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Figure Quick Sketch Tutorial: How to Construct the Limbs

October 16th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Now that we know how to lay-in the torso, well at least from the front view. Let’s construct the limbs to give our figure some arms and legs.

The approach from the torso study tutorial is sometimes called a “construction” approach. It’s a methodical way to observe and de-construct the figure. Besides construction, there are other considerations when laying in the figure. For example, gesture and rhythms are what animate our figure drawing and give it life.

For this tutorial, I will use a a combination of construction and rhythms. It all depends on what the pose is giving me. Some poses the structure is prominent (or can be made prominent), in some poses the gesture (and thus the rhythms) are very interesting. Bottom line, good observation leads to good judgment and good judgment leads to good marks and so on. So always observe, observe, observe. Speaking of observation…

Step 1: Observe

The first thing you want to look for is the gesture. The major and minor rhythms, swoops and arcs. All the visible, and sometimes invisible lines that give our figure movement and life. Then, when you’re ready to construct your figure, look for the landmarks.

As a general rule, the legs are of greater significance then arms which is why we follow the torso with the legs. The key landmarks are: the connection to the crotch, connection to the hips, point of knee, connection of thigh (hamstring) to calf, , connection of lower leg to foot, point of ankle bone, heel and big toe. Yes, big toe (Fig. 1). That sounds like a lot, but with practice, good observation will become second nature.

Step 2: Gesture

Having identified our landmarks, we describe the gesture. The major rhythms may not always follow the form, but when possible, use the landmarks to guide your gesture marks. Start with the thighs move down to the the calf.

Step 3: Cross sections

Cross sections really help to define form. They also describe perspective and foreshortening. Before randomly drawing cross sections, observe the model’s anatomy. For example, cross sections can be added at the peak of the thigh, the end of the adductor (thigh) muscle, the top and bottom of the knee, the ankle and depression of the calf.

Add cross sections as needed to describe form and anatomy. It’s not necessary to cross the entire figure. Our objective of the lay-in is to give us enough information to add light and shade.

Work your way down to the feet and then move on to the arms. Approach the arms the same way. Becomes of the arms range of motion, they will tend to lend themselves more to a rhythmic approach. Of course it all depends on the pose.

Let’s go through a few more examples.


That pretty much sums up basic limb construction. First, observe for landmarks. Next, draw the gesture and rhythms. Then, add cross sections as needed to describe anatomy and form. In their most basic and geometric form, the limbs can be thought of as jointed tubes. Using a dynamic gesture line as a guide will give our “tubes” movement and life.

Keep in mind, the lay-in is simply the framework for our drawing. It’s not necessary to replicate the figure with our lay-in lines. The key is to give yourself enough information to add light and shade. Let the light, shade (values) and edges do the work of describing form and anatomy (Fig. 8).

More information on shading, can be found in the other figure quick sketch tutorials and videos.

*** Quick Sketch CHALLENGE! ***

This demo is meant to be a guide and a starting point. It’s almost impossible to learn and appreciate all the nuances of figure drawing from a static tutorial. The best way to apply the techniques is to watch it first hand or go to a live figure drawing session and draw from the model. So here is the challenge:

Draw a full page of quick sketch figures.

The first person to reply with a full page of quick sketch figures will win an original charcoal quick sketch drawing.

When I say page, I mean 18″x24″ newsprint pad, but that size isn’t necessary. It’s just an ideal size pad to practice. Above is a page of 5 minute poses I did during an open figure drawing workshop.

The minimum number of drawings to qualify are:

  • 8 full figures at 3-5 min. pose length or
  • 20 full figures at 1-3 min. pose length.

Basically whatever you can draw during 2 live sessions. Generally, a session is about 20-25 minutes.

Pretty simple. Just some incentive to get out there and draw from the model. First person to respond with a jpg snapshot of their quicksketch sheet wins. Good luck and I look forward to your entries.

