The Best Way To Learn Figure Drawing (Step By Step + Images)

Drawing the human body is a challenging task. There’s just so much to learn that you don’t even know where to start.

Figure Drawing exercises are the way to go if you want to learn how to draw the human body. There are many different ways to learn figure drawing, but which is the best way to do it?

The best way to learn figure drawing is by dividing the body into different parts and learning them separately. Start with the head, then the torso, arms, hands, legs, and feet.

Practice one body part at a time, master it and then go for the next. Once you know these, you can learn to draw the whole human body!

I know this sounds like it’s a lot, and it is! Learning figure drawing can seem intimidating right now.

Let’s break everything down into simpler steps so you can quickly learn and improve your figure drawings.

1. Choose a Body Part You Want To Learn 

Learning how to draw the human body is quite challenging. However, you don’t need to know or draw everything at once.

Start small. Divide the body into different parts and learn each of them separately.

This way, you’ll focus on one thing at a time instead of trying to figure everything out simultaneously.

Before starting, make a list of different body parts. I like to divide it like this:

  • Head;
  • Torso;
  • Arms;
  • Hands;
  • Legs;
  • Feet.

This is a very general list, but even inside each part, you can divide things into smaller pieces.

For example, in the head, you can learn its overall shape, the eyes, nose, ears, and mouth. With hands, you can learn the fingers or the whole thing. It’s all up to you and what helps you understand.

So, your first step is choosing which body part you want to learn. Most people will go with the head since portraits are one of the first things most beginners start drawing.

In general, it’s the most interesting since it’s what we see the most daily. Not only that but there’s a lot you can do with it.

You can draw the eyes, mouth, nose, and even ears in several ways. You can draw many different hairstyles; above all, it’s the body part where you can add the most emotion.

In short, the head and face are where you have the freedom to create something more unique. Or at least it’s the easiest to do so.

When choosing what you want to learn first, you have two options:

  1. Choose what looks more interesting to you or
  2. Go with the body part that is the most challenging for you!

In the end, the choice is yours.

You also don’t need to fully commit to one body part and continue learning until you’ve mastered it.

If you’re starting to feel frustrated or bored, it’s ok to take a break or try something else.

It’s also important to find the proper learning process for you. So if doing things one way isn’t working, try another approach.

Find different tutorials, written or video, or even online courses until you find what works for you.

2. Find References

Once you choose which body part you want to learn first, you need to first find some references.

You can’t learn how to draw something without first seeing it. And yes, we do look at the human body constantly. We see ourselves in the mirror, our friends, or people in the street.

However, when that happens, we’re not genuinely internalizing the body.

We have a general idea of how it looks, but we need more information when it comes to drawing it.

For that reason, it’s essential to find good references. You should clearly see the body or specific body parts in these photos.

Finding good portrait photos is a good idea if you’re drawing the head. You can even be specific with the kind of portrait you want.

If you want to learn the front view of the face, then look precisely for that. If it’s from the side, then search for side portraits.

Find Several References To Learn Figure Drawing
Learning to draw side portraits? Get some photos! Do the same for figure drawing.

When it comes to drawing hands, it’s a good idea to just find photos of hands, for example. This way, you’ll focus on only that and won’t get distracted by the rest.

We made a big pack of hand references specifically for this purpose. You can get them on our Gumroad page.

Finding good references can be a bit more challenging regarding legs, arms, and torso. Since these are usually covered with clothing, you can’t see them correctly.

Finding photos of people wearing fitted clothing is a good idea. Another thing you can do is look up sports, swimwear, or even underwear photographs.

These tend to show much of the body, or the fabric is fitted to the body. 

Many stock photo models use a bodysuit, so it’s easy to see the body. Here are some great examples that I recommend starting to follow:

If you’re looking for something very specific or just can’t find something that suits your taste, you can always take pictures of yourself!

This way, you’ll always have precisely what you need for your studies.

Keep any photo you find or take in a specific folder on your computer so you always have it at hand.

To help you find great references, here you can find 7 Free Pose Reference Websites and here 11 Portrait Reference Photo Websites.

Once you find enough good references, it’s time for the next step!

3. Draw The Main Basic Shapes

Now that you have everything you need, it’s time to start drawing. One thing I like to recommend to my students is to first, go into your references and draw on top of them.

You can do this by lowering the image’s opacity enough that you can still see it, but also the lines you’re going to draw on top.

Once that’s done, find the basic shapes that makes up the body part you’re drawing. It can be squares, rectangles, triangles, circles, or even more irregular and weird shapes.

What matters is that those shapes make sense to you. Instead of seeing the whole and trying to figure out the outline of any body part you’re drawing, break it down into simpler shapes.

Everything is made out of shapes, so find those. This is a step I go through in most of my drawing courses, and I found that works for most people!

Go through different references using this method. You can even try different shapes and see what works best for you.

Suppose you prefer to draw using a pencil and paper. In that case, you can always print your references with low opacity and draw on top of them.

