I’ve done a lot of figure drawing for a really long time – over 15 years at this point. The key, in my opinion is strict observation. By this, I mean looking at the figure as you’re drawing, rather than looking back and forth too much. I almost always start with a contour, although I’d like to branch out into mass and gesture more than I currently do at some point, for the challenge and variety.
My method is to begin with contour strictly observed from the figure and often a little “off,” but more true to what’s actually there than a meticulous start. You can easily get off proportion if you spend too much time putting details in the face or torso before getting to the legs. It’s better to get a rough idea of the shapes first, then go in and start adding basic detail like large blocks of shadow, and finally some selective smaller details. I often am working at a time limit of maximum 15 minutes, so I really have to prioritize which details I put in. I try to think of what’s most significant and most representative — what will allow me to convey what’s there in the fewest lines or shapes possible? It’s better, I think, to imply what’s there than put in every detail — leave some of it up to the viewer to infer and put together.
This is a figure drawing from a 2013 art class on watercolor and mixed media, done in ink and white gouache. The ink is obviously both pen and brush. I started first of all with a pencil, but sometimes on other drawings I do the contour in a Sharpie marker so I force myself to observe carefully from the very beginning rather than depending on being able to make corrections later. It’s both restrictive and freeing.
I also appreciated the shape of the model in this session. People who model tend to be, while usually not perfect (I did run into a guy whose email was greekgod@ before though), smaller. This model was a completely different kind of person from what I am used to working with and it was a delight.