Figure Drawing | Sessions College

Figure Drawing

Learn the art of life drawing using classic techniques

Life drawing is a fundamental artistic challenge. Capturing the human figure in all its infinite, intricate variations requires both a mastery of technique and a thorough understanding of the body.

In this 6-lesson course, you will make your figure drawings come to life with guidance from a professional fine artist. Following traditional methods, you'll learn the standard measures and proportions artists use to achieve naturalistic and expressive figure drawings. Illustrations and activities will guide you through the structure of the human skeleton and help you understand how the body's anatomy shapes its external form. The course builds progressively from the fundamentals to the challenges of portraiture, three-dimensional form, composition, and expression.

Course projects afford multiple opportunities for practice and feedback, focusing on proportion, negative space, gesture drawing, anatomical studies, contour drawing, frontal and profile portraits, volume, perspective, shading, composition, and expression. Fine artists, designers, and 3D character animators will all benefit from these artistic workouts.

Course Instructor(s):

Sessions fine arts instructor Fiorella Carretti Shalat

Fiorella Carretti  is a sculptor, textile artist, and art educator originally from Florence, Italy.

Course content developed by Anki King.
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To take this course you'll need:

  • Computer with Internet connection (56 Kbps modem or faster).
  • Access to a digital camera or scanner.
  • 1 package of soft vine charcoal, 3 charcoal pencils (HB, 2B, and 4B) sharpener for charcoal (a small pad of sandpaper-like quality), razor blades for sharpening charcoal pencils, 4 pencils (2H, 2B, 4B, and 6B) pencil sharpener, 1 kneaded eraser, 2-3 pencil erasers (Magic Rub or Staedler Mars Plastic are good options), 1 drawing/sketch pad, 8 1/2 " x 11" or preferably 18" x 24," tracing paper (we will use this in the lessons for anatomy and skeleton), one roll of kraft paper, one wardrobe mirror. (Full guidelines will be provided in Lesson One.)
  • Figure drawing subject(s) or yourself and a mirror.
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Course Objectives:

Students learn how to:

  • Build a foundation in life drawing skills by creating and submitting for feedback more than twenty figure drawings.
  • See and apply in your drawing the standard measurements and proportions of the human figure.
  • See and apply in your figure drawing the characteristic shapes and proportions of the human skeleton.
  • Develop a basic ability to capture posture and motion through gesture drawing.
  • See and apply in your figure drawing the characteristic shapes and proportions of human anatomy and muscle mass.
  • Develop a basic ability to capture the shape of human subjects through contour and blind contour drawing.
  • See and apply in your figure drawing the characteristic shapes and proportions of the human face in frontal, profile, and three-quarter views.
  • See and apply in your figure drawing the concepts of volume, perspective, and shading.
  • See and apply in your figure drawing different approaches to composition, including texture, balance, rhythm, variety, unity, and emphasis.
  • Demonstrate a basic ability to use expressive drawing techniques in capturing the human figure.
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Course Outline

LESSON 1 Measurements and Proportions

Lesson One establishes the fundamentals. You'll begin with an orientation to your art materials: charcoal, pencil, sharpeners, drawing pads, and more. You'll learn standard proportions for the male and female figure and how to measure proportions as you draw, using your eye, your pencil, a plum line, and other guides. In the exercise, you'll do figure drawings in pencil and charcoal, focusing on proportions, negative spaces, and angles.

LESSON 2 The Human Skeleton

The knee bone's connected to the… To draw figures well, you'll need to understand how the skeleton is put together. Lesson Two explores the main reference points inside the body that help artists represent the figure: ribcage, pelvic bone, head, shoulder blades, arms, hands, legs, feet, and vertebra. Did you know when drawing a figure, the first thing you want to do is to establish the angle of the pelvic bone? Or which differences in the skeleton differentiate men and women? In the exercise, you'll build your familiarity with the skeleton through gesture drawings of posture and motion.

LESSON 3 Muscles and Anatomy

In Lesson Three, you'll put meat on your bones. Building on your knowledge of the human skeleton, you'll study the anatomy of the body and learn how to represent muscle structure in your figure drawings. Looking at anatomical drawings, artistic works, and your own body, you'll take a tour of important muscle groups, learning their defining features. In the exercise, you'll practice representing muscle mass and do a contour drawing using a model or yourself as a model.

LESSON 4 The Portrait

In Lesson Four, you will study the proportions of the human face. You will learn to see the important differences between male and female faces and explore techniques for drawing the forehead, the nose, the mouth, hair, eyes, teeth, and ears. Do's and don'ts will be discussed to help you avoid common mistakes in proportion and perspective. The exercise will open your eyes (literally) to the challenge of portraiture through front, profile, and three quarters view drawings and a blind contour study.

LESSON 5 Volume, Perspective, and Shading

Unless you're an ancient Egyptian, your life drawing will involve the representation of three-dimensional figures. Lesson Five focuses on this challenge. You'll learn how to create volume in your drawings by breaking down the figure into three-dimensional shapes. You'll discover how concepts in perspective such as the horizon line, eye level, and vanishing point affect your figure drawings, even in close up. Finally, you'll look at how the application of line, value, and shading can influence the appearance of perspective and depth in drawing. In the exercise, you'll explore the concepts of geometrical shape, perspective, and value contrast.

LESSON 6 Composition and Expression

Lesson Six rounds out your figure drawing course by exploring concepts in composition and expression. You'll discover how texture, balance, rhythm, variety, unity, and emphasis can each be used in drawing—or in any art form—to give shape to a piece. Rules of composition such as the Golden Section and Divine Proportion will be discussed along with expressive considerations to help you develop your artistic approach. In the final exercise, you'll explore both formal and expressive approaches to your drawing subjects.

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student figure drawing work
Figure drawings by student Hanlie Steynberg

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