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Figure Sketching for Beginners
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Figure Sketching for Beginners

by Len A. Doust

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If a drawing "is not alive, it is a failure," declares Len A. Doust. With his practical help and encouraging guidance, even novice sketchers can learn how to capture the vitality and character of their models.
Clear instructions and 23 step-by-step illustrations highlight everything students need to know. Featured topics include:
• Perspective and


If a drawing "is not alive, it is a failure," declares Len A. Doust. With his practical help and encouraging guidance, even novice sketchers can learn how to capture the vitality and character of their models.
Clear instructions and 23 step-by-step illustrations highlight everything students need to know. Featured topics include:
• Perspective and proportions
• Heads, faces, and hands
• Hats, shoes, and clothing
• Age and character
• Expressions
• Athletes and dancers
Concise and informative, this manual offers sketchers the perfect way to get started.

Product Details

Dover Publications
Publication date:
Dover Art Instruction Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

Figure Sketching for Beginners

By Len A. Doust

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14646-1



THIS book consists of a few practical hints and rules for sketching your fellow-men, arranged and selected especially for those who are able to devote only their spare time in this profitable and enjoyable hobby. It is compiled by one who was just as limited and hampered; and who, my dint of patience and perseverance, has been able to make this fascinating work his profession.

I definitely assert that a living may be made in this sphere, by anyone with the sufficient energy, apart from any great natural ability.

Drawing is the oldest form of language and is man's most natural method for expressing his impressions of his surroundings and neighbours. It is easier to obtain efficiency in drawing than in writing or in the spoken word. A few right lines on a piece of paper are much more vivid than the most elaborate description. This is the reason for illustrated advertisements and literature. Moreover, as progress is made, one's observation is developed, and you will discover subtleties of beauty, interest and humour to which the many are blind. Again, one's appreciation of the abilities of great artists is more keen and conscious.

I have tried to keep in mind the limitations and scope of this book, and thereby to condense my remarks even to a degree of abruptness and to have no unnecessary filling or "gag." Consequently, I strongly advise a slow and careful reading, and that you should keep this book continually at hand.

There are many years of experience between these covers, and every word will have to be tested practically by you. Learning is not experience, but is a good guide to it.


It is usual in a book of this kind to devote an entire chapter to advice on material. Here, again, I wish to respect your intelligence and the limitations of this book by only noting my own past difficulties and experiments. Concerning paper for pencil sketching—not too smooth and not too rough.

For pen or brush work a smoother surface paper, good quality. For quick strong work in ink a No. 1 or 2 sable water-colour brush is effective, when used with skill and precision. Many of the sketches in this book are so drawn with the brush.

For strong work, say, of heads, hands, or feet, drawn three inches big (an excellent practice), a slightly rougher surfaced paper and a softer pencil or a conte crayon or carbon pencil; the last two give a rich black and tone.

Charcoal is very good for large studies in cartridge paper, particularly for those who are inclined to be cramped in style. There are two varieties of charcoal, Russian and Vine, the latter is the most popular. Use a duster when rubbing out (or a piece of putty rubber). To prevent such drawings smudging it is necessary to use a fixative and sprayer.

All the above materials are supplied from practically any art dealer or stationer.

Of course the above are only suggestions for your experiment. You will eventually find the material most pleasing to yourself.

Scribbling pads can easily be obtained, and to most minds this gives a healthy recklessness concerning spoilt paper, which is necessary for continual effort. Plain writing pads (no lines) have quite an effective face for quick ink sketching.


Continued practice is everything. May I repeat this? Continued practice is everything in learning to sketch. Be careful always to carry with you some paper or a small pad and a pencil. On a station, in the park, everywhere there are opportunities for a lightning impression. A ten minutes' wait should be a full page in your sketch book. Do not hesitate until you can find a comfortable seat or an isolated position. I have filled many pages on a crowded race-course while it was pelting with rain; I have snapped overhead view of people from the top of a 'bus. One soon becomes used to such minor discomforts, and it is surprising how vividly alive are the jagged lines of an impression made in an awkward moment. Subconsciously the fact of participating in the same surroundings and atmosphere of the subject which you are sketching has its effect on your work. You will notice this when you refer to such rough notes some months later.

It is very important to preserve the life and atmosphere of these hasty efforts. Better not touch them at all, than, by adding to them, to destroy this vital impression which is their value. If you wish to make a finished drawing from them—work on another piece of paper, try to recall the incident, and put down as near as possible the same lines; then work on this duplicate.

