Drawing Figures – Project: The Moving Figure


Research Point

Go and do some people watching.  This could be at the supermarket, on a bus or train, in the pub or cafe, in a cinema or concert queue.  Whenever you find yourself amongst lots of people have a really good look at them.  Look at how they stand, what they are carrying, what they are doing with their hands, what their chins are like, the difference between a man’s head and a woman’s.  If possible do some quick sketches; or remember and draw up what you observed when you get back.  Record your observations in your learning log.

I started this task over a cup of tea whilst watching BBC Breakfast News.  They were interviewing Michael Palin and I noticed, how striking his position was.  It was probably more so as he was wearing black trousers and sitting on a red sofa, but the camera angle made it interesting.  He was sitting very upright but relaxed and in a typical male pose.  As the camera viewpoint moves every few seconds, I had to remember the position and sketch from that, occasionally, the same view was flashed up but not for long.  I then looked at how the female presenter was sitting, elegantly cross-legged in a very feminine way.  This was also more difficult to catch as although, similar camera angles came up on-screen, due to the more complicated position, a slight difference in viewpoint made a huge difference in the drawn pose.  I tried to memorise it but the drawing is not overly representative.

Project: The Moving Figure Research Point 6B pencil in A4 sketchbook

Project: The Moving Figure
Research Point
6B pencil in A4 sketchbook

After this, as I needed to do some shopping, I packed up my sketchbook and pencils and headed off to Fordingbridge.  I decided to sit in the car park for half an hour and sketch people coming and going.  It was around 9.45am, so a fairly busy time for shoppers.  Most of the people I saw were retired, young mums, small children and some delivery guys.  I began by trying to draw “action” and movement, a man on his mobile phone walking along with his other hand in his pocket, a gran strapping in her young ward in the back seat of the car, a woman searching for change at the parking meter.  It was difficult to understand what was really required of me and not just to repeat previous exercises.  Then I noticed an elderly lady passenger in a car that drove past me and thought I’d try to sketch her from memory.  I was quite pleased with the result and started to notice characteristics common in her age group.

Project: The Moving Figure Research Point 6B pencil in A4 sketchbook

Project: The Moving Figure
Research Point
6B pencil in A4 sketchbook

I decided to concentrate on this aspect of the figures around me, what describes an older person from a younger one?  Some observations from this people watching session are detailed below:

  • head and neck appears pushed further forward
  • chins merge with neck as a result
  • the neck merges into shoulders with less definition
  • stance can look strangely unbalanced when standing with weight evenly distributed over both feet
  • older people tend to hold their shoulders much higher as they walk, even those that appear sprightly
  • also noticed how the elderly can appear more androgynous – similar can be said about young babies – I’m sure there are obvious biological reasons for this as well as social/environmental ones.  Examples of social/environmental reasons could be: women tend to have shorter hair and wear less makeup as they reach old age, many people put on extra weight around the middle or appear thinner – both may merge the male and female silhouette to some extent.

Another woman I managed to sketch was younger, maybe in her thirties or early forties and her overall demeanour was very different.  She was lighter on her feet, her head held a little higher, with a defined neck distinguishable from her chin and shoulders.

I suppose I had noticed this before but when studied to this degree, it becomes quite startling as an indicator of a figure’s age.  It is also a lesson to me that good posture is very important and is probably a much more successful method of reducing those signs of aging than miracle creams!


Drawing Figures – Project: Self Portrait


Research Point

Investigate some artists’ self portraits.  Look at both well-known self portraits – such as Rembrandt and van Gogh, and at lesser known artists.  Make notes in your learning log.

I decided to avoid the most obvious self portraits (although many are favourites eg Rembrandt, van Gogh, Degas etc),  if there is such a thing, and looked for well-known artists that come to mind a little further down the list so to speak.

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) – Mexico City

A fascinating life and many self portraits.  Frida Kahlo loaded her paintings with symbolism and story

Research Point Self Portraits Frida Kahlo - Self Portrait

Research Point
Self Portraits
Frida Kahlo – Self Portrait

telling.  I think she very much captured the essence of herself, not only in her features but in adding the relevant narrative for that specific time in her life’s story.  I watched a documentary about her some months ago, this followed her life, loves and tragedies which can be read throughout her self portraits.  Recovering from a horrendous traffic accident as a teenager, she had many months of recuperation and was never fully free of pain afterwards.  Therefore, she had nothing but her painting and, confined to bed, probably no other subject than herself.

