Figure Quick Sketch – Torso Study
This tutorial is an introduction to figure quick sketch drawing. Quick sketch is a name for short, gestural drawing from life or figure model. The poses can generally range from 1-5 minutes. Topics covered will be the fundamentals of gesture drawing, laying-in the figure and an introduction to the Reilly Method. Figure quick sketch is a key fundamental skill in creating effective drawings so let’s get right into it.
The approach to Reilly Method I use is a synthesis of three teachers: 1. Sergio Sanchez, 2. Rhaban Canas and 3. a touch of Steve Huston. When I first started to study Reilly Method, the first thing I was taught was how to properly lay-in the torso. The torso is important because it is the largest mass of the body and it is where all the limbs and extremities originate. For the purpose of this tutorial, we will use a front view of a female torso in a relatively static pose. Since the torso is so important, I will spend some time breaking down the steps of the lay-in before we move to light and shade.
Step 1: Capture the ribcage
The torso is the largest mass of the body and the ribcage is the largest mass of the torso. We want to lay-in or capture it’s shape and gesture. Since this pose is static and up and down, I am able to simplify and capture the ribcage into a rectangular shape. Of course, the figure is dynamic and the shape of the ribcage can vary depending on the pose and the angle of the viewer.
The important points to look for are the landmarks (seen as pink dots in Fig. 1 above). Using the landmarks as a guide, I not only get the gesture and shape of the ribcage, but the contour as well.
The numbers in the drawing represent the stroke order. It is not necessary to do them in this exact order. However, the shoulder line, which is drawn through the pit of the neck, will give you a lot of information and gesture. Since quick sketch generally starts with the head, if you work top down, the shoulder line will most likely be the first stroke that follows the head.
Step 2: Abdomen
Step 3: Hips
The last segment of the torso are the hips. Sometime it is called “the miniskirt” because in a simple geometric shape it looks like a short mini skirt as you can see in the drawing above (Fig. 3). The landmarks to look for are the points of the hipbone and the bottom of the crotch. The hipbones can generally be found at the point where the leg meets the hip.
Step 4: Centerline
Since the shoulder, ribs and hips gave us our horizontal gesture, centerline gives us our vertical gesture. Centerline is a generally drawn through the spine. Of course, the spine is very dynamic and can curve and bend, but for this pose we can use a nice vertical straight.
At this stage, our drawing looks very simplified, but it is extremely important to lay-in and capture the torso accurately. This simple framework will be the foundation for our figure. Much of the success or failure of the drawing will depend on how well the torso is layed in. So, take the time to measure and make accurate marks before moving on to anatomy. Of course practice, practice, practice and tons of repetition will make your lay-ins solid.
Step 5: Anatomy
Having taken the time to accurately describe the torso, we can now plot the anatomy. When I say anatomy, DO NOT draw EVERY muscle, joint or tendon you see. Keep your anatomy simple. There’s no need to describe every single muscle, and for quick sketch there isn’t enough time. The important thing to do is to observe what the pose gives you.
Generally, the anatomy to look for in a front pose like this are the breasts, ribcage, abdominal wall and naval. It’s also good practice to describe the torso anatomy before adding the legs and arms.
Using my lay-in as a guide, I follow natural rhythms to describe the anatomy (Fig. 5). There’s a lot of great information out there on anatomy and figure construction, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Generally, I want to keep things as simple as possible and capture the large masses using simple geometric shapes.
Step 6: Separate light and dark
Using the lay in as a guide, I can begin to light our figure. The first step is to separate the light side from the dark side. At this stage I am thinking of terms of only 2 values, white and black. A single light source pose like this gives a clear separation. The diagram in Fig 6 above shows what I was looking for.
I also begin to introduce edgework by adding a firm edge for the core shadow and crisp edge for the cast shadows. The outer contour is a blend of crisp and firm edges.
Since this is a quick sketch, I don’t want to go too crazy with edge variety. As with the simplification of values, I also simplify the edges I will use.
Step 7: Adding tone
OK, here’s my favorite of Reilly Method, the shading. The way quick sketch is shaded is what I fell in love with when I was first introduced to this approach. Using the shadow shape as a guide, I drop in a middle value in the shadow area. Middle value is the value between white and black. White in this case being the white of the paper.
For quick sketch, I generally like to hatch in one direction but it’s a matter of personal style and preference.
Step 8: Final drawing
Since I have a little time left in this 5 minute study, I add some finishing touches. I soften some edges of the core shadow, punch in darks and add touches of half-tone to give the drawing a little more depth and help the forms turn.
For reference, here’s a step by step diagram of the torso lay-in process.
*** Tips on Figure Quick Sketch ***
1. Observe, observe, observe
Before making marks and jumping right into drawing, take some time to observe the model. Look for the landmarks. Look for the gesture. Look for the rhythms. Look at the shape of the shadow. Observe what the pose is giving you. Throughout the drawing, stop, gather yourself and take the time to observe.
There is not a lot of time in quick sketch or gesture drawing, but good observation will help you to make more accurate marks.
2. Take your time
Even though quick sketch is done from short, 1-5 minute poses, take the time to observe and measure (see Tip #1 above). Especially during the lay-in. Do not rush the lay-in, especially if you’re new to quick sketch drawing.
When I first started studying quick sketch, it took me months to be able to draw the lay-in well during a short pose. I would often get bored and frustrated because I wanted to rush through the lay-in, get to the shading and polish my little figure in time. Eventually I learned to relax and appreciate the process. This allowed me to internalize more of the lay-in process and ultimately made me faster and my drawings better.
Take your time to do the lay-in well. It may seem boring and repetitive, but over time it will pay off in the quality of your figures and overall drawing skill.
This tutorial was meant to be a brief introduction in how to lay in the torso. Reilly method, figure quick sketch and gesture drawing in general is a very deep and complex subject. Later on, we will break down how to lay-in the whole figure, and how to apply the techniques to various poses and viewpoints.
Of course, a subject like this is best learned from example. If you are fortunate enough to have instructors in your area who teach this approach, I highly recommend taking a live class. We will also post more resources for those who want to study Reilly method further in upcoming articles. For those who want to dive in to drawing the head, check out the head quick sketch tutorial.