Location Drawing: simplifying the figure

“The whole essence of good drawing – and of good thinking, perhaps – is to work a subject down to the simplest form possible and still have it believable for what it is meant to be.”Chuck Jones

simpfig2 Artists spend years learning to draw the figure. Fortunately, for the purpose of location drawing, basic proportions (and maybe a few embellishments) are all we need.

Let’s make this super simple. Follow these steps. (Divide and conquer!)

1. Establish top and bottom of figure

simp fig 1





2. Make a mark in the middle. Everything above that mark is head and torso. Everything below is leg.

simp fig 2





3. Put a little “v” on top of the middle mark. This will remind you that this is the pelvis!

simp fig 3





4. The head is an egg shape. It’s roughly ¼ of the torso. Ballpark it. Better to make it slightly too big than too small.

simp fig 4





5. Put a line in to indicate the shoulders. Be sure it’s well below the head to leave room for a neck.

simp fig 5





6. The waist is more than half of the distance between the shoulders and the pelvis.

simp fig 6





7. Make an “hourglass” shape. (For men it will be more of a rectangle)

simp fig 7





8. Add legs. Bigger at the top and tapered at the bottom. Don’t worry about feet.

simp fig 8





9. The elbow is slightly higher than the waist. The forearm is the same size as the upper arm.

simp figure 9





10. Add wrist line. Also line to indicate hand extending to mid-thigh. Knees are half way down the leg.

simp fig 9





Now that wasn’t too hard was it?!

Here it is again shown in a sequence:




EXERCISE: Do this at least twenty times, religiously going through all the steps. Once you feel you have the proportions down, start playing with angles, add clothes, props, etc. As long as the basic proportions are in place, you can totally play with the details. Try making someone fat. Draw a figure from the back.

simp figure parade

Most beginners tend to start with the head and work their way down. This often results in the feet ending up off the page. The very first step, marking the top and bottom, will prevent that from ever happening. Another important reason for beginning this way has everything to do with Location Drawing.

People do not hold still, unless they’re asleep, and even then they can move at any moment. If we want to place figures in our sketches it is often necessary to make “composite” people, meaning they are taken from several figures.

Imagine you are working on an environment and want to place a figure or figures in the scene. Your first task is to determine how big the figure is relative to that space. You need to mark a top and bottom. That only takes a second or two. Then the model walks away, but no matter! You’ve got the proportions and you can make the rest up. Or you can simply wait for somebody else to come along. Use that ladies’s hair, the big guy’s leather jacket, or invent something from your imagination. You’re liberated!


So far we’ve only dealt with standing figures. What if they’re sitting, etc.?

I once heard it said that figures are simply pumpkins with potato-sack bodies. There’s some truth to that. When faced with a figure sitting down for instance, that’s a good to way to think about it. Just try to get them the right size relative to their environment and call it good.