Always Wondered How to Draw People?

If you really want to learn how to draw people, why not start right now?

Drawing the human figure requires good powers of observation and the ability to follow a few simple rules.

Look around you – at your family and friends, at passers-by in the street, even actors on your TV screen. Subject matter abounds so all you need to do, initially, is to develop and harness your powers of observation.

If you have been wondering how to draw the people around you, you will have noticed that this person is rather short and plump, that one tall and rangy while another may appear lithe and willowy. Some people may seem to be complacent and slow moving while others race around with raw energy exuding from every movement that they make.

So you have a feeling about a person’s character and general appearance. That’s a good beginning and may inform the sort of line that you use if you decide to draw or paint them. Placid lines? Frantic or angry lines? Strong and in-control lines? Can you imagine the difference? Out with your scribble pad and start to play.

What about your subject’s general demeanour, body language and facial expressions? Do they look calm, worried, happy? What are the clues that give you that impression? Is colour part of that general look?

Assemble drawing materials:

Once you have a general impression about your model it’s time to start sketching. Assemble some paper and pencils – just a 4B lead pencil and typing paper is a good start.

Of course you may wish to use charcoal and a better quality paper set up on an easel, pen and ink or paint and brush – anything that you are comfortable with, really.

The importance of observation:

As you learn how to draw people you will move from a general feeling about your subject to more precise observations through actual measurements. If you can practice on a member of your family that will help.

Start by measuring the size of their head from the tip of their skull to the bottom of their chin. Let’s call this their head size. Now see how many heads will fit into their height from their feet to the top of their head.

On average that measurement will be about seven or eight. On a very tall person it might be more than eight and on a child perhaps four, five or six, depending on their age. If you are making fashion drawings it is usual to make the proportion one to nine, so as to emphasise elegance - something to keep in mind if you wish to distort proportions to show character etc.

Proportions of the human figure:

Learning how to draw people is not so difficult once you establish some simple guidelines about proportion and anatomy of the human skeleton.

Start to observe details of proportions – for example the position of the hips, the waist, the knees in relation to the full height of the person. Where does the head join the neck? Where do the legs join the body? How long are the arms? Now you know that the head is approximately one eighth of the person’s height can you divide the body into eighths?

What about drawing faces? Observe yourself in the mirror or look at a friend in profile. How far from the top of the head to the chin are the eyes? Can you now sketch an oval for a head with an elipse which crosses at about the halfway mark where you will mark a spot for eyes?

If human anatomy is not one of your strengths research some simple diagrams from the internet or a book about human biology. When you observe your life drawing model try to visualize the skeleton beneath the flesh and skin. Find out how limbs join to the body, about the function of joints and which way they move, which rotate and which have more limited movement.

Experiment on yourself. Work out what happens to a muscle group when you lift a heavy load, lunge to one side, stand on one foot and so on. Spend some time moving in front of a mirror. How do tendons interact with bones and muscles?

Drawing the human figure:

Now’s the time to start scribbling! With your soft lead pencil or charcoal stick, make a perpendicular line, just freehand, nice and loose. Now a rough oval shape for the head, a line to indicate shoulders, add arms, blobby hands and a mark for the waist and hips. A line to indicate the pelvis with legs joining there, ankles and feet on which your person balances.

Now another quick sketch (you can throw these away later if you want!) but this time perhaps your model’s head is tilted to one side, an arm bent and the weight more on one foot than the other. See how he or she is coming to life?

Many people that I know make a habit of ‘doodling’ when they are talking on the telephone. If this is your habit, make quick figure sketches – the more the better. Don’t try too hard – just let your subconscious play freely.

Life drawing models:

Use professional life drawing models if you really want to know how to draw people well.

Experienced life drawing models are worth every dollar of their fees. Usually the emphasis in a life drawing class will be on drawing nudes and the model will not be in the least embarrassed by his or her nudity so you, the student, need not be either as that would be a distraction from learning. It is very tiring work to hold life drawing poses for long so appreciate the model who dreams up interesting poses for you.

It is not necessary to use an unclothed model - scant clothing will help you to see muscles and explain form as light falls on the subject.

Form through line, tone, texture and colour:

What is form, you ask? To me it is the way that you use various elements of design to give the illusion of three dimensions, especially tone through the use of light and shade.

It helps if you have one main light source so that some areas of your subject are highlighted and others are in partial, graduated shadow. Add to this the use of texture (in this discussion the texture of flesh, of hair and possibly of draped fabric) as well as colour if you are painting or using inks or coloured pencils.

Of course you may choose to just draw an outline but is there really a line around that person? Could it be that you see them in relation to the space around them? Would it be possible to draw a human figure by just painting or drawing the background? Want to try it?

The old adage that “one learns by doing” applies to the acquisition of most skills, including how to draw people.

Start experimenting. See what happens when you use a fat, thick charcoal mark as compared with a finely drawn ink line. Can you make your line graduate in thickness and intensity? Can you use this to emphasise some aspect of your subject –a beautiful knee or the graceful curve of a spine, perhaps? Smouldering or languid eyes?

What is the minimum, most descriptive mark or marks that you can make that represents the figure in front of you? Is your drawing a thing of beauty, does it explain the essence of your subject? How would you show something about the character of the person?




Learn how to draw people from an experienced professional:

For some real answers about how to draw people check out what experienced artist/teacher, Chris Elmore has to offer in his very thorough and fascinating e-book. With easy exercises and lots of help and examples you’ll learn how to draw people in no time at all!

Chris also has books about landscape drawing, watercolour and so on, but I recommend the book, below, as a very good place to start – especially as a discount applies to it at present. Have fun!



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Drawing Pencil Sketches
Learn About Human Anatomy
Principles of Design
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Christine Eyres practises Life Drawing to keep her drawing skills honed. She also inspires students to learn how to draw people during her Life Drawing classes in the Cairns/Port Douglas area.


Christine Eyres, female nude lying curled, one leg closest to viewer

Christine Eyres, female nude, seated - charcoal drawing

Christine Eyres, male nude showing anatomy of spine and back muscles

reclining female nude, back view

Christine Eyres, drawing of female seated model bending forward, holding her ankles

'Connective Tissue', drawing in paint of woman standing in floating dinghy in lake