I mentioned a moment ago that one could not always be isolated when sketching out of doors. Nervousness is a natural hindrance, but remember that, having throughly read this book, you are that much in advance of any criticism from those who have not had this information.

It is surprising what little curiosity you will excite, and there is every possibility of being mistaken for a well-known artist, for all great "life" artists practise this type of study. You, who are interested in sketching, have seen artists at work in public, but I may safely say have taken every precaution not to embarrass them. The quick sketcher is much less open to public criticism than the painter with all his paraphernalia of stool, paint box, board and easel. Personally, I have never been disturbed when using my pad and pencil; and when painting have had many charming encounters. Children, of course, must be treated kindly but firmly, and if disregarded will soon fade away.

An old artist friend of mine, while travelling on a steamer, wished to make notes of the rapidly changing colours of the sky. He whipped out his sketching block, brushes, and paint box. "Hold this, please," he said to the person next him, handing the water pot. He worked rapidly for twenty minutes. Then, turning to thank his willing assistant, discovered her to be a charming young lady who had thoroughly enjoyed her small service. The point is that the artist did not care who watched, so long as he got his sketch. Artistic success depends upon forgetting your audience in the importance of your subject.


The following are a few general hints on drawing. Do not worry about wasting paper. Go boldly at your subject, even if you tear it up afterwards. The quantity of paper used must not enter your head. A reckless use of material is essential. Your care and thought must be entirely for your work, not for the paper or pencil.

Don't draw a line carelessly; make up your mind as clearly as you can what you want to do, and do it as quickly and ably as possible. Think before you work. Look at the figure or object to be drawn five times as long as you take to draw it.

Do not be hesitant or uncertain in your line.

Do not draw too heavily at first.

Decide, say, upon the slope and angle of a shoulder; look quickly and keenly, comparing it with any other lines in close approximation to it, such as the top of a chair.

The last point is illustrated at the top of plate, page 11. Do not worry about accuracy in drawing so much as cleanness of line. It is common practice to advocate preliminary exercises, such as those on this plate from simple shapes, such as the sphere, cube, etc. This is sound, but I suggest that you practice for a clean steady line direct from the figure; for one thing you will find this more interesting.

Get into the habit of looking at your subject with half-closed eyes. This will eliminate all unnecessary detail, and will make folds, shapes and edges of shadows stand out clearly. You will see lines where before there was a blur; and, most important of all, the lines you do see will be those upon which the pose of the figure depends.

Don't be upset if, in these preliminary exercises, your drawing is rather hopeless. Keep spoiling paper with good lines.

The examples on page 11 may be effectively copied. Now, I want to persuade you to copy this plate, also page 25, at once. Time yourself. Do this again, and you will be surprised at your increased speed and accuracy. It would benefit you to copy these or other plates at regular intervals. Remember, that what most matters is not the drawing but the "quality" of line and speed, so do not forget to make a record of time spent. For instance, a fairly efficient student should be able to make a good copy of page 11 in a minute and a half; twice the size (as the original) should take two minutes. You will find a pencil most suitable for these speed exercises. The illustrations in this book are done in ink for clearness.

While on the subject of copying it may be necessary to mention a few suitable masters of penwork from which you may choose to study technique. When I say technique I mean the variable types of lines which they use to give the impression they seek. Notice the importance of every line; its thickness, boldness, delicacy, and certainty. Notice the variety of line and where it is broken. See figures A1 and B1, page 41, and notes.

The following points in the foregoing chapter must be at the back of your mind:—

Work as often as you can. Work wherever you are.

Don't look for a subject, take the nearest.

Don't mind wasting paper. You won't be wasting time.

Be certain of your line before you put it down.

A good line is better than a pretty drawing.

Get the habit of half-closed eyes.

Above all, you must get speed.



As THE hints in this book are solely concerned with figure drawing, no attempt will be made to tackle the problem of landscape and building perspective. I propose to deal with these important subjects in further books of this series.

As we all know, figures appear to get smaller as they get further away. The primary rule which governs this illusion must be mastered.

The simplest illustration of perspective is a railway track or a long tunnel. Parallel lines, which go away from you, always appear to meet. This is an invariable rule, and is the basis of all perspective. On page 15 I have indicated these imaginary converging parallel lines in connection with figure drawing. Notice that there is one horizontal line in each sketch. This is the level of the artist's eye, and to this all other lines converge. It is called the horizon. This will be quite clear to you if you carefully study this. Once again may I emphasize that the key to the problem is that horizontal line, called the eyelevel of horizon.

