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Drawing the Human Figure: The Basics

Updated on September 16, 2014

Introduction (The Basics)

The purpose of this art lesson is to teach you how to draw the human body, but first it is important that you learn the basics of blending and shading to make your images look true to life. In order to make the human form look realistic, you have to learn the elements of shading and basic shapes.

Shading & Blending

To create realistic looking images you have to learn the art of blending, the value scale (or grayscale) of light & dark shades, and the 5 different elements of shading.

Blending has to be smooth & seamless. The smooth blend is achieved by using tortillions among other blending tools such as q-tips, tissue, etc. The closer the tortillion is to the drawing paper, the smoother the blend will be. The value scale consists of 5 shades from darkest to lightest:

The elements of shading are as follows:

1. Cast Shadow This is your darkest shade on the value scale, which is black. This is when an object casts a shadow on a surface.

2. Shadow Edge This is your next darkest shade (dark gray) on the value scale. This shade draws away from the reflected light of an object.

3. Halftone This is the medium shade on the value scale or the middle shade. The actual shade or ‘color’ of the object is the halftone.

4. Reflected Light This shade is the lightest next to white on the value scale. The reflected light is located directly on the edge of the object located between the cast shadow & the shadow edge.

5. Full Light This is the lightest shade on the value scale, which is white. Where the light fully hits the image is the full light. It should be naturally blended from the halftone.


To draw any image you have to consider that image in terms of shapes. This makes the creative process more fun & less complex. Knowledge of basic shapes is all you need to learn how to draw. If you can draw a circle, square, & triangle you can draw. Below is a diagram of basic & 3D shapes with examples:

3D Shapes
3D Shapes
Basic Shapes
Basic Shapes

Arm & leg angles using 3D Shapes

The above examples seem simple enough. Drawing the body and any other objects are just as simple. All you need is basic knowledge of shading, shapes, patience, & determination!

The image below is a sketch of the human form drawn as a stick figure with basic shapes. If you can draw a stick figure, you can draw the human form. As you can see, the joints are represented as circles or spheres.

The sketches below are stick figures that anyone can draw posing in different positions. You can use the same format in drawing the human body.

As you develop your skills in drawing the human form using basic shapes, you can gradually begin developing your skills in drawing it in 3D. This is necessary if you want your drawings to look lifelike.

  • Materials
    • Drawing paper with a smooth surface
    • #2 Pencil & Mechanical Pencil
    • Tortillions and/or Blending Stumps (you can also use tissue & q-tips as well for blending)
    • Block Eraser
    • Kneaded Eraser
    • Fixative Spray or Aqua Net Hairspray (cheaper)
    • Ruler
    • Art Case/Box
    • Manikin (optional)

♦Key Points to Remember

-Blending is the key to making realistic looking art.

-Although 5 shades are used in the grayscale, you have the choice to use more.

-There are 5 important elements of shading: cast shadow, shadow edge, halftone, reflected light, & full light.

-When drawing the body, simplify it by associating it with simple shapes (basic & 3D).

-Have patience.

-Don’t be hard on yourself & have fun!!

-Keep practicing!


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