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  1. Muimui
    November 2nd, 2009 at 17:52 | #1

    great tutorial =)

  2. November 11th, 2009 at 13:24 | #2

    really glad i found this site, amazing work and tutorials, inspiring stuff, hope to be this good one day!

  3. ismiy
    December 13th, 2009 at 12:36 | #3

    you clarified some doubts I had with figure drawing in this great tutorial, Chris. Thank you.

  4. admin
    December 17th, 2009 at 20:46 | #4

    Hi Ismiy. Thanks for reading. I’m glad you liked the tutorial. Send me some drawings, I’d love to see your progress.

  5. admin
    December 17th, 2009 at 20:48 | #5

    Thanks for the props Toby. Send me some drawings, I’d love to see your progress.

  6. March 10th, 2010 at 10:05 | #6

    I would appreciate more visual materials, to make your blog more attractive, but your writing style really compensates it. But there is always place for improvement

  7. admin
    March 11th, 2010 at 23:23 | #7

    I agree. I try to keep the site as light as possible for low bandwith users. I like pictures too but text loads much faster.

  8. aft
    March 20th, 2010 at 20:03 | #8

    i just found your site a few days ago….i gotta say it is really amazing!
    i’m studying gesture drawing in my art class right now, so i went online hunting tons of resources on the subject…your tutorials are just top of the line!

    thanks for taking the time, you are a gifted artist and teacher.

  9. admin
    March 23rd, 2010 at 10:11 | #9

    Thanks aft! Send me some of your drawings some time, I would love to see your progress.

  10. Token
    April 27th, 2011 at 08:22 | #10

    You have greatly help me in improving in my anatomy studies. This site is just awesome. Thanks for helping aspiring artist such as myself!

  11. May 24th, 2011 at 01:57 | #11

    So far no one win the contest ? :D
    Just a little word to say thanks your tutorial really help !
    Here a link to my ConceptArt sketchbook http://www.conceptart.org/forums/showthread.php?t=220490
    I’ve posted some gesture drawing if you’r interested to see it and I’m looking forward to your critic if you have some time :)

  12. admin
    May 31st, 2011 at 09:58 | #12

    Haha someone did win, they didnt claim the prize. Good sketches Hito, do you have access to live model?

  13. June 6th, 2011 at 16:50 | #13

    Unfortunately no :(
    Why ??

  14. kate
    November 19th, 2011 at 02:04 | #14

    i love your style and these tutorials are amazing. my only question is what do you mean by crisp versus firm edges on the shadow borders? I feel like the line edgework you do is pretty integral to your method and I don’t quite understand what you’re doing with it

  15. admin
    March 16th, 2012 at 18:15 | #15

    Hi Kate. Yes edges are important. CHeck back for edge tutorial and video.

  16. Anonymous
    March 26th, 2013 at 23:23 | #16

    Now i have a new home…”freshdesigner.com”
    Thanks a lot Chris!!

  17. kimpoy
    March 26th, 2013 at 23:26 | #17

    Very informative!! now i have a new home..”freshdesigner.com”!!!Thanks!!

  18. Chris
    April 2nd, 2013 at 10:05 | #18

    Thanks Kimpoy! You’re always welcome.

  19. Chris
    April 2nd, 2013 at 10:05 | #19

    Thank you!

  20. May 17th, 2013 at 01:44 | #20

    I have actually spent a lot of money on books down the years – but none of them explain how to draw figures nearly as clearly as you do – Thank you very much

    David South Wales UK

  21. Chris
    May 21st, 2013 at 13:15 | #21

    Thank you Sir! You are quite welcome. I’ll be releasing a NEW and UPDATED figure drawing course this year. It will blow these old videos away :)

  22. Paul
    October 8th, 2013 at 07:27 | #22

    Hi Chris, first off, I appreciate your work.
    I’ve been practicing for a while now, however, i seem to not be getting the results I want, or maybe Im just getting fixated on it, either way, I would love some feedback, please let me know if you could review some of my work


  23. Chris
    October 11th, 2013 at 12:42 | #23

    Hi, thank you. Sure, I often do reviews on our facebook group.

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