Drawing Basics: Constructing a figure with simple shapes

The subjects to learn to draw the figure.
This is a drawing for a project I did back sometime around the beginning of the year. I designed the drawing to illustrate some of the important areas one needs to study in order to successfully draw the figure, such as proportion, gesture, shape construction, and anatomy. I thought we could use drawing to look one of those elements, and learn more about using shape construction to draw the human form. 

One way to draw a figure is to build the forms up using simple basic shapes as a starting point. This process allows the artist to work on one thing at a time without overwhelming himself with too much information to convey at once. 

Today, we will break the process of drawing the figure into simple steps, showing how to build up from simple shapes into more a complex human form.

Let's begin.

General Gesture

Start by drawing the general gesture of the figure. The gesture can be many things but, in this case, I looked for the curve of the spine as the back twists and moves down towards the legs. I drew this imaginary line to represent the general gesture.

Basic Shapes 

Next, I drew the head, rib cage, and pelvis as basic shapes. I did this to establish the position and size of each as they relate to the gesture line and each other.

I kept the shapes very simple. I was not worried about any detail or contour at this point. All I was working on was size and position. If they looked correct I moved on, if not, I corrected the size or position until I felt I had everything right.

Limbs in line

Next, I added the limbs to the basic shapes to complete a simplified figure. Notice that I drew the limbs in line only. This is to continue to simply things and allow me to work on one or two things at a time. 

At this stage, I was concerned with the proportions and placement of the limbs only.

One thing I learned to do was use straight lines for each segment of the limb, only bending it at the joint. This helps with the structure of the figure later on, requiring less adjustment or correction to the figure as I develop more of the forms.
Paddle hands and feet

I like to call them paddle hands and feet in my classes but they are really just simple shapes drawn to place the hands and feet in the right place and work out the correct general sizes.

Here, I drew the simple shapes to suggest the general direction the hands and feet are pointing.
An indicate of form

One thing I like to do, and did, in this drawing was add a little form information. At this stage, I drew a few lines on the head shape and rib cage shape to suggest the rounding the forms in three dimensional space. I also converted the square representing the hips into a box.

This step is not really necessary here, but I like to include a little information of the form just to give me a sense of how the figure will eventually fill the space.

Basic shapes of the limbs

I worked on the limbs by adding the basic shapes over the lines representing the limbs to give the limbs some mass. 

Just like when I drew the head and torso as basic shapes I worked out the size of forms of the limbs. Here, I was focused on making sure the width of each form was approximately correct in relationship to the length of that form. For example, I want to make sure the forearm did not appear too thick.


Sometimes adjustments need to be made. In this drawing I wanted to adjust the location of an arm and leg to be more to my liking after working out the basic shapes, but adjustments can and should be done at any point along the way.

As I worked through the process of this drawing I was often making corrections and adjustments. I imagine some people can draw the figure and get everything just right or to their liking on the first go, but most of us need to make changes as we draw to get what we want as a final product. This is an important idea to remember, it is ok to make adjustments, corrections, and changes any time you want during the process.

Form for limbs

Next, I decided to add a little form information to the limbs. I decided to do that next because arms are moving through all three dimensions of space and I wanted to remind myself of where in space they were.

To add form to the limbs I simply turned the rectangles representing each limb segment into cylinders.

Three become one

Next, I connected the head, rib cage, and pelvis by drawing in the contours and shapes I could see. I also started to develop the shapes of the smaller forms is the figure. For example, I worked out the shapes in the hands to more defined forms using the simple shape representing each hand as a guide.
Smaller shapes

The next few steps I break down are really just part of the refinement process but I thought I'd point out some areas I focused on.

Here, I drew the scapulae as basic shapes and a triangle to represent the area between the posterior portion of the iliac crests. These two areas are landmarks that I can use to connect other shapes and forms to as I work down to the smaller shapes.

Construct hands and feet

As I continued to refine the shapes and forms down to the smaller ones I spent some time constructing the hands and feet.

I developed the shape and position of each finger to create the hand gesture I wanted.

Draw,  refine, and repeat 

From there it is just a matter refining the shapes, contours and forms to construct the figure. To the right you can see that I continued to do that, working down to the smaller and smaller elements found in the figure. 

One thing I would like to point out is the one may not need to draw each step shown above in the drawing if we do not want to, nor does she have to follow this process exactly. The important thing is that we remember the concepts in each step. This will give us goals to aim towards and a guide us as we draw. For example, you may find it unnecessary to draw basic shapes and start with the basic form. As long as you keep the concept of the basic shapes in mind to guide as you draw the forms you will be fine.

If you have any questions about this approach just ask in the comments section below. I will be happy to answer.