Sunday, December 30, 2012

Tips About Sketching People

When is the last time you sat and drew a picture that had people in it?

I see.

You don't do people.

Well, don't be afraid. Jump in and draw. 

Keep a sketchbook in your purse or briefcase and whip it out when you are sitting in the doctor's office or when you are waiting to have the oil in your car changed. 

When I have a spare moment (it happens on occasion), I take out my sketchbook and start drawing.  Not only is it therapeutic, but it's challenging to capture the gesture of people - especially when you only have a few minutes to work.  

Sometimes, when I'm drawing a picture of a person, it's a matter of seconds before they move or shift their body position! When that happens, I simply start again.  I have a page in one of my sketchbooks that has a drawing of a two-year-old. It's really a compilation of six heads in various positions.  He moved around so much that I never had time to sketch the rest of his body.

When I draw, I like to use a sharpie marker. It's cleaner than using graphite (pencil) and because I can't erase my errors, drawing with permanent ink causes me to ignore my mistakes. It's a quick capture.  You are forced to draw continuously and the moment your pen hits the paper, you have a committed mark. No turning back.

Let's talk for a minute about mistakes.

If you look at the above drawings, you will see many mistakes - that's what I used to call them. Now, I don't even think about them...they're just there. For example, look at the boy seated with the laptop computer. You can see the computer through his leg.

Big deal.

Notice the guy seated in the round chair. His head is composed of two perpendicular ovals and a triangle nose. Who cares? Seriously. Sketching is all about the joy of drawing people. 
Take the challenge. 
Sit down somewhere and begin to draw.  Sketching is like everything else. You get better with practice. Here are some handy tips:
  • People are made of shapes. First, learn to see them - then draw them. Squares, rectangles, circles, etc.
  • See relationships between the shapes.  How far is the triangle from the square? How far is it from the hip to the knee and from the knee to the ankle? Is the length similar?
  • Leave out the face. Anonymity has a certain universal appeal.
  • Go for the big stuff like legs, arms and torso. Leave out the details.
  • Keep a piece of blank paper underneath the page on which you are drawing so that the ink doesn't bleed through.
  • Draw on ONE side of your notebook page (not on both sides)
  • Practice. Draw anything: objects, landscape or even people.

On occasion people will be aware that I am sketching them. They usually shift their body position and turn away from me. Sometimes they walk over to see my sketch. Once in awhile they say, "It doesn't even look like me." 

You get all kinds of reactions. Try to respond to them politely.

Most folks don't mind if you draw them, but some do. If I am going to render a detailed sketch (one that takes more time than a quick gesture), I usually ask the person for permission before I begin.  Otherwise, be discreet and try not to let them see you staring. If your drawing turns out nicely, you can email the person a copy of it (get their email address). 

Don't be afraid of how your drawing looks and avoid comparing your work to other artists. Each artist has their own style; their own interpretation of what they are seeing.

Here's Picasso...

And Matisse...

You will have your own style too.  It's like a signature - unique and original.

Buy a small sketchbook and a good pen.  Keep them nearby so that when you have some time in your schedule, you can practice drawing people, or for that matter - anything!
Drawing images of people is daunting at first, but it's a learned skill that can be rewarding.
Mostly, sketching is just plain fun!

Why not try it and see what happens?


  1. Great sketchbook tips, Susie. I really enjoyed looking at the beautiful paintings on your website.
    Shirley McKay Britsch

    1. Hey, thanks, Shirley. Coming from you, that's a real compliment!