Drawing From Life

Becoming a Professional Fashion Designer

Become a Professional Fashion Designer

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The figure has occurred throughout art history as a central theme for exploration— drawing the nude figure from life has been practised in art academies for centuries. Clothing brings further challenge and diversity to drawing the figure and, from this, the art of fashion illustration has developed.

If you are relatively new to figure drawing, you may feel daunted by the apparent complexity of the subject. It is a common belief that drawing the figure is the hardest artistic talent to develop. How many times have you heard phrases such as "I can't draw faces" or "I can't draw hands"? In fact, good drawings of figures are not so much the most difficult to achieve as the easiest to judge. We know the layout and proportions of our bodies so well that we notice inaccuracies instantly. The result is that, unless a drawing is remarkably accurate, it is deemed poor and the artist loses confidence.

At its most basic, a drawing is nothing more than a series of marks made on a surface by one person that another can understand. In fashion illustration, drawing the figure is more about developing your own style, and creating individual studies that convey personality and meaning, than about accuracy. However, this is not an excuse to draw a figure with, say, a disproportionately large head because you are

Picasso Figure DrawingsWoman Proportions Drawing


Pablo Picasso, Tluo Nude Women, 1902-03. Ink and pencil on card.

unable to assess proportions correctly. An illustrator must understand accurate body proportions before it is possible to create a unique style.

Through drawing we learn to see. We may think we know the human figure until asked to describe it accurately. By recording a figure on paper, we cannot help but understand it better. Our drawings vary because we all see things differently. Look with fresh eyes to achieve an honest drawing, and never rely on memory or what experience tells you is correct. Free yourself from what your mind already "knows" and draw only what your eyes see.

THE nude figure

The nude human figure must serve as the basis for all figure study and fashion illustration. It is impossible to draw the clothed figure without knowledge of the structure and form of the body underneath. In the twenty-first century, artists and illustrators no longer tend to study anatomy as part of their formal training, I Iowever, a sound knowledge of how the body is constructed can only increase your perception. When thinking about the figure you may use in a fashion illustration, consider the body shapes that lie beneath the clothes, ll is inspirational to look ;it the work of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci (facing page) whose observation of anatomy in pen and ink captures the reality and the beauty of the human body.

To broaden your knowledge of anatomy, visit a natural-history museum or refer 10 books to make studies of the skeleton, and the joints and muscles that operate to move the bones. By gaining an understanding of how joints move and which bones fit together, you can create more realistic figure drawings.

A clear understanding of anatomy allowed Pablo Picasso to base a significant amount of his work around the nude human form. The works selected here (this page) outline important lessons for the art student. Two Nude Women demonstrates Picasso's economic use of line. Both women are lost in thought, and Picasso captures their mood with decisive pen-and-ink strokes. The nudes are drawn on a coloured background, using only a limited palette, enhancing the purity of line and form.

In Femme nue allongee Picasso uses mixed media to create blocks of colour and pattern, his experimental approach enriching the artwork. It is doubtful that Picasso knew what result he would achieve when he started this piece, once .saying: "If you know exactly what you arc going to do, what is the point of doing it?"


Pablo Picasso, Tluo Nude Women, 1902-03. Ink and pencil on card.

with economical line and a limited colour palette, Picasso captures the main lines and forms of two reclining nudes in this uncomplicated image, His technique is bold and decisive.


Pablo Picasso, Femme nueallongfa, 1955. Paper collage and oil on canvas.

Experimenting with mixed media without a fixed idea of the outcome is a way of achieving unpredictable and exciting results, as Picasso demonstrates in this image. He uses haphazard blocks of patterned paper and colour to express his ideas, the finished effect most likely unplanned,

Drawing From Life

Observing the human figure is vital for the fashion illustrator. Keep a small sketchbook in your bag and draw from life whenever you have the opportunity, using portable media such as pen and wash, or pencil and watercolour. The train station is an excellent place to begin. In these sketches we see a woman reading while leaning on her bag, and a man in the waiting room.

