How to draw figures by drawing a stick man

StickmanWalkingYou drew them when you were a child: stick people that lept, danced, fought, or just stood around in the landscape of your childhood art. And if you learn how to draw them again, they’ll help you enormously when you are sketching in public places.


Things to look for when drawing a stick man

  • Angle for position Pay attention to the angle of the head, shoulders, and the hips. I often draw those lines first, lightly, to help me capture the pose. I also make quick lines for the angles of the feet so that I know how they are positioned and if I have time, I add the knees and elbows using little circles. Getting these landmarks down on paper will help you remember the position of your subject, even after they’ve moved. Everything after that becomes a connect-the-dots game.
  • Measure! Stick your pencil out and verify that your brain is really seeing what’s there. I can’t stress that enough. You don’t have to get too detailed; if you’re rapidly sketching kids on a soccer field, or people in a park, you don’t have time for a lot of measurements. I look for the vertical halfway point and mark that quickly so I can go on to the torso. When I draw the torso, I eyeball the center line so that I can get the right perspective.
  • Torso comes first My life drawing teacher, Rob Anderson, used to say, “if you can draw the torso correctly, you can hang the rest of the body from it.” I always try to get the torso and hips first; they are the structure. All the rest is decoration. If you add lobes to represent the rib cage, it can help you see the center line.
  • Draw cubicley Think of the upper body as a box with two lobes (the ribs). The tummy is a soft ball; how much of that do you see? The pelvis/hips can be a tube, although some people use a box for the hips. I like using a butterfly shaped tube because I can see how the ball of the tummy fits into the pelvis area.
  • Transparent thinking Try to imaging the shoulder blades on the back, which will give you the correct position of the arms. Draw your stickman as though he were a ghost so you can see your construction lines.




Once you have the stickman posed correctly, you can start adding flesh to him. In the figure below, I drew him in black ink, then built his form up using blue lines. When I’m sketching in the field, I draw the construction lines lightly, and often don’t erase them when I’m finished because they can make the figure more solid and dimensional. They are also great for later reference when I’m trying to construct a new drawing, because all this public sketching, besides being fun, is fodder for future work. Stickmanslouching

Drawing exercise Get thee to a public place and draw the people in it. Concentrate on drawing only stickmen. Afterwards at home, draw other stickmen (from your imagination) interacting with the first drawings. Challenge yourself by drawing them in overlapping positions, some farther away, some closer to the picture plane. Then let me know how it goes. I’d love to see your drawing.

Sketching Thanksgiving portraits

Graphite sketches
Graphite sketches

We had a house chockablock full of people over the holidays, and I finally unpacked my sketchbooks and had a few moments to scribble a few lines. Babies are hard to draw. Their proportions are unrelated to the proportions of adults, and they squirm and wriggle so much that it’s hard to capture a pose. These were the best I could do, as I could only draw until our li’l bit wanted cuddling.

Blockin-graphite sketch
Block in graphite sketch

A seated adult brother made a much easier target. You can see that I’ve  blocked in the head using straight lines. Even when drawing curves, it’s much easier to begin with straight lines. They are more accurate than a curve. You can always smooth them out later.

Graphite sketch
Graphite sketch

I’ve been trying to draw my brother for years. For some reason, catching his likeness is hard for me to do. Perhaps I know his face too well. Perhaps he won’t sit still long enough (these sketches were done while he was engrossed in a book).

The pencil is some kind of clutch pencil, a thing that’s like a mechanical pencil, only with a fat lead. I like it, but I’d be happier with it if I sharpened it. But since I can’t find any of the multiple sandpaper blocks I’ve bought for this purpose, and I’m unwilling to buy more, I’ll have to use it like it is until I unpack more boxes in the studio.