She also depicted, sometimes quite graphically, her inability to carry her three pregnancies to full term due to her injuries. Not shy of describing her conditions and personal tragedies as a woman, she was revered by feminists for her illustrative candour.  Her life ended at the age of 47 in 1954 but had spanned many turbulent and transitional world events politically, artistically and religiously.  Religion and her Mexican culture played a large part in her life and therefore, her paintings.  If anyone truly painted themselves, it was Frida Kahlo.

Research Point Self Portraits Frida Kahlo - The Broken Column

Research Point
Self Portraits
Frida Kahlo – The Broken Column

I chose Kahlo because of the extra narrative she brought to her self portraits, the symbolism is rife within them and I can not begin to imagine how to use that in my own work.  I hope that over time, I can find such a personal voice to demonstrate feelings, emotions and beliefs in such a way that they inject more life and meaning into my images.








Egon Schiele (1890 – 1918)

Another prolific painter of the self-portrait, Egon Shiele was way ahead of his time in my humble opinion.  A few adjectives and phrases come to mind: stunning, expressive, disturbing, flexible, explicit, innovative, graphic, contortionist, self-aware, uninhibited…

Research Point Self Portraits Egon Schiele - Self Portrait

Research Point
Self Portraits
Egon Schiele – Self Portrait

Research Point Self Portraits Egon Schiele - Self Portrait

Research Point
Self Portraits
Egon Schiele – Self Portrait











Schiele was mentored by Gustav Klimt and his influence is sometimes clear, yet he has a very distinctive style of his own.  Exaggerating his own skinny physique with strong, jagged line and knobbly joints, Schiele manages to produce wonderfully twisted and expressive poses.  How on earth he managed to do this I don’t know – multiple mirrors, memory, a multitude of sketches?  However he did it, his work is unmistakable.  The facial expressions are numerous and vivid – I can’t imagine how he managed keep his expression and reproduce it at the same time.

His untimely death at the age of 28 leaves one wondering what he would have gone on to do had he lived longer.

Onto my supposedly lesser known artists and their self portraits.  I had whittled my list down to four:  Bryan Lewis Saunders, Paula Modensohn-Becker, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Kathe Kollwitz.  For the purpose of this research point I’ve decided to go from the sublime to the ridiculous with no insult or pre-judgement intended, so it’s Kathe Kollwitz and Bryan Lewis Saunders.

Kathe Kollwitz (1867-1945)
(Käthe Kollwitz. [Internet]. 2014. The Biography.com website. Available from: http://www.biography.com/people/käthe-kollwitz-37900 [Accessed 29 Sep 2014].
Supporting information from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%A4the_Kollwitz

A quick introduction:
Kathe Kollwitz was a German draughtsman, painter and sculptor born in Kalinigrad, Russia formally known as Konigsberg, East Prussia 1867.  She studied at art schools for women in Berlin and Munich.  she excelled drawing working people and studies of the human condition.  I have to admit, I didn’t know of this artist until discussing self portraits at my life drawing class and her name came up.  I have researched some of her drawings and her self portraits are simply brilliant.  Again, a very expressive style with an abundance of emotion and feeling encased in her mark making.

Self Portraits Research Point Kathe Kollwitz - Self Portrait 1898

Self Portraits
Research Point
Kathe Kollwitz – Self Portrait 1898

Self Portraits Research Point Kathe Kollwitz - Self Portrait 1910

Self Portraits
Research Point
Kathe Kollwitz – Self Portrait 1910

Self Portraits Research Point Kathe Kollwitz - Self Portrait 1938

Self Portraits
Research Point
Kathe Kollwitz – Self Portrait 1938

Self Portraits Research Point Kathe Kollwitz - Self Portrait 1924

Self Portraits
Research Point
Kathe Kollwitz – Self Portrait 1924





















A selection of self portraits spanning 40 years.  The likeness is always there, with the added life experience clearly depicted.  I especially like the 1924 charcoal drawing on tinted paper, such an economic style but speaks volumes.

