How to improve figure and portrait drawing?

How to improve figure and portrait drawing?

Question from David


I’m interested in improving my figure and portrait drawing. My long-term goal is to be able to work as a street artist… for this I lack the speed and experience working with live models. Would I be able to learn these skills in the Anatomy Master Class or would it be more beneficial for me to go through the entire Drawing Academy course?

As I already have prior experience with sketching, albeit mostly working from photographs, I’m not sure I need to purchase the entire 3-month drawing course. Is it possible to just purchase month 2 and 3 or is it only available as a 3-month package?

Thank you in advance for your help! I thoroughly admire your work.

Feedback from Vladimir London, Drawing Academy tutor

Hi David,

Many thanks for your questions.

If your goal is to draw portraits from life, the knowledge of human anatomy and proportions of a head are a must. So, the Anatomy Master Class will be a great help.

Regarding your experience of drawing from photographs, it did more bad than good for your life drawing skills.

Copying flat images is only good for exactly that – making replicas of flat images. Your brain gets re-wired to see flat shapes and copy tonal values of a two-dimensional surface.

When it comes to drawing from life, you will have a major challenge of drawing three-dimensional objects you see in real life.

“Building a head” using constructive drawing principles helps to overcome mistakes of copying. These principles of constructive drawing are explained in the Drawing Academy course.

After drawing from photos for a long time, you will also have difficulties with rendering tonal values when drawing from life. For example, a human face does not have tonal values “painted” on the skin. Skin as such has more or less unified color and tone. Gradations of light come from the light that reflects from a face and depend on the source of light and angles of planes of the face. Constructive drawing of such planes will help to solve issues of tonal rendering.

You also mentioned that you “lack the speed and experience working with live models.

Speed is a sub-product of mastery. Don’t strive for speed, aim for strong drawing skills.

How to improve figure and portrait drawing?

There’s a misconception that live sketches have to be done fast and in the majority of life drawing classes teachers advocate 2- to 5minute gesture drawing exercises to students who haven’t experienced long and thorough life drawings of 20+ hours per pose.

Doing just fast sketches, you will get a collection of drawings full of mistakes. This is not the way to master life drawing skills. Making fast gesture drawings from life is a great way of capturing a model’s likeness, emotions and poses. Yet such an exercise should come after you spend a long time studying anatomy, proportions, and making drawings of “long” poses.

How to improve figure and portrait drawing?

How to improve figure and portrait drawing?

And finally, a few words about “working with live models.” I often hear from students that they can’t study drawing because of not having access to live models. Here’s the big question – how many thousands of hours have you spent on drawing objects from life other than human models? Are you perfect in drawing still-life, organic and man-made objects, draperies, landscapes and so on? Often, such complaints come from students who can’t even draw a cube in perspective.

How to improve figure and portrait drawing?

Here’s the harsh truth: depicting a model from life without having strong fundamental drawing skills is like trying to drive a Formula 1 car without basic driving skills – it leads to big disappointment.

Here’s my advice: learn constructive drawing principles and proper drawing techniques, learn human anatomy for artists, study human body proportions, draw from life whatever you see around you, get proficient tonal rendering skills, then come to drawing portraits and figures.

How to improve figure and portrait drawing?

Having access to models will be the simplest thing in your street artist career – just offer to draw free portraits – your expense is only time and drawing materials, which is much better than many artists think – “having a model is expensive.”

With time, you will get enough experience to ask people for money for their portraits.

How to improve figure and portrait drawing?

Regarding the Drawing Academy monthly instalments – this course is one unit, which is available for three monthly payments if you would like to spread out the tuition fee. You will have a lifetime membership in the Drawing Academy; this also applies to personal support by Academy tutors that comes at no extra charge.

I hope this answers your questions.

To your creative success,

Vladimir London
Drawing Academy tutor

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Ann Marie Soranno says:

    Hi David,

    As a student of both Drawing Academy and Anatomy Master Class, I recommend you buy both course. I think these two courses work hand in hand. They are both great stand alone courses but when combined they give you so much more value. If I get stuck in one course, I just go to the other course for the answer. And you can’t beat the price. I think it’s a steal for the value you get. You will learn more about drawing and improve your drawing skills with these two course then you will learn in any Western four year college. And stop drawing from photos, that is such a waste of time! Learn the basics of construction drawing and draw the three dimensional world around you. That’s where the fun and power is!

    Good luck with your endeavor.
    Ann Marie

  2. mrtrini says:

    Great advice!!! I, myself, am interested in portrait and figure drawing and models are not cheap to employ and the local art class I attend once per month are okay but inundates you with these five and fifteen minute poses. However, yup, I’m not proficient in rendering tonal values with simple geometrical objects and do not expect to succeed at complex figure drawings yet. Artists…we have to be patient to do the seeming tedious work called practice and not expect to be masterful overnight. Again, very informative discussion.

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