The human body is a challenging subject. Not only is it mechanically complicated, even a small error in proportion or balance can make it look very unnatural.
We’ll take a look at some of the best articles and YouTube videos that will help you learn to draw people. Whether you’re interested in portraiture or whole-body drawing, the resources here are a great place to start.
How to Draw People: The Basics
When you’re starting your drawing journey, it’s easy to jump right to the details. But that’s the wrong way to go about it. Before you start working on ultra-realistic portraits or full-on anime films, you need to learn to look at the energy and emotion of human posture.
One of my favorite discussions of this comes from Joumana Medlej. In Learning to See and Draw Energy, she encourages readers to draw very simple sketches that capture the feel and emotion of a particular scene. It’s a must-read for new artists.
Alphonso Dunn provides some great examples in his video on gesture drawing, as well:
If you can master the seven Ls, you’ll have a big advantage when you start learning how to draw people. Understanding the rhythm and energy of the scene you’re trying to depict is hugely important, but it’s easy to overlook.
And if you’re not sure what to draw, check out QuickPoses.com’s timed gesture-drawing page. You can select a type of image and the amount of time you want for each one (make sure to select a time that’s shorter than you’re comfortable with!), and you’ll get a bunch of poses for quick gesture sketches.
Understanding Body Proportions
One of the most difficult parts of learning to draw people is getting a handle on proportion. A body or face with unrealistic proportions just looks off, but it’s not always easy to figure out why.
Mastering proportions early will be a big help. Mary Doodles shows you one common method for segmenting the human body in this video:
As she mentions, this isn’t the only way to do it—but it’s a good place to start.
Joumana Medlej has another great tutorial on drawing human body proportions that I recommend you check out too. It also includes a lot of great things to remember, like the fact that the distance from elbow to fingertips is the same as knee to heel. And that when the arm is bent at 90 degrees, the distance from the inside of the elbow to the wrist is the same as the length of the hand.
Drawing with Jazza, a popular drawing tutorial YouTube channel, also has a great walkthrough of Jazza’s process for drawing the human body:
Although he’s using digital tools, the same principles apply to any kind of figure drawing. He also touches on the difference between male and female body forms, which is great to understand early in your quest to learn how to draw people.
Understanding Facial Proportions
Drawing realistic faces is very different from drawing realistic bodies, but there are some things they have in common. Proportion, for example, is easy to get wrong and will immediately make your drawing look off. You might think that faces have simpler proportions, but as you’ll see, there are a lot of things to consider.
Here’s a basic breakdown of facial proportions for a male and female face:
Did you know that the human face is approximately five eyes wide? Or that the eyes are halfway down the head? It’s easy to forget these basic proportion rules.
If you need a quick reminder, 5 Proportions of the Face to Keep in Mind During Your Next Portrait Drawing gives you exactly that. It’s good to memorize these proportions, as they’re not things that you know intuitively.
Kirsty Partridge has a good video that goes over the common mistakes of drawing faces. She also includes her tips on how to avoid those issues:
She goes through the tips pretty quickly, so you’ll need to pay close attention.
If you like Kirsty’s style, you’ll appreciate her step-by-step tutorial for drawing a realistic face, too:
Understanding Motion and Balance
Unless you’re drawing only faces or figures that are standing straight up, you need to know how the human body moves and balances to impart realism. It’s harder than you might think.
Of course, Joumana Medlej comes to the rescue. Her tutorial on movement and balancegoes over the human body’s center of support and center of balance, as well as how they work together to influence body position. Some of what she presents is rather advanced, but it’s good to read over the principles so you know what to think about when you’re drawing figures.
Power Painters also has a good video walkthrough that shows you the thought process you might go through when you’re thinking about how gravity will affect your figure:
This is another tutorial that uses Photoshop, but you’ll see how a simple vertical line can help you balance figures in interesting positions.
Improving Your People-Drawing Skills
As with any kind of art, the best thing you can do to improve your skills is to practice. There’s no better way to learn how to draw people. Use the concepts in the videos and articles above, and keep drawing whenever you get the chance.