Gesture Drawing – Make your own Human Figure Manikin

Seeing-Drawing the ‘gesture’ is a fundamental skill in being able to draw a human figure. I teach drawing at Emily Carr and elsewhere and developed a sequence for correctly scaling a gesture so as not to ‘go off the page” in life drawing. Here are some pix of an 11 inch aluminum wire sculpture armature I made to create poses for drawing without needing a live model or manikin. I also include a handout I give my classes.

To create your own wire manikin: Draw a stick figure on 8 1/2 x 11 paper first. Bend wire on top of your drawing to get a proportionate figure. Aluminum sculpture wire from an art store is best, and use a pliers to bend accurately for the initial figure. You can photo about 10 or 20 poses to create a library to sketch from for practice.

Manikin Head Construction and Facial Features (5 Videos)

This is a series of five videos done at the Shadbolt Center in 2016 and gives useful info for drawing faces. For life drawing purposes  at least watch videos 1 and 2 of 5. Knowing something about this, even though portraiture is not the goal, can contribute to life drawing. What you leave out is important, but knowing that certain lumps and bumps are there, and why,  is a good thing. Form a personal goal of being able to construct the manikin head and place basic features on it at any angle, from your head, without a model. It will make it much easier when you do work from a model. (If you get misdirected to other videos, always come back to this entry to watch the next in sequence.)

Shadbolt TAS Drawing Manikin Head and Face  vid 1 of 5


Shadbolt TAS Drawing Manikin Head and Face  vid 2 of 5


Shadbolt TAS Drawing Manikin Head and Face  vid 3 of 5


Shadbolt TAS Drawing Manikin Head and Face  vid 4 of 5


Shadbolt TAS Drawing Manikin Head and Face  vid 5 of 5

Manikin Head and Figure Construction (3 Videos)

Here are 3 vids on constructing the ‘manikin head’ and ‘manikin figure’. The idea is to learn the simple construction at all angles; learn to construct the feature/anatomy groups; map the feature/anatomy groups onto the manikin .  Eventually, these constructions become instinctual and more emphasis is placed on the shading, light and shadow patterns that indicate masses, etc, rather than just ‘outlines’ of features and masses. The goal should be to internalize this knowledge and apply it later in direct observational life drawing. Keep coming back to this page to click on the next video if you go astray. Disregard the internal titles as the vids were shot for a previous set of lessons, but these three are relevant to our Life Drawing course.

Constructing Faces and Figures, Walk, Run, Dance, etc 1 of 3


Constructing Faces and Figures, Walk, Run, Dance, etc 2 of 3


Constructing Faces and Figures, Walk, Run, Dance, etc 3 of 3


I will be attaching more videos to this Category as the Emily Carr University course progresses. You can also  view the vids in category:  FACE AND FIGURE,  or use the search box at the top of the main page.


We are all “Students”. We all learn from those who have been on the road a bit longer than us. Here is  a little advice from someone who has been on the road for a very long time- Drawing from live models is of great benefit (observational).  But, learning to draw from your “internal model” is equally beneficial (constructive) and will make your drawing from life easier and work better.  Ask yourself this: “Do I want to always need a model or photo when I want to draw OR do I want to be able to draw skilfully from my imagination, just me and a sheet of paper?”  Thankfully, they are not mutually exclusive skills. They are of course complementary, but they are DIFFERENT skills. Try re-drawing the life sketches made in class with greater care and analysis and make the poses a part of your own mental library. This will improve your ‘visual memory’, greatly.  Drawing the face and figure may seem challenging, but it is enormously interesting and engrossing. I am easily bored, but after years, this is the least boring thing I ever undertook.  Relax, commit to doing it every time you have coffee in the morning for one year.  Make study-sheets and carry them in your pocket. Sketch on 8 x 11 simple printer paper folded in your pocket. Date and save some. Take it step by step, memorize, and you will succeed.  “The proper study of Mankind is Man”. This is what I did and I suggest it as a way to begin your own study of the face and figure:



              1 – learn to draw and manipulate the generalized manikin ‘head-form”

              2 – learn to draw the 4 feature groups, eye, ear, nose, mouth.

              3 – learn to proportionately place the feature groups on the head-form.

              4 –  Study light and shadow patterns on the head-form.



              1 – learn to proportionately draw and manipulate the generalized manikin ‘figure-form”

              2 – learn to map the anatomy on the figure-form

              3 – learn to draw the 3 detail areas:  head (as above), hands, and feet.  

              4 –  Study light and shadow patterns on the figure-form.


Along the way you will also want to gradually learn more about the following:

Gesture – lines of force and direction – the “sculptors armature “ for a drawing

Contour – sense of touch, blind contour exercises – the language of line quality

Silhouette – A FUNDAMENTAL ASPECT OF FORM – pos/neg shapes – like shadow puppets

Figure-ground –lighter, darker, transitional relation of figure to background

Mass – wireframe scribble-sculpture – deeper is lighter

Space – underwater metaphor drawing – deeper is darker

Tonality – 3-4 steps plus detail, sparkle-subtlety-impact, importance of the lights

Modeling – Light, shade and shadow

Perspective as applied to figure and context

Composition – What you do with  all the above

Major Parts of the body – head, torso, legs, arms,

Major Subcomponents of the Parts – head, neck, yoke/ chest, midriff, pelvis/ deltoids, upper/lower arms/buttocks thigh, lower leg

Three Detail areas of body– head/neck, hands, feet

Four Letters of the Facial Alphabet -eye, nose, mouth, ear

“CONSTRUCTION TRICKS” Sequences, procedures, and  visual concepts, such as– the yoke, butt-erfly, shortbows,  longbows, pentagon hand, triangle foot, ‘party balloon, fountain pen’ arm/leg, ‘cookie’ hand , plumb-lines etc.

Proportion systems, such as 8-head figure, etc.

Caricature and altered proportions – head and body

Views and ‘turn-arounds’  – Front, side, back, three-quarter

Muscular anatomy, Head and Figure

Skeletal anatomy

Major planes and volumes

Analyzing typical poses: “X-T-C-S”, stand, walk, sit, recline, multiple/movement

Reference- Framing the pose using rectangle and crosshair centerlines

Correcting the pose using plumb lines, triangles and parallelism

Context, floor plane, furniture, containment, background

Composition using context, props, other figures, perspective, cropping and trace paper

Depth – Perspective, overlap, diminution, convergence, atmospherics, lineweight

Twisting and bending the torso

Try various Mediums – Ink wash,  Chinese brush, white and sepia chalk, dip-pens, transparent and opaque colour

Faces, Scale Figures & Perspective for Life Drawing (5 videos) {Nov 2016}

There are two main ways of approaching the figure. They complement each other. One is OBSERVATION (Life drawing or copying reference photos). The other is CONSTRUCTION  (Using scale and proportion methods to create a figure with little or no references). The two can and should be used together for a full skillset. Both depend on  the armature of ‘gesture’ for liveliness and composition. These five videos are an introduction to useful methods of CONSTRUCTION. You can also look under the Category: “FACE AND FIGURE” for many more videos.

Faces, Scale Figures & Perspective (1 of 5)  {Nov 2016}

Faces, Scale Figures & Perspective (2 of 5)  {Nov 2016}

Faces, Scale Figures & Perspective (3 of 5)  {Nov 2016}

Faces, Scale Figures & Perspective (4 of 5)  {Nov 2016}

Faces, Scale Figures & Perspective (5 of 5)  {Nov 2016}

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