This tutorial is a the first part of the Fresh Eyes 10 day figure drawing challenge. It’s all free, and the exercises are designed to be suitable to all abilities. If you make an account, you can access poses to practise with, plus you can get the 2D models described in this tutorial to practise with. The 2D models allow you to move the shapes around to match reference poses. This way you can train yourself to see with more clarity. You also can access more guidance videos, plus a community to share with and ask questions.
Fresh Eyes: Day One
It’s crazy how it can all be here in these few simple 2D shapes. How can they can replicate these poses so well? If you practise seeing the ideas from the 2D model in these poses, you will see 80% of the things you need to see for figure drawing. Your understanding of the torso, shoulders, attachment of the legs and head and neck will leap forward, and we are going to cover it all in this lesson.
Ribcage and pelvis
Let’s start at the heart of the whole thing. We have this roughly egg shaped ribcage, this pelvis underpants type shape, and between the two we have the midsection.
As the ribcage bends to one side, it’s the midsection shape that will get squashed down on one side and stretched on the other. The ribcage and pelvis shapes are going to stay as they are regardless of how the torso is bending, but the mid-section part is what has to get narrow at one end and get wider at the other end. Often people make the gap too big when the torso is bent, leading to long torsos, because they don’t allow the ribcage and pelvis to get close, like this:
So instead you’ll want to bring them closer together as in the image below. The little red marks on the midsection shape are going to give us an indication of how close we can take the squash. They can get a lot closer than you might think. They never actually are going to touch each other. You’ve hopefully never felt your ribcage rubbing up against the top of your pelvis – that would be awful!!
The side where the ribcage and pelvis get closer together is the ‘squash’ side….
… and the side where they got further apart is the stretch side. You’ll need that idea for gesture drawing later.
What’s going on with these three simple cutout shapes is something that we need to understand instantly, intuitively, when we see the figure.
You might look at the three torsos below and feel like they are very similar poses, all just bending to one side. But these are fundamentally different torso poses.
In Christy’s pose, the pelvis is staying pretty horizontal. The ribcage is on a strong angle, and it’s quite strongly squashing the mid-section on one side and stretching it out onthe other side. If you’re not sure how to see the ribcage angle, you can look for the line in the middle of the chest, the sternum. Hold up a pencil to it and see the angle.
In Ellie’s pose, the pelvis is on an angle opposite to the ribcage. So the mid-section has to start off going one way then sharply bend back for the ribcage angle. So the ribcage ends up leaning at a less strong angle compared to the first pose, but the pelvis is angled the other way so the overall squash and stretch in the mid-section is just as strong.
In Priss’s pose below, the lean of the ribcage is really strong, pretty much 45 degrees. And there is a bit of a squash versus stretch, but that’s not so strong even though the ribcage is leaning strongly. Why is that? Because the pelvis is leaning that same direction as the ribcage. There’s still a squash and a stretch, because the pelvis isn’t leaning as strongly as the ribcage, but it’s not a strong squash and stretch. So rather than just the ribcage angling to one side, the whole torso is angled to one side.
Did you ever feel like 1 or 2 minute quick sketches of a figure are just impossible? There’s a million things happening in the figure so how can it be drawn so fast. But there’s just 3 things happening here, and you only need to draw the 3 things, so quick poses become much more doable now. Those 3 simple shapes are the heart of the gesture and the structure of the figure.
So, the ribcage is a sort of egg shape. But we don’t look like walking eggs. Our torsos actually get wider coming up from the waist, they don’t curve back in like an egg. All of that extra mass, all of that extra structure is about the shoulders and arms. So instead of looking like the version on the right below, we look like the version on the left. So in other words, the shoulder structure is big and very important!
This large structure on the upper torso moves independently of the ribcage. It’s so important to separate these huge ideas in our minds. There’s the huge idea of the ribcage and the huge idea of the shoulders.
The shoulders are complex. There are so many muscles going through them. Pecs, the lats, terus major, rotator cuff, deltoids, even parts of the the upper arm muscles like biceps travel through or around this area:
But fortunately, to see what’s going on from the front, we don’t need to worry about all that. From the front, we are going to simplify this whole structure down to two straight lines, a line for each collarbone:
The inner ends of those straight lines will always attach to the same point on the middle of the front of the ribcage. But from there they can pivot up and down. They can also go forward and back, but we’ll think about that later. For now, let’s focus on up and down.