Once you feel you have a nice set of shapes, it’s time to practice those. Go into your sketchbook or open a new document on any drawing software.

Keep those references where you can see them. Draw the shapes you just practiced on a blank canvas.

Again, draw them several times to create some muscle memory and get used to them and their proportions.

One thing it might help is drawing some guidelines on your references and then repeating those on your blank canvas.

Start By Finding Basic Shapes
Find the basic shapes of the body part you’re drawing!

This way you’ll be sure you’ll draw everything in the right place.

Practice these shapes as much as you want and can. Once you feel comfortable with them, it’s time to make those shapes look like an actual body part!

4. Sketch And Add Details

Now that we got the hang of the basics, it’s time to add more detail. An excellent way to do this is by leaving your basic shapes and drawing on top of them.

If you’re doing this digitally, you can just lower the opacity of your shapes and create a layer on top of them.

On the other hand, if working with pencil and paper, slightly erase the shapes so that you can still see them and draw new lines without making it too confusing.

Now, again keep your reference nearby, so you can check up on it and know that you’re drawing what you see.

All you have to do is go over your shapes but refine them so it looks more organic and dynamic.

Add curves and continuity to your drawing until you have something that looks more realistic.

Sketch And Add Details to the basic shapes of your figure drawing
Sketch it up and add details to your basic shapes!

This is also a good time for you to add specific details. For example, when it comes to hands, you can add nails or those creases that show in the knuckles.

You can even add some hair or any accessory the picture shows, maybe a ring, a beauty mark, or a scar!

There are a lot of details you can add to make things look more exciting and unique. However, you might also prefer a simpler style that doesn’t require lots of details.

For the torso, you can add nipples and a belly button. On the other hand, you can also draw a t-shirt or whatever the model in your reference is wearing.

It’s all up to you as long as you now understand how to draw that body part and can do it more easily.

5. Clean Everything Up With Clean Lines (Optional)

This next step is entirely optional. But if you want a more finished drawing and add extra practice, you can now go over all your previous lines and make a cleaner drawing.

The previous step was still a sketch, so it can be as messy as you want. Not only that, but it still allows you for mistakes and trying different things.

Once you’re happy with the result, clean that sketch with new lines. You can now hide your shapes or move them to the side if working digitally.

As for the sketch layers, lower their opacity and then create a new layer on top. Pick a brush you like and go over your lines to make your drawing look cleaner.

Clean Up Your Drawing With New Lines And Add Color
Clean up your lines and even add color if you’d like!

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even go in and add some color or even shading!

When drawing on paper, again, you can erase your sketch lightly. Then, using a pen, go over all your lines.

Here, you can also go in and add some coloring and shading if you wish to.

On the other hand, if you’re just focusing on learning and making studies, you can leave your sketch as it is.

You can even alternate between both. If you want to take a break from practicing the shapes or sketches, go into a drawing you liked, draw some cleaner lines and add some color!

Again, it’s all up to you and what’s comfortable at the moment. Your drawings can be as messy or as clean and organized as you want.

As long as you’re learning, understanding what you’re doing, and having fun while doing it, there’s no wrong way to go about it!

6. Repeat Until You Feel Confident

Now that you know the whole process, it’s time to go over it again, and again, and again. Good practice is vital to learn figure drawing.

You can repeat the whole process or choose specific steps of it. For example, if you don’t feel confident in your shapes yet, repeat those.

Try different shapes and proportions and repeat them as often as needed. Once you’re happy with them and feel they make sense, go to the next step.

If defining the body part is more challenging than you expected, repeat your sketches several times.

You can even try other tools, mediums, or styles. Make the whole process as fun as possible.

Another thing that it’s important to remember: you’ll have lots of bad drawings before you start feeling you’re getting the hang of it.

It’s completely normal and ok. In fact, those are good, because you’ll be learning with them!

Find solutions for your problems with each new drawing. There will be mistakes, so embrace them. Next time you’ll know better.

Once one problem is solved, go for the next.

It’s essential to lower your expectations when you’re learning something new. Drawing the body is hard, even when drawing a single part of it.

It’s improbable you’ll be good at drawing something if you’ve never done it before. So accept that and enjoy the process.

Make bad and good, messy and clean drawings. As many as you can, and have fun with all of them! 

7. Do The Same Steps With The Rest Of The Body

After a lot of practice, there will come a point where you’ll be confident in drawing a specific body part and can easily do it.

The shapes and movements are memorized and everything is much more intuitive than before.

Once that happens, you’re ready to start over. Choose another body part you want to learn or feel needs more work and repeat all the previous steps.

The process is always the same. This goes for figure drawing but also for any other subject.

Anything you want to learn how to draw can be done by following this process: break it down into basic shapes and refine it until you have completed your subject!

If you’re getting bored or frustrated with drawing the same thing over and over, you can take a break from it.