In drawing fore-shortened limbs—that is to say, limbs in perspective—it is sufficient to remember the primary fact that the end of the limb farthest from you appears to be considerably smaller in proportion. This is illustrated in the diagram D on page 15. Notice how much larger the hand appears when extended toward you than when it is on a level with the shoulder. A great aid to seeing perspective is to stand back from the centre of a window and compare the angle of any lines in the object outside with the frame of the window. Imagine this frame to be the outline of your drawing paper.


The next essential fact always to have at the back of your mind is "form," or the fact that the figure which you are drawing has thickness as well as outline.

If you study closely the great masters of figure drawing in outline, you will be amazed to discover that they manage to indicate the "form" of a body without the use of shading. How is this done? The secret of these clever drawings is often in certain lines on the figure or head and not actually on the outline—a fold, a collar, a cuff, a crease. Look at these lines carefully, and you will observe that they are very correctly drawn, sometimes even more so than the actual outline. A simple illustration of this point is in figure E, plate page 37. The kind, thickness, and shape of the hat are all expressed by the few lines in the front of the crown. If you will copy this drawing, omitting these lines, you will find this point clearly illustrated. Also notice how the careful placing of the features in Figure B, page 31, gives a rounded form to the head.

It is most important, and particularly so for those of you who may never have the opportunity to perfect your figure drawing and knowledge of the effect of certain movements upon certain bones and muscles, to get firmly set at the back of your mind the truth that you are drawing a rounded form.

Pages 20 and 22 contain representation of figures in various positions with this idea of thickness foremost. I am not going to lay down any rules for this method of drawing, but suggest that, after having carefully studied these plates, you take some of your own quick sketches and reproduce them by this method. Think of your figure as a simply carved wooden doll with elastic joints. It would be a splendid idea to trace off one or two of these figures, and attempt to work up such tracings into a more life-like drawing. The setting of the head upon the neck, and the neck upon the shoulders is most important. Observe especially figures C and D page 20, and figures A and C, page 22. The rounded neck seems to stick out of the top of the chest. Compare figures A of each plate. Also should be noticed the breaks in the trunk due to bending.


On Page 22 you will see side views of the male and female figures. The lesson to be learned from this plate is simple, but cannot be over-emphasized. The comparative proportion of these two figures must be always borne in mind. In each case the trunk of the figure is between lines A and C. You will note that in the female figure the trunk is, if anything, longer, although the whole figure is shorter than the male; consequently the legs of the latter are longer. Now observe the waist lines on both figures, and their relative position to one another, and also the lines A and C. The distance A to C is about the same in both figures, but the measurement from waist to shoulder is considerably shorter in the female figure, making the distance B to C much shorter in the male.

These proportions are to be taken only as a general rule. Do not rigidly adhere to them at the expense of the individuality of the subject drawn.

Please turn back to our doll-like drawings on pages 20 and 22, compare these with page 25, and say which plate is of the male and which is of the female figure. You will at once see that page 22 represents the male, and page 20 the female. This difference of build, as expressed on page 25, is much more necessary than superficial differences, such as beard, long hair, thin ankles, full breasts. Especially is this so in quick sketching. On page 28 you will observe the same proportionate construction from full front view of figures. Generally it may be said that a man has broader shoulders and narrower hips than a woman.

On page 31 we come to a more detailed examination of "form" in the head. Figures A and B need hardly any explanation, but a description may make them more impressive. The general form of a head is egg shape or ovate, with the pointed end at the chin. For instance, we have to draw a head tilted upwards and sidewards. The outline of figure A is an egg shape drawn at the correct angle. Now we draw curved lines to express the curve and tilt of the features; if the head was quite straight these lines would also be quite straight—see small sketch at the side. Now we put the figures on these lines as in figure B. You will observe that the result gives a roundness and form to the face, although no shading has been used.

Figures C and D express the influence of the skull upon the drawing of the head and face. Notice the eyes set in a hollow. This is seen much more clearly when the light is well above the head. Notice also the forehead, the cheeks, and the jaw; in all thin faces and most male faces each of these is very obviously bony; you will see the great value of this fact in character studies, such as those on page 55, figures A and D. A partial side view is shown in figure E and F.

In figure G and H you have a similar method of construction to that of figures A and B. Figure J is a side view of figure H. The bony structure is not so clearly seen in the head of a young woman as of that of a young man.

The head of a child is peculiar for its bulging forehead, short nose and very full cheeks and lips. Here the bones are entirely hidden except in the forehead. Figure L shows the prominent bulge of a child's forehead and cheeks when tilted forward. Notice the position of the ears in relation to the eyes in all instances.


Excerpted from Figure Sketching for Beginners by Len A. Doust. Copyright © 2006 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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