your work here on the forum that folks can help too... and maybe you are being too hard on yourself 🙂

    https://www.amazon.com/Constructive-Anatomy-Dover-Artists/dp/0486211045/ref=sr_1_3?crid=1ADRQ8QQFKBVK&dchild=1&keywords=george+bridgman&qid=1616084358&sprefix=george+brid%2Caps%2C362&sr=8-3


  • Moderator

    @jdubz I still trace over photos all the time. Its a nice way to learn anatomy, as long as one isn't mindlessly tracing, but taking note of where things attach, how they push and pull, their proportions in comparison to others. No body is completely the same.



  • @CLCanadyArts Haha, my biggest breakthrough doing a weekly gesture drawing class (All in Gesture) came when I finally started drawing from the head. My bodies go Picasso if I try to start anywhere else.


  • Moderator

    @Kevintreaccar Mine went Picasso when I started with the face. Weird, everyone is different. It's whatever works, right?



  • @Lize hello! My recommendation is just to work on one thing at a time. If you’re working on gesture then just work on getting a good gesture that expresses the emotion. Don’t worry about proportions or anatomy etc. then when you study proportion’s don’t worry about the gesture. Do one thing at a time. When you feel confident in that one thing then you can add the second and do them together

    Also if it helps I like to use a sort of stick figure when I gesture draw just to keep it simple



  • Sorry for being slow to respond. I had a hectic week! Thank you all for the wonderful responses. I now feel that I can practise using your advice and it's good to know I'm not alone in struggling with this. I'll definitely share my progress later, but for now I feel there is no point. My drawings are so all over the place still. I think I can do some focussed practise now, and I'm sure that helps loads.



  • @Lize A small piece of advice on something I noticed. Pre-covid I took figure drawing classes which went well enough. But my ‘eye’ really started improving when I started drawing inanimate objects laying around the house. Carefully watching and visually measuring up random household things apparently (for me) really helped my figure drawing practice.


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