The lines go to different places, could be high or could be low, even as the ribcage stays in the same place. So muscles that start from the ribcage and go to the arm, like the pecs or lats, will have to stretch or squash to get to where the shoulder pivoted to.
When you see it like this, what is happening becomes a lot clearer. The arms are going to start from wherever the straight lines go to. Various muscles are going to now go to the area the straight lines have gone to.
Ok, so the real pelvis is complicated. But this underpants shape is going to give us what we need for the torso and also to attach the legs. You can see here that I can rotate the thigh pretty much the same as they are on the real models, whether they are down or raised.
Notice the difference between these 2D models and the classic artist’s wooden mannequin, where the legs are stuck to the bottom. This wooden mannequin is subconsciously how a lot of people think about the legs. Often a long torso results, because the legs are drawn under the torso. But in our version, the thigh comes up really high relative to the pelvis.
Try this yourself. Find that bony bit of your pelvis, it’s the ASIS, at about the level of the waistband on a pair of trousers. It’s the bony bumpy bit on your front at each side of your body. If you’re sitting, your leg is probably already raised (unless you’re sitting like I sit and you’re basically horizontal). But if you bring your leg to be 90 degrees with your torso, you’ll notice there’s that bony bit, which is basically at the top of the pelvis, and then the top of your thigh is just under that.
Now the neck is really built from the spine, and when drawing poses from the back or side, i’d totally recommend visualising that spine running up the back right through the heart of the neck to the base of the skull. But that’s hard from the front. Instead find these two straight lines for the V shaped muscles on the front of the neck, the sternocleidomastoid.
So on our ribcage egg, the middle of the collarbones is a point in the middle near the top. These muscles will come from there as well and go to sides of the cranium ball of the head. So there ends up being 4 straight lines from this spot, and they explain so much:
The head has a lot going on, but at the heart of everything is a ball for the cranium. The ball is the starting point for the Loomis head, for example, which works great.
The nice thing about a ball is it looks the same from all angles. It’s pretty useful then to see the head as this ball, and those neck muscles are going to come up to each side of the ball, just behind the ears.
But there’s more to the head than the ball, there’s the jaw and the face. All that stuff runs from the ball towards the chin. We can think of that also a bit like a ball. So we put a little ball for the chin, and we have everything we would need to know about the head.
Final bits and pieces
So the arms here are dead simple. They taper down. That’s a really important characteristic of the arms. There’s more to them of course, but this is enough for now.
The main thing is we are going to start these arm shapes from wherever those collarbones lines went to. We’ll have the collarbone lines come to somewhere in that red shape on the top of the simple arm shape.
The hands are just placeholder shapes really. The shins are outward curving lines, because that’s probably the most important thing to notice about shins. The feet are sort of triangular placeholders.
So notice how these simple shapes can capture these poses fully. This isn’t a super rough and basic version of the pose, this is the actual pose.
This ridiculously simplified set of shapes is not anatomically perfect or complete at all, but its characteristics give us everything we need. If we can train ourselves to see these ideas, we can draw these poses.
So now, when you see this pose, instead of all the details of the figure’s contours, you can just see ribcage egg, pelvis pants, midsection squash, midsections stretch, collarbone straight line 1, collarbone straight line 2. You can learn to see that instantly, and draw that within seconds, with confidence and clarity.
The huge limitation
These poses are specially designed. They are flat – the ribcage and pelvis are facing us directly, and everything is moving in that one plane. The legs and arms are not coming towards us. But limiting ourselves to these flat poses, we can use this 2D understanding of the figure.
On days 4 and 5 of the Fresh Eyes challenge, we will learn to see the figure with the same simplicity from the side, essentially learning about the dimension we are missing here. And here, it’s all about looking for that tilt of the ribcage forward or back relative to the tilt of the pelvis forward or back. Again this creates the squash side and stretch side. Those ideas are just as important as the ones we looked at in this video. I couldn’t fit those into this tutorial, but I will explain all about that in the challenge, so make sure you sign up, it’s free.
As the challenge progesses, we will start to draw with more form and dimension. Once you can see these ideas in this flat plane, you will much more easily start to understand in 3D. From day 6 of this 10 day challenge we will start to see and draw in 3D.
To really get good at the ideas from this article, and to learn about that side view, come and join the challenge. It is free and we have a really friendly and supportive community if you want to see other people doing this.