Fashion Illustration Sketches Men

the clothed figure

An understanding of how fabric drapes around the body is vital for drawing i lie clothed figure convincingly, as is a knowledge of how seams, gathers, pleats and darts affect the fit of garments 011 the figure. You do not need to know how lo sew to illustrate, but it helps to be aware of the construction of clothing, just as ji does to understand the structure of the body. Make detailed studies of sections of clothed figures to build your awareness of the ways in which clothes fit and drape on the body before you begin to illustrate.

An important aspect of drawing the figure is awareness of its scale in relation to its setting. Consider how figures fit into their surroundings, and how much their appearance is dictated by the scene in which they are set. Focusing on scale, composition and clothing, practise drawing figures in various locations: children playing 011 a beach, customers shopping, teenagers playing football, a couple dining in a cafd, a person curled up in an armchair or asleep on a sofa, employees in a meeting, friends watching television, passengers on a bus or old ladies chatting on a park bench. This type of sketching increases your ability to create a sense of perspective, and to draw figures to scale in their environments. By sketching 011 location, you will also gain ideas for backgrounds and settings for your fashion illustrations.

Park Bench Pencil Drawing
By holdinq a pencil at arm's length and focusing on your subject, you can measure the figure in front of you. Close one eye, and use the pencil point and your thumb as markers to measure, say, a leg in relation to another part of the body,

measuring the figure and using a viewfinder

When drawing the nude or clothed figure from life, the most difficult skill to master is that of correct body proportions. To enhance their skills, many artists use a pencil to measure the figure and a viewfinder to frame a model and give proportionate width to height.

By holding a pencil at arm's length and focusing on your subject you can measure the figure in front of you. Close one eye, then use the pencil point and your thumb (is markers to measure each part of the figure in relation to another. You can also hold your pencil al the same angle as the figure's arm, then transfer this angle to your drawing. This method allows you to assess approximately relative angles of parts of the body that would otherwise be difficult to draw correctly.

A viewfinder is a piece of card with a window cut into it of the same proportions as your drawing paper. Hold the viewfinder in front of one eye lo frame the figure, A viewfinder helps you to disregard the figure's wider surroundings and draw only what is inside the window. It allows you to try out different framing options for your picture, including more or less of the setting around the figure.

Viewfinder For Drawing
A viewfinder Is a slmple-to-make device that helps you to select how much of a figure's surroundings you want to include within the confines of your picture. By moving the viewfinder, you can select the view that works best.

Below left

Life drawing on a large scale can be bold and dramatic. This artist brings drama and atmosphere to the work by using intense colour, and strong lines, shapes and patterns using charcoal and pencils.

Below centre

Experiment with varied media when drawing from life. While charcoal is a popular choice for many artists because It encourages bold, expressive lines, this study has been created with oil pastels on brown paper, Oil pastels are richly coloured and have a dense, waxy texture that can be exploited to provide additional interest In a figure drawing.

Below l ight

Here, a single page has been used for a series of quick studies, Working with pencil, the artist concentrates on several poses in order to build an understanding of the figure and the way it moves.

life drawing

The best way to represent figures confidently is to draw from life as often as yon can. Many local art centres or art schools offer life-drawing classes. Attending your first life-drawing session can be a frightening prospect. Where will you sit? What materials should you use? Will you feel embarrassed? Where do you start? Many artists advise that in life-drawing classes the best way to proceed is to view the nude figure as a series of lines and shapes and forget that there is a person in front of you. Drawing the nude figure is the ultimate test in observation and understanding, and demands your full concentration, so you will find it easier than anticipated to dismiss other thoughts.

To practise drawing the clothed figure, make the most of opportunities such as family or friends watching television. Most people stay fairly still for about 15 minutes when relaxing. Public transport also offers an excellent opportunity for capturing interesting poses. Always carry a small sketchbook when travelling on a train or bus, or attending an event where there are lots of people to draw.

The sketchbook page opposite shows how Francis Marshall, although famous for couture-show sketches of Balenciaga, Jacques Path and Dior, has always found time lo practise figure drawing.

Fashion Drawing Observation DetailedFashion Illustration Catwalk
lo improve his talent for capturing catwalk styles, Francis Marshall draws frequently from observation, His sketchbook pages show women walking, detailed pencil drawings of facial features and clothing accessories.

