Charcoal Figure Drawing: Helpful Tips for Beginners
By: Emily Teets
Every artist attempts to draw the figure at some point in their life, be it in a class at school or in their spare time. They sketch their friends, their family, and sometimes they may sketch strangers or hire models to draw. When first trying to draw the figure the task can seem daunting, especially when trying to get the proper proportions and learning how to handle things like foreshortening. Trying to realistically show the figure can be a challenge, but starting with a forgiving medium such as charcoal can allow you to test the water and gain valuable drawing skills. Though these tips and techniques are for use with charcoal, they can be adapted to many other mediums.
Start out drawing the skeleton. If you can, try to find one of the models that are used in classrooms, as having a physical example of the skeletal system in the room with you can be incredibly helpful. This will allow you to get a better understanding of the foundational structure of the human body without having the pressure that comes with trying to make a "good" drawing of another person.
Measure often. When you are drawing, it is easy to draw what you think you see instead of what you are actually seeing. When drawing, you must consider the sizes of objects in relation to how close they are to each other and to you. You can fully extend your arm and use your pencil to compare the sizes of a persons' head to their torso, and so on. This will help you to get proper proportions and keep your figures from having disproportionately long bodies or limbs. It can also be useful in creating the face to check the distance between the eyes, nose and mouth.
Use quick gesture drawings to loosen up. You should start out each drawing session with a few quick sketches to quickly capture the figure and allow yourself to relax and get a feel for the figure you are trying to draw. The drawings should take you a minute or less to do. They don't need to be perfect, they don't even need to be good, these sketches are just to help you get started. They can just be basic almost stick figure drawings to help you understand the pose and where things are proportionally. Over time these sketches will help you improve your ability to quickly capture the most important elements of the figure.
Don't try to make your drawing "perfect" when you are starting out. Allow your drawing to change while you are working on it, and work with what is happening in your drawing. If something unexpected is happening in your drawing, don't immediately try to erase it, see if you can improve it. Don't just start over if your drawing isn't exactly what you want, see if you can make it into something better than what you had originally imagined.
Use your chamois cloth or eraser often. Drawing is not just about putting marks on paper, it is a give and take process. Don't only work from light to dark, you should be constantly erasing and adding to your drawing. If you repeatedly add values and erase them before adding more you can get a much wider value range than you can by only adding values without erasing. You can also get more interesting backgrounds and shadows with this process. Try to avoid shading your drawing by smudging your charcoal with your finger, as this will make your hands even dirtier, and will not look as good as blending with a stump or eraser.
Experiment with different types of charcoal, and try adding other mediums. There are several different types of charcoal to choose from, and some come in varying levels of hardness. Try out using both vine and compressed charcoals, and try different grades. Hard compressed and soft compresses charcoal will give you different effects, and using vine charcoal will give you an entirely different result. You can add other mediums to add interest to more developed drawings, mediums like pen and ink, pencil, crayons, and colored pastels can add to the complexity of the drawing.
Charcoal Figure Drawing Demo
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Charcoal for drawing is one of the best mediums to hone and refine your artistic skills. This article suggests some useful tips to help make it even more enjoyable.
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Every artist attempts to draw the figure at some point in their life, be it in a class at school or in their spare time.
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I was just thinking about the book, The Zen of Drawing, where it discusses countour drawing as a zen experience. An excellent comparison.