Let’s say you’re drawing hands, but it’s getting too repetitive, or even you feel stuck and can’t figure out how to fix your drawings.

Then that’s fine; take a break from hands for a while. I understand that drawing the same thing over and over can be too dull sometimes.

Personally, I can’t do it for long. It’s ok to take a break and give something else a try.

You can stop and learn something else at any point in your practice. Once you feel refreshed and ready to return, you can try it again.

You can even take a break from all of it if needed! Go back to drawing something you’re familiar with and in your comfort zone.

If you’re too tired or frustrated with drawing, take this time to consume art instead of doing it. Read your favorite books, play games, or watch your favorite shows.

Read Books Watch Shows Play Games You Like
Take a break now and then! You don’t have to study all the time

Go through different art books and look at your favorite artists’ artwork. You’re learning with these things as well.

Looking at art is as important as drawing it. You’re always learning and taking inspiration from others, so take advantage of this.

Once you feel inspired again, come back to your own practice, and maybe you’ll have a different perspective.

Take your time with learning. Some people take longer, so understand what works best for you and go at your own pace.

With time and patience, you’ll master figure drawing!

8. Bonus: Do Some Gesture Drawing

Even if drawing each part of the body individually helps, sooner or later, you’ll want to draw the complete human body.

Learning how each body part connects can be challenging since you’re not used to those connections.

It’s normal to happen. In fact, most people tend to go by parts. For example, while learning, I first focused on portraits.

Then, as I got comfortable, I moved on to drawing the head and shoulder area. And moved along as I got satisfied with each area and connection.

One thing that really helps is practicing some Gesture Drawing. This is an exercise where we draw the human body in swift strokes.

Here, the goal is not to draw a fully rendered figure but instead focus on the pose and its movement.

You want to capture the whole pose with as few strokes as possible. Gesture Drawing will help you understand how each body part connects to the other, but also get better at dynamic poses.

To start Gesture Drawing, you only need a pencil, a sketchbook, and some references.

Avoid erasers, for that will make you worry too much about details and fixing whatever mistake you might’ve made.

We don’t want you to focus on that, just on the fluidity of your lines.

For references, again, you can get your own. Still, I really recommend using websites such as SketchDaily and Line-Of-Action.

Here, you’ll be able to set up a few features such as a timer. I recommend setting your timer for 2 or 2 and a half minutes. That should be enough to capture a whole pose.

Once you set everything up, different images will appear, according to the timer you set. All you have to do is draw each pose until the end of the session!

Check out our Complete Guide To Gesture Drawing to learn more about it.

Why Is Figure Drawing So Hard To Draw?

There’s a lot to learn in figure drawing. Each part of the body is very different from the other. So, it’s hard to have an understanding of everything.

How you draw the head differs significantly from how you draw the hands. They have nothing in common!

Some parts are much more detailed than others as well. It’s not easy to be able to draw it all, especially when you’re still a beginner at it.

That’s why I always recommend breaking things into smaller and simpler steps. Go through each part of the body slowly.

Once you’re confident in one part, go to the next.

You Can Do It, learn figure drawing step by step!
You can do it!

Then comes your next challenge: connecting and drawing the entire body. This is also something you’ll need time to get comfortable with.

The way the body connects might seem simple since we are generally familiar with bodies. We look at people every day and see them moving around.

But when it’s time to actually draw it, familiarity isn’t going to help. Sometimes being familiar with seeing something makes it even harder.

You know so well how it’s supposed to be, it’s more frustrating when you try and fail to draw it.

Again, I recommend going slowly. Practice portraits that show the head and shoulder area. Make several different drawings from different views.

When you’re comfortable with drawing these, start adding the torso and arms. Then hands and waist area.

Finally, add legs and feet, and you’re drawing an entire body! Breaking things down into more uncomplicated steps makes everything much less overwhelming, avoiding bigger frustrations.

How Long Does It Take To Learn Figure Drawing?

There’s no exact number for how long it takes to learn Figure Drawing. It might take months, but to fully master it, it will take years.

Not only that, but even when you think you got it, you’ll still learn more things about the body!

I’ve been drawing characters for years and still learn something new every now and then.

You’ll also learn about the human body from a more realistic perspective; at some point, you might want to draw it with a more personal style.

And that’s another learning stage of figure drawing. Simplifying, breaking proportions, and finding your art style is challenging.

You already know how things are supposed to be and now are supposed to break some of those rules?

It’s not easy, and takes time and experimentation. However, it’s an entertaining stage. It’s also an ever-changing stage.

You’re always learning something new and your perception grows and changes with them and your experience.

And that will reflect on your drawings as well!

Don’t worry too much about how long it takes to learn figure drawing or anything when it comes to drawing.

Enjoy the ride, enjoy the whole process and learn with the journey!

Now, if you want to learn more about figure drawing, here are my Top 6 Anatomy Reference Books For Artists that I definitely recommend taking a look at and learning with.