How to Draw Tiny Figures – a powerful & fun exercise

We are going to draw small, smaller and then tiny figures, which is a good exercise since to draw that small you have to simplify the figure which is an essential skill to develop.

We decided to do this exercise because a number of people commented that they’d like to know how to draw faces on small figures, which we’ll be covering in an upcoming video. We thought that before talking about faces on small figures, we should go over drawing small figures.

Secondly, we realised that neither of us does much (or really any) small figure drawing, and anything outside your comfort zone is probably an excellent way to stretch your abilities. And then most importantly, we thought that the only way to draw a very small figure is to simplify to the big important shapes and to be selective about what you include and what you don’t. So we didn’t know where this would go, but we started drawing small.

Drawing a small figure

We started by drawing some figures at around 7-10cm, which is a lot smaller than most figure drawings we do, and hopefully smaller than figure drawings you’re doing too.

The reference photos in this article are from the wonderful Croquis Cafe

At this size, you could still try to fit in a lot of detail, so the exercise might not force good, simplification habits onto you. You’re using small movements of your fingers to create your lines, which isn’t a great habit to go back to. Drawing at this size was good in that it’s quite different to the normal scale we are used to, and therefore challenging, but it doesn’t always push you towards the good habits we are encouraging, so I think it’s useful to start smaller than even this to make sure you’re really pushing yourself to simplify.

Drawing a smaller figure

Here are some 3-5cm attempts. At this scale, you really have to start simplifying, which is great. We are going to want to just get the big shapes. The smaller things got, the more challenging it was. And we did find this exercise really challenging. We had to make repeated attempts.

It’s hard to keep the proportions as you get smaller, since a 1mm difference in scale of a body part will be relatively big at this scale. So we found that it was really easy to get proportions wrong with small drawings, and that is interesting – if you struggle with proportions and you draw figures quite small, try drawing bigger. Fill up your page, go to A3 or A2 size paper.

We found it best to draw the biggest shape first. If you start with something smaller like the head, then it’s hard to get the rest of the figure in proportion to that little shape. So instead start with the biggest shape the pose offers you, and then the smaller elements will be easier to draw in proportion to that.

At these small sizes, your lines can’t be tentative or heavy. They need to be committed. If you often do lots of lines for one edge, because you’re trying to get it just right, you might need to sacrifice the quest for the perfect line for a much simpler and more decisive, single line. That’s another reason this exercise is useful.

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Drawing a tiny figure

Here we’ll need to go even simpler and not only keep lines simple and decisive, but be more selective and leave out even more lines.

In the torso, we are just interested in the solid ribcage, the squashy, stretchy stomach, then the solid pelvis. The nipples tell you a lot and are worth adding. In the back, you’ll want to add the shoulder blades, or on the front, add the collarbones.

In the arms, we’ll want the overall tapering of the upper arms maybe with some of the bulge of the muscles, the dip and then quick curve out for the top of the forearm, and then gentle tapering to the wrist.

We might add the major areas of shade to explain the light, but obviously we aren’t worried about little bits of shade here and there, just the big things we need to explain – that area’s dark, that area’s light.

A few more advantages with this exercise

  1. You can draw a lot of poses in a short practice session. It’s great to just get in a a large quantity of poses, because you’ll be training your eyes to take in the pose, filter out all the nonsense and get to the heart of it so you can draw a tiny version of it. Just doing this repeatedly for an hour or so with tons of poses will be great practice.
  2. You can do this just like you’re doodling – in the margins of your notes when you’re on the phone, listening to a lecture or in a boring meeting.


But… draw big first

We spend a lot of time encouraging people to draw figures bigger. People starting out often draw figures quite small, since they feel more control over a small space. Figures are drawn into little A5 pads or in the corners of A4 pads.

Drawing bigger is a great way to push yourself to use sweeping, more expressive lines with your whole arm, rather than getting bogged down in tiny little controlled marks made with your fingers. So, if you don’t regularly draw figures big, like A3 size or at least filling up A4 pages, we’d recommend that before drawing small. Even our demos for this channel are relatively small, because we need to fit them onto the camera without our heads getting in the way.

So this drawing small stuff is something to try only if you’re already drawing big.

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