Bryan Lewis Saunders

A quirky choice which I described as ridiculous earlier.  This is not to be derogatory regarding his skill and style but maybe could have referred to his methods of one particular self-portrait series.  Saunders another prolific self portraitist, has, since 1995, made it a mission to complete at least one self-portrait per day until his end – over 8000 so far.  He has many hardback sketchbooks dedicated to this task and his drawings take many guises not least the “Under the Influence” series.  In this series, Saunders took a different drug, prescriptive or otherwise each day, and drew himself under the influence.  Not a method I’d recommend, even in my non-medical capacity, I can see this just maybe detrimental to one’s health.  In fact the artist himself admits it wasn’t ideal considering he did damage his brain to a recoverable degree, although he says he’s still continuing the experiment but not so intensively – each to their own.  I have attached a link to his website, as I’m not sure copyright would allow me to reproduce the images on my blog.  I have to say, some of them are very eye-catching and expressive, but then I probably would have expected that.  Here are the titles of those that particularly caught my eye (this is not a shopping list):

1 sm glass of “real” absinth
Bathsalts (?????)
1 “bump” of Crystal meth (can’t believe I’m typing this!)
20mg Valium
2mg Xanax

I did wonder, though, how much the intoxication actually influenced the drawing and how much was a, however subconscious, pre-conceived image.  Some are very obviously, out there and floating!  However the inspiration was attained, there is a clear likeness running through the images, even the more abstract and/or expressive ones.  From the recipe list above, my favourites are Bathsalts and PCP.

To be fair, some of his portraits were as a result of medication given in the ER for kidney stones.  Maybe I should do a sketch directly after my multi-vitamin in the morning!?

Drawing Figures – Project: Structure


Research Point – Part 2:

Look at anatomy books, or do a web search for anatomy images and see what you can find.  Make notes on how you can use this information to improve your figure drawing.  Try to do an anatomical drawing yourself.

Notes made in sketch book:

Research Point:  An attempt at an anatomical drawing.

Research Point:
An attempt at an anatomical drawing.
Pose outlined in pencil, drew skeleton inside pose, then drew flesh and clothing around the internal frame. Coloured pencils define the figure and its surroundings.

I didn’t want to just copy a diagram from a book, so decided to take one of my quick sketches of the model and try to work the skeletal structure into it myself, following the general anatomy.  I drew a faint, rough outline of the pose and then tried to show how the bones would sit in that pose.  It was interesting that it seemed to work, it may not be absolutely accurate but it does give a good idea of the positioning.  It was fun to do if not slightly macabre to imagine one’s husband as a skeleton sitting on your sofa!



Drawing Figures – Project: Structure


Research Point – Part 1:

Look at anatomy books or do a web search for anatomy images and see what you can find.  Make notes on how you can use this information to improve your figure drawing.  Try to do an anatomical drawing yourself.

Looking at the diagram of the skeleton itself, I am drawn to the following points:

Human Skeleton Diagram

Human Skeleton Diagram

  • the femur or thigh bone is the longest in the body
  • when standing up straight with arms down at the sides, the tip of the hands come halfway down the thigh, the elbows are about level with the waist
  • I’m reminded that the radius bone twists over the ulna in the forearm when the wrist is turned over – this can sometimes be seen beneath the skin when drawing
  • the position of the scapula or shoulder blades in the rear view, plus how small they are compared to my perception
  • the hip joints are below the pelvis – the top of the pelvis is often mistaken for the hip
  • there are radial/swivel joints such as the shoulders, hips, neck, wrists and ankles and there joints that bend one way only eg the knees and elbows.

This next skeletal diagram with the superimposed body around the framework of bones, shows tilts and weight distribution – very important when trying to capture gesture and stance when drawing the figure.

Female Skeleton Diagram

Female Skeleton Diagram
Showing tilts and weight distrubution

The musculature diagrams show how the frame-work of the body is fleshed out and how the shape of a figure can change.  These obviously show the muscle and connective tissue that a human figure has but, shape is also defined by fat around the muscles, and is grouped by differing body types.

Human Muscualture

Human Musculature

Scientifically, these are categorised into three main groups ie Ectomorph, Mesomorph and Endomorph.  Realistically, most people are a combination of two of these.

Body Types - Male

Body Types – Male

Body Types - Female

Body Types – Female








I also came across these images, which I found interesting, as they are of the figure during movement. They show how muscles contract and expand when in use.

Muscles in Movement  fig 1

Muscles in Movement
fig 1

Muscles in Movement fig 2

Muscles in Movement
fig 2











Example of flesh pressed against another surface

Example of flesh pressed against another surface

Another observation when life drawing I have noted, is how flesh reacts when pressed against a surface.  Being flexible and malleable, it squashes and spreads.  When this is captured in a drawing it further evidences solidity of the figure, whether it be its surroundings or when in a pose where legs are crossed over each other for example.


All diagram images sourced from the internet under free images search.