Figure Drawing Process at the Barcelona Atelier of Realist Art


In what follows, we will offer you a short insight to the methodology and figure drawing process with Helena López, a student at the Barcelona Atelier of Realist Art. Let this serve as an introduction to the values you have to search, the order you have to follow and concepts you’ll come back to throughout the drawing process.


first step

First Step:

Things to consider

  • Sight-size
  • Proportions
  • Gesture
  • Rhythm
  • Abstract geometric forms
  • Center line
  • Bony points
  • Comparative measurements

-The Sight-Size method consists of the exact triangulation between the student, their drawing and the model. The artist draws the subject from a fixed vantage point so the subject and the surface have exactly the same size. It’s a method that will make it easier to put the figure on the paper and it’s a good way to compare your drawing on one to one scale with the model and spot the differences.

- DO NOT mark a lot of points! With a standing pose you’ll only need the top of the head, the pit of the neck, the bellybutton, the pubic area and the foot of the standing leg.

- Next step is to search for the simplest straight lines with direction, also check out the gesture lines and the general rhythm of the pose.

-You can check if the proportions are right by looking for bigger abstract geometric forms. Some gestures or a pose in general may be best communicated by drawing the shape that it fits into.

- These lines must be soft and flexible, so all the mistakes can be erased easily.

- At this point everything will be related to the centerline of the body. This is an imaginary line that we will use to separate the right part of the body from the left part of the body to make sure that the proportions are right. The centerline runs from the pit of the neck to the pubic area and down to the weight-supporting foot (or feet). Centerline reflects the flow of the movement.

- Centerline will help us to understand the proportions and relations within the figure.


-You need to work on the rib cage, pelvis, upper leg, lower leg, feet, upper arm, lower arm, hand, neck and head. In the next step we will focus on the elbows, shoulders and knees, but for now the previous list will do.

-It is also important to look for the bony points like the acromion, clavicle, pit of the neck, elbow, sternum, pelvic point. When we relate these points with the centerline, we can check if our figure drawing looks adequate and isn’t deformed.

-You can also check the accuracy of basic proportions by using comparative measurements. It might prove useful! For example, the length of arm equals two and half head lengths, the human figure is eight times the height of the head, the width of the pelvis equals one and half heads etc. As these “relations” between body parts are unlikely to change, it might be used as unit of measurement during the drawing process.


Second Step:

Things to consider

  • Abstract forms
  • Rhythm
  • Comparative measures
  • Construction
  • Big masses
  • Gestures
  • Body type
  • Quality of the line

-Look for and compare the abstract forms, geometric shapes and possible relations between the proportions of the whole body.

-Compare the different tilts and angles searching for harmonic abstract shapes.

-In order to the abstract forms we drew before to make sense, we should think in a constructive way (the planes of the form). It’s important to keep in mind that every decision MUST be checked in both constructive and abstract ways.

-It is important to think about the big masses of shape and tone: the light and the shadow. Later we also work on the halftones but for now we keep our drawing flat. For example, if the observed dark area isn’t uniform, we describe it through one value. We have a tendency to drift towards developing the details, but at this point it's more important to look at the overall concept than to see the specifics.

- Take a moment to consider the body type of the model and if it is reflected in your drawing.

- Be careful to preserve the gesture and the rhythm of the pose. 

Figure Drawing

Third Step:

Things to consider

  • Anatomy
  • Construction
  • Quality of the line

-At this point we start to be less generic and turn to more specific knowledge. We need to verify the proportions with the help of our basic anatomy knowledge.

-At the beginning, understanding of the body as big mass is more important. As we proceed, understanding the anatomy becomes essential so you can describe those big masses more specifically. Depending on the model and his/her body type, this study will be more or less obvious (if he/she is more or less muscular).

-As you are still at the beginning, the lines must remain flexible and soft. We'll introduce the sharp edges at the end and add accents to our focal point in order to describe specific parts where we want to put more structure (like bony points). The quality of the line will improve throughout the drawing process. 

Figure Drawing

Fourth Step:

Things to consider

  • Quality of the line
  • Value
  • Visual impression

-Visual impression of the light and shadow. At this step we will start putting a light value in the shadows. Keep the shadows FLAT and make the shadow line a bit darker. Thanks to this value we will be able to compare the abstract forms of the light and the shadow and have another option to check the accuracy of the proportions. This way we are looking for the visual impression of the light and the shadow.

- It is crucial to keep turning back to abstract forms, the constructive way of looking, the anatomy, the proportions, the sight-size method during the whole drawing process.