These studies, in charcoal and pencil, demonstrate how drawing from life can help you to gain valuable knowledge of the figure beneath the clothes. Perfect finished artwork is not attempted: instead the artist has focused on understanding particular parts of the body.

Drawing Fashion Body

to focus your thoughts entirely on the figure you are drawing. The aim is to draw without looking at your page, The result is not supposed to be a perfect artwork, but a valuable lesson in concentration and confident expression.

to focus your thoughts entirely on the figure you are drawing. The aim is to draw without looking at your page, The result is not supposed to be a perfect artwork, but a valuable lesson in concentration and confident expression.

observational drawing and intuitive exercises

Drawing from life is also known as "objective" or "observational" drawing, meaning an image that is created to represent what is seen during direct observation. The aim is to show the figure (or object) truthfully, exactly as it appears. Drawing in this way is about believing and trusting your visual judgement as you record what you see. Before embarking on more elaborate studies of the figure, try some simple exercises using intuitive observation. The purpose of these exercises is to train your mind to accept what your eyes—rather than your preconceptions or your mind's interpretations—deem to be true,

The "don't-look-back" exercise

Focus all your attention on the figure in front of you and draw exactly what you see. Do not examine the drawing once you have started—just look at the figure and recreate its shapes on paper. Try not to use your critical judgement. Concentrate on the contours of the figure and the shapes contained within. This type of drawing is about forgetting what you think you know, and believing in what you see. When you look at a figure, your brain interprets for you what you should see. The result is that you may draw the figure as you believe it to be, rather than how il actually looks. By checking your drawing constantly, it is tempting to correct what you think are mistakes. Trust your eyes, and you will produce a truthful drawing.

'Hie continuous-line exercise

Working from observation, make a continuous line drawing of the figure. As you look at your subject, keep your hand moving constantly so that the line remains unbroken. You can complete this exercise using any medium—charcoal, pencil or pen. Avoid the temptation to create accurate details, such as those of the face, with lots of small lines. The purpose of this exercisc is to record all information with one single, (lowing line. The illustrations opposite (below left and right) have been created using continuous lines. They are extremely free images only refined by a hint of colour added digitally. It is a good idea to experiment with free-hand drawing and the computer to create unique effects,

The outline exercise

A useful skill to acquire when learning to draw the figure from life is to look past the detail to concentrate on the shape as a whole. Simplify what you see, flattening the figure in your mind's eye so that you focus on its outline. Learn to pay close ai tcntion to "negative spaces"—the areas of background enclosed by parts of the figure. If you concentrate on drawing these shapes, the figure should emerge with some accuracy into the foreground of your illustration. Look at the back view of the figure drawn by Matisse (above left), The lines are simply the outline of the shape he sees. Likewise, Ossie Clark shows off his designs with strong outlines. The space around the figure is vital to the outline.

Above lep

A master of the outline technique, Matisse captures this figure (1949) with only a few simple lines so that the viewer comprehends it entirely.

Above right

This line drawing, by British designer Ossie Clark, from a sketchbook of c. 1970, provides just enough detail to appreciate the design of the clothes.

Opposite, below left

Line drawing has been a major influence in this fashion illustration even though there is no obvious outline to the figure. Instead, it is made up from many interconnecting lines. A small amount of colour has been added digitally at the end of the process to finish the illustration,

Opposite, below right

The continuous-line exercise involves creating a figure drawing with one, flowing line. This one has been scanned and colour blocked in digitally to emphasize the hands.


Copying a figure, or figures, from a photograph or magazine can form the foundation of a fashion illustration. Even an ordinary photograph of a couple on a motorbike wearing full leathers can be used as a starting point.

Far right

Trace the main lines of each figure by placing your paper over the photograph on a light box.


Inspired by the photograph, this is the final fashion illustration. Although life drawing is necessary to understand the human body, it is still valid to use a two-dimensional image as the basis for your figure.

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Freehand Sketching An Introduction

Freehand Sketching An Introduction

Learn to sketch by working through these quick, simple lessons. This Learn to Sketch course will help you learn to draw what you see and develop your skills.

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