If you have attempted drawing the human body, you know it is more than an evolved stick figure. You must have the correct proportions, the muscle shape, and take into account the many variations of the human form. In nature, there are no other species with quite so many different shapes and colors, and creating a realistic form can be a challenge.
There are many techniques artists use in drawing a human body, each one is subjective to how you feel most comfortable, and what sort of image you are aiming for as your final result. It is also important to create a three-dimensional image, after all the human body is not flat!
We will work with the most straightforward techniques so you can evolve your skill from there and build it in ways you feel comfortable.
So we have created this handy human body drawing guide to help you put pen to paper and create a realistic and beautiful human body drawing. We will help you craft the perfect human body outline and develop this into a selection of human body drawing templates for you to use each time. With our help, you will become a confident master for your next human body drawing.
How Drawing Principles started
You may want to start with the shoulders and then build your human body from the central core point. However, in order to get proportions right, you must create a canon, as in a system for measuring proportions for a balance of idealistic beauty, and therefore the human form.
The canon remains a way to establish a standard of measurement in order to separate the human body into manageable sections. There have been variations of canons throughout history, however the idea of beauty changes throughout time and so did the canon.
Canon Drawing History
The Egyptians used the length of the middle finger as they believed it to be equal to one-nineteenth of the height of the human body. The Greek sculptor Polycleitus used the palm of the hand as his method of measurement.
But the earliest version of the canon most commonly used today was created by first-century BC Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius, he believed that the best human body drawing reference measurement was the size of eight heads.
It was then during the Renassaince period that Leonardo da Vinci expanded Vitruvius' principles. Da Vinci created a well-known reference to human anatomy showing a man in two positions within a square and a circle named the "Vitruvian man".
This basis is now what many artists and sculptors use to balance the perfect human body drawing proportions, as an idealization of the simple human form. As the Masters did, we start with an oval shape for the head and separate the paper with 8 markers, each a head distance apart. This creates the 8 head human form.
In reality, humans are not 8 heads tall, the majority of the world's population does not anatomically match these proportions. In fact, most adults are around 7 heads tall, with toddlers measuring in at approximately 4 heads high. Using this technique will give your human body drawing longer than average legs, much like those of a Barbie doll, or an action hero.
However, this remains the best starter technique as it helps you to adjust the alignments of drawing human body proportions.
It is very important to remember that these principles are only useful when creating an upright, standing human body outline; when the figure is more mobile and is sitting or leaning towards the artist the measurements become much more complicated and often will not fall into the 8 head standard. But for the initial purposes of this guide, we will stick with this standard.
Beginning to Draw a Human Body
Now, to begin separating the human body outline, you may use one of two drawing human body techniques to draft the first part of your drawing. Either can be used to fit your own preference for drawing human body proportions.
The first technique is to work down through each section of drawing the human body, mapping out where certain body parts sit as each section is reached. The first section is the head, then at around 2 heads down the drawing will be the level of the nipples.
The third line is where the navel or tummy button is drafted, then reaching the fourth line is the top of the pubic bone and the top of the genital region, this is approximately the halfway point of drawing the human body.
Expanding along your human body outline we look at the arms, from here you will line the wrists with the upper thigh area and the elbows with the navel.
To continue into the second half of the human body drawing, point five sits just a little over the knee with the remainder of the knee and the first part of the lower leg continuing up until the sixth line. The seventh point marks along the mid part of the lower leg with the remainder of the drawing continuing along the ankles and feet to finally reach the eighth point and to complete your human body anatomy drawing.
The second technique is similar but instead of working down each section you work the key points and fill the other pieces from the central parts.
With the head sitting at point one, you then look to point four on your sectional split and draft in the pelvis. Imagine the joints of the hips sitting on the line of point four with the pelvis sitting within this. The width should be equal to around 1.5 to 2 widths of the head.
You may then draw in or imagine the spine as a central point connecting the head at point one to the pelvis at point four. The knee cap should be drafted at point six, imagining the legs are straight in line with the hips bones drawn in point four. Set the knee caps a little to the side, with the right side of the knee cap being in line with the center of the hip joints.
Ankles are further down and should be drawn in at point 8, as with the knee caps set them a little to the side with the outside of the knee being in line with the right side of the ankle. Point 8 is where the feet will be, but for purposes of proportions, this shows the final length as accurate for your human body drawing proportions.
To complete further details in drawing human body proportions, you then look to the ribcage, this sits halfway between points one and two, shoulders plotted at the top of this point with the waist level with point three. However, you don’t need to draw the ribcage to level with the waist as this will allow for variations in sizes and gender. To perfect the human body drawing reference you then draft the level of the nipples with point two and the belly button level with point three.
As the final plot points for your human body anatomy drawing we look to adding the arms, these are balanced alongside the points already added on your human body drawing template. Looking at the hip joints, the wrists are slightly below the joints, and the elbows are sitting on point three. This gives you the complete human body drawing reference to build into a full figure.
Developing your Human Body Drawing
These techniques work only when drawing a human body that is standing upright. When drawing a human body in other positions, the proportions vary and become more complicated depending on the position.
If you are a beginner it is good to start drawing human body proportions based on one of these techniques, and then expand as your skill and confidence increase. You can make your figure more mobile using these points as a reference.
It is important to avoid sticking to these human body drawing templates too rigidly as your figures will then all look the same and your skill will not develop. Adapt the shape with each attempt and play around with the dimensions to make your figure increasingly animated.
Expanding the Human Body Drawing
As you expand your human body anatomy drawing into further detail, you must consider a few key points. If you are thinking of the human body anatomically correct, it is easy to think about the muscle tone and shape to define the detail of your human body drawing.
Be careful not to focus entirely on the muscle, your drawing may apppear as if it has no skin or is abnormally muscular. Think about the shape of the muscles in 3D to create depth and lifelike shape. You can also use this to create gestures when your figure is in an animated state.
Take into consideration that every person is unique in their shapes and sizes. Play around a little with the shapes, blocks, and lines you add to your human body outline to create greater variety in your sketch. This will also help you take the step from a stationary figure to a figure in motion with lifelike gestures and actions.
It may also help to work like an old-style animator and recreate the same image time and time again, with each image having a slight variation on the last to build movement while still maintaining the same human body proportions in your drawing.
Final points in drawing the human body
The key is practice, the techniques we have shown here are just the initial basis to start your journey into becoming a master of drawing the human body. Use a light hand pencil to create the human body outline and add the stronger detailing in ink. You can then erase the guidelines afterward so your drawing looks more professional.
Further Reading: Best Pens for Drawing
Many artists prefer to start with the head, but if you use the 8 head technique to separate the page you can start with anywhere you feel more comfortable with, it's your own personal preference. It may also change with each figure, depending on the positioning or which point you wish to focus on, but the important part is to practice until you find what works better for you.