Fifth Step:

Things to consider

  • Background
  • Quality of the line
  • Visual impression

- Establish the light value of the background as it will help you with the visual impression and it will make it easier to read the drawing.

- You need to keep in mind the quality of the line and make sure you DO NOT lose the drawing.

 - You should draw the feet, hand and face before moving on to next step.


Sixth Step:

Things to consider

  • Darken the lines
  • Work on the contour lines
  • Form
  • White chalk

- With the background done, now we need to recheck that all the previous references (proportions, construction etc.) are correct and then we can start to work on the contour of the figure. But we need to keep everything as simplified as possible. We can now make the lines a bit darker so they stand out from the background.

- If you are more advanced we can start to think about the variation of the lines. Sharper and contrasted lines are reserved for more radical changes of planes and the focal point, while softer and less contrasted lines are for milder forms and far from the focal point. Playing like that with the quality of the line might help you to follow some patterns or rules but every artist will use it the way he/she considers adequate given the situation.

- Now we need to think about the form and how it works so the construction and the anatomy start to make more sense.

- We can put a bit of white chalk on the highlights in order to improve the visual impression which in turn will help us to find the abstract shapes more easily. When we start to construct inside the light we will be able to see the shape of the light clearly and make all the necessary corrections. 

Figure Drawing

Seventh Step:

Things to consider

  • Form contour
  • Shadow line
  • Quality of the line
  • Construction
  • White chalk
  • Composition
  • Key Values
  • Highlight

- You need to continue working on the form and construction, but being more specific and less generic. Work on the shadow line and the quality of the line, adapting it to the changes in the form. (It is very important that the articulation of the line is not affected by the visual impression. The more we advance the more constructive and less abstract the line will be.)

- With the white chalk start to draw the falling light -With the charcoal you can start to darken the shadows keeping them flat. (Inside the shadow we can add some notes to explain important forms, but in general the shadows must be rather atmospheric and carry less information than halftones and light.)

- Keep in mind that when a change of planes occurs it produces a change of value. It is important to understand why this is happening and try to capture it in the best way possible so it can be read more clearly. These changes of planes can be soft or sharp. The soft changes of value mean that there is not a big change of planes and form, so it is subtle. If there is a sharp edge or a big change of value means that there is an important change of planes and form.

- It may be beneficial to define the key value (the darkest black and the lightest white) so you can relate all the other values with this scale. Doing that you'll drawing will acquire some important final touches.

- Work on the relation between the figure and the background. Our aim is to find points where the figure separates from the background and also where they become one. From now on it is really important to define the range of variation between the figure and the background. This will help us to create a sensation of space. 

Figure Drawing

Eighth Step:

Things to consider

  • Key value
  • Specificity
  • Contour
  • Accents
  • Focal point
  • Construction planes
  • Structure on the halftones

-By now the figure MUST have the key values defined so every relation that we draw from now on will have the correct value. Keep in mind that the falling of the light is like a shower: the top parts of the figure will have more light than the legs (standing pose).

-Also keep in mind that you will probably put more contrast where the focal point is.

- It will be very beneficial to think a lot about the focal point, and put a lot of effort in that part to make sure it is well constructed. It is recommended to place your focal point off-center in your composition.

- To be able to play a bit more with the focal point we can use accents. Accents are little lines that vary in size and value that help explain better how the form works and also it helps with the composition. We can find them not only inside the figure but also in the contour. Make sure you don’t do every little accent in the same way as this will make a boring reading of the figure for the spectator (use variations like different value, size, play with charcoal and the eraser, different placing). Basic places where you put accents: change of planes, bony points, variation in the contour, the articulations. It is important to put structure on the halftones.

-It's important that all the decisions that we make are specific. This means that we need to think about the specific form, anatomy and construction of the model. Try to be less and less generic!


Ninth Step:

Things to work on

  • Finishing Touches
  • Accents
  • Background

-By now the figure drawing will be almost done, you will only need to draw a few more accents so everything is well explained. Define your focal point and make sure it is the main character of the drawing. We are also interested in defining secondary focal points relevant to the drawing as everything else will remain more in in the background.

-You should make the background to work in your advantage. When changes at the level of abstract composition are needed in order to improve the drawing, make them!

-When you feel that some modifications will improve the reading of the drawing, make them! It might seem irrelevant to the construction of the drawing and the planes, but it's not. 

Figure Drawing

Figure Drawing





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