30-in-30: Figure drawing and composition


Charcoal sketch
2-minute sketch
Charcoal pencil on paper

I didn’t paint today. Instead I hosted a small life drawing group at my house and drew all morning long. We didn’t have a model, so we took turns sitting for others to sketch.

My goal as I began this session was to think seriously about the composition as I drew. My normal approach is one of frantic activity: scratching the pencil over the paper trying to capture the pose or a likeness. I can usually do that, but not much else. Today I wanted to make pictures. This is how I approached it.

  • Include other elements in the scene. Furniture helps place the figure in space, and simple vertical lines act as a framing device. Since we were doing this at my home, there was thankfully more to draw than just a body on a model stand.
5-minute sketch
5-minute sketch
  • Started with a frame. After I drew a rectangle, I forced my figure into that space. I paid particular attention to the relationships between figure and frame, attempting to make pleasing shapes and still stay true to the accuracy of the figure.
Figure sketch
10-minute sketches
  • Give shapes good relations. How a shape interlocks with another shape, or how it contrasts, makes a drawing more interesting. Some shape interplay is a no-brainer: a curve next to a straight line is almost always a tasty combination.


Standing woman
15-minute pose
  • Think in the abstract, draw realistically. Instead of drawing “a leg”, I tried to draw the lines and curves that made a shape that telegraphed “leg.” I aimed to make drawings of pleasing/interesting shapes that just happened to look like a human figure.

One of my goals in the upcoming year is to improve my skills in composition. These are some of the books I’m plowing my way through:

Andrew Loomis’ Creative Illustration
Edgar Payne’s Composition of Outdoor Painting
Arthur Wesley Dow’s Composition: Understanding Line, Notan and Color

I also hope to find the time to follow along with Paul Foxton’s Creative Triggers website (once I find my password!), a community based study of composition based on Dow’s book. It’s a valuable site; Paul is a fine painter, and has created lots of good exercises to hone your composition skills. I think it’s well worth the subscription price.

One thought on “30-in-30: Figure drawing and composition

  1. These are terrific lively sketches captured in little snippets of time! Well done, Maggie! I love the two faces – I bet you’ve got likenesses there. Lots of detail in ten minute sketches! Love your tips too and thanks for the book recs. I’ll be trotting over to Amazon now to look those up! 💛

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