Category Archives: Part 4: Project 4: Exercise 1: Strucure

Part 4: Project 4: Exercise 1: Structure

This Project is on close drawing of the human figure… which I’ve split into five parts:

(1) Toes, feet and ankles.

(2) Calves , knees and thighs.

(3) Hips and torso.

(4) Shoulders, arms and elbows.

(5) Hands.

I used ‘Anatomy for Artists – A Complete Guide to Drawing the Human Body’ by Barrington Barbour and ‘Life Drawing’ by Eddie Armer.

I’ll post the sections as I complete them.

(1) Toes, feet and ankles.




The shape is very important… or more precisely, drawing what is actually there rather than what you know!!!

It struck me that feet are like the rest of the body… cones, cylinders… and lots of curves which makes shading difficult. The main thing is not to panic!! Get the shape right… relate everything to everything else… then painstakingly relate everything inside the foot to each other… see the negative and positive shapes… use ‘points’ then use your eye… keep switching between the close and the overview.

And be confident!

Finally, feet are very individual. As much so as faces. You wouldn’t draw a generic face and the same is true of feet. The individual details give the feet life and vitality.

(2) Calves, knees and thighs.





A couple of things about this… firstly the photographs alter the original!

Plus, now that I’m reading ‘Art & Illusion’ by E.H.Gombrich I realise how representative art is a translation within conventions – not a copy of ‘life’… and how it’s the overall relationships of tone rather than local tone/colour that determines what a paintings effect on the viewer… (and lots more!!!)… including how a photograph is not a copy but transposed… altered for brightness/contrast etc.

So… I’ve suddenly become aware of the lunging gap between the work in my sketchbook and these photographs!!!!!

But, I digress.

What struck me with these drawings is that when you get them right it really does (for me) suddenly look like a person in motion. Even though it’s only the legs!

My ‘judgement’ is not photographic… or realism… but emotional… do they ‘feel’ alive!!!!!

Secondly, I became aware of the patterns within the shapes and (for the first time) the difference between shape and shading really made sense. And how everything within the figure (negative space, positive shapes) all relate to each other.

After finding the shape and  I find myself drawing ‘relationships’ rather than ‘things’ – and swapping between a close up view (you see the patterns and ‘feel’ the flow of muscles) to a distant view where everything comes together and starts to work as a whole.

(3) Hips and torso.





Torso’s are very difficult!!!!

You’ve got large flat areas with an underlying structure (bones, muscles and tendons) which bend the surface (the skin) and therefore the light . So you get lots of complicated tonal areas that are all interrelated.

And that we are very good at reading!!!!!!

I found the shape was really important. Once you had the shape you can fit the ‘patterns’ of light and shade inside it.  And the best way to find the shape was to draw an estimation, by eye, then correct and amend it as I added the internal shapes… relating them to each other and to the shape.

What occurred to me is that, in real life, I’m unlikely to be drawing naked people… just hands, head and feet. But that fat (these are all young toned people – so, very untypical!!!!) and clothes are like another layer on top of an underlying structure. The big difference is that skin bends and stretches as it is flexible, whereas clothes tend to crease.

However, all VERY good drawing practice.

And, as I’m learning (and enjoying immensely) from my Art and Illusion by Gombrich what I’m doing is creating a flexible template… developing a visual language that I can use to help me with drawing people, but is fluid enough to allow amendments to draw individuals.

In as far as this exercise is to draw a true representation not having been trained is a benefit as I don’t have a developed visual language which is going to make me ignore aspects of ‘reality’. And to create a representation that, in any way, resembles the one before me is a real challenge.

However, I would say the book I’m using (Anatomy for Artists by Barrington Barber) has serious drawbacks as many of the illustrations, look plain wrong. Not like any people I’ve ever seen. They look like stock people. And some of the hands and hands and feet look plain bizarre!!!!

I think, perhaps, there was a lot of template using in his book?!

(4) Shoulders, arms and elbows.





Arms are a surprise… much longer, slenderer and more beautiful than I thought. With the possibility of all sorts of expressive gestures. Which is probably why they’s so widely used in dance.

They are very likely to be foreshortened, and seeing the structure in space (as well as what I actually see!) is key to getting it right. Sometimes it’s just the angle of the tiniest line that pops them into focus.

As well as shapes shading the turn of the muscles is a very useful exercise.

My favourite is the arm that ’emerges’ from the background. It ‘feels’ more human. This made me think about the different mediums… seeing shapes in line or in masses. And different ways of using the same drawing tool.

The more I do this the more body makes sense – but it could be applied to any 3D structure.

Another thing is the tonal relationships are very important. The difference between pattern, grotesque and suddenly breathing life is VERY subtle. And, I’m very likely to have to draw arms in real life.

Finally, these are all, big muscley specimens… useful for underlying muscle structure… but there’s an argument to have the arms of ‘real’ people!!!

5) Hands.



Hands are great… what I particularly like about them is the way they show weight and character.

Weight in that if you get the hand right you can emotionally see the rest of the body. And how it’s placed in space.

It’s weird!!!!

In fact all of these hands feel like they’re attached to bodies. It’s almost like you’re drawing the whole body when you draw the hands. Although all these hands are ‘chopped off’ that’s not how I ‘feel’ or see them.

Hands can also expressively show emotion.

On a technical level it seems to be about getting all the bits properly related to each other. We’re so used to seeing hands that even one line off will throw the whole hand out. It also helps to understand how the hand is working geometrically and where all the pieces are in space… and there’s lots of foreshortening!

In conclusion:

I’ve spent a long time on this section because I love people and emotions. As an actor I try to inhabit people… and when I see people I make up characters and narratives.

So, I think I might like to draw people… or at least moments between people.

And if I want to do that I need to understand how bodies work!