As of October 8th 2016, after roughly two years of offering free critiques, I will now be limiting my own critiques to patreon supporters ($3 or more). But don't fret - you are still welcome to freely submit your work and questions directly to the /r/ArtFundamentals subreddit to be reviewed by the community.
If you're looking at this lesson, I'm under the assumption that you've completed those that come before it. Lessons 1 and 2 are an absolute must, while lessons 3-7 are highly recommended in order to sharpen your ability to work with form and think in 3D space. I know a lot of you will have come here thinking, "I want to learn to draw!" and thinking of drawing people as your first stop. That is.. unwise to say the least. Human beings are complex, and since most of us happen to be human, we're pretty unforgiving when they happen to be drawn incorrectly. It's really not a good place to start, so I recommend going back to the beginning of this curriculum and working your way up.
Before we get started, just a quick word about the tools you should use when completing the homework. Previous lessons forced you to work in ink - by this point, I expect that you'll have built up some of the good habits that come from having worked in pen for so long. I'm welcoming you all to use whatever medium you are most comfortable with for the figure drawing lessons, just be sure to apply the same methodology of thinking and planning before every mark. As I mentioned above, drawing people can be very tricky and complex, so forcing you to work in ink would likely make things far more difficult than they need be.
So if you've been exposed to any figure drawing lessons in the past, there's a pretty good likelihood that you're familiar with the concept of 'gesture drawing'. For those of you who aren't, it is the act of capturing the energy or gesture of a pose or movement as a series of lines. Many instructors will have their students more or less go crazy on the page in a way that doesn't entirely line up with our patient, preplanned methodology here, so we'll be partaking in a variation of gesture drawing that is more deliberate and that focuses on line economy.
We are going to focus on capturing the flow of a figure using under 20 lines. We start by analyzing our reference image (or live model, as the case may be) and identifying the features of their torso, and move into the legs, the arms, and if necessary the head/neck as well. Wherever the flow breaks (for example, a bent elbow or knee), we either act as though the flow has not been broken (for instance, drawing the leg as though it were straight), or we let it stop there.
Don't worry about proportion, but don't go out of your way to ignore it. It's just not our focus for now.
This is the same demo that's shown in the intro video, but I'm breaking it down here for those who prefer text (and for their instruction not to include the feverish ramblings of a person who's fighting a cold).
That's pretty much where the gesture/flow is captured - from there you can choose to extend into step 6, which is just adding missing bits that aren't terribly important to the flow for that pose, but don't go too far into detail. Right now we're keeping things fairly simple. No detail, no complexity.
So here's the bad news - there's going to be some memorization, and it's not going to be fun. Doing the gesture drawing stuff from the previous section can be pretty smooth, but the problem is that you probably don't know where things should stop. For example, how long should a figure's torso be? What about the legs? Below are a bunch of rules - some of which are firm, others are more like guidelines - and you're going to have to remember all of them. It will be repetitive, but over time you will learn to internalize them.
This is where we usually start, with the head. The mother of all measurements. The circle is front top portion of the skull. If seen at an angle, we extend it back into a capsule shape of up to a length of 1.7 circle-lengths if seem completely from the side. When seen straight on, the head is one circle wide.
The pit of the neck (collarbone) is situated one circle down from this initial circle, and the chin is located half a circle beneath the initial circle. Don't forget to give the chin a bit of width.
Now this part is more of a suggestion, or a starting point - the torso (not including the bulk of the shoulders) is around 2 circles wide. Even if seen at an angle, this two-circle measurement can be shifted around and won't necessarily be centred, but the measurement still holds (loosely) true. Keep in mind that when a person is particularly muscular, they've got serratus muscles that can expand considerably - this 2 circle measurement does not account for that, so in such a situation you'll want to build up muscle on top. We're not terribly concerned with that for now.
You can refer to the big overall breakdown for this one - head measurement is relatively simple. One head down we have the chin, two heads down we have the nipples (assuming a flat chest), three heads down we have the top of the pelvis and four heads down we have the bottom of the crotch. This is fairly consistent for most adult humans, regardless of height.
Again, refer to the big breakdown. If you take the length from the pit of the neck to the bottom of the crotch, one quarter of the way down is the bottom of the sternum, one halfway down is the bottom of the ribcage, and three quarters of the way down is the naval/belly button.
The demo below is technically outdated, but for no reason other than it's older than the rest of the material. It still serves as a decent step-by-step breakdown of how to construct a figure while measuring out all of your proportions
Usually the video recordings of the demos are reserved for my patreon supporters. This time, however, I'm releasing it freely for everyone. The next lessons will go back to being patreon-only.
We start off by drawing the head. The proportion systems all start with a circle that represents the cranial mass.
If you find yourself confused, read the steps over more carefully, and pay close attention to the red lines in the diagram.
And there you have it - a simple mannequin that could technically be applied to either gender. It is extremely important to get accustomed to drawing this generic mannequin before you start diving into any sort of detail. Instead of looking at your reference and trying to reproduce some manner of likeness, treat it as nothing more than a pose. You have this mannequin, and you're merely drawing it in the pose that you see. You are not drawing the person themselves. That will come later.
As I mentioned at the top of the lesson page, you are free to use whatever media you are most comfortable with. The ink-on-paper limitation is being lifted from here onwards (unless otherwise stated), so feel free to use pencil, charcoal, digital, etc. When learning to figure draw myself, I used a Conté à Paris Pierre Noire pencil and a large (11x14) pad of newsprint which was secured to a drawing board with a bulldog clip. The board/pad were usually held at an angle, supported by donkey bench style easels when at live model figure drawing sessions, and against the desk and my lap when at home.
About the pencils - like any other, that particular brand comes in ranges of hard (8H-HB), soft (HB-8B), with the hardness/softness increasing with the associated number and HB sitting in the middle. The harder the lead the less of a mark it'll make, and the softer the lead the darker the mark will be with the same amount of pressure used. That said, harder leads will feel different from softer ones. Our instructor had us purchase 2Hs and 2Bs, but after a while I started to find that the 2Hs felt like they snagged on the tooth of the paper, while the 2Bs felt much smoother and more liquid. I ended up switching to the 2Bs only. As a result, I had to be much more careful with controlling my pressure, but I found that it was worth the trouble.
Additionally, for pens the traditional tripod grip used for writing has been optimal, as it afforded us the greatest control of the primary means of varying our strokes - pressure. When it comes to pencils however, we have multiple surfaces that we can use to create different kinds of marks, so the tripod grip is no longer the most effective method to hold your tool. This applies to any media with multiple contact surfaces - paint brushes, charcoal sticks, etc.
You'll notice as well that more of the lead has been exposed. This is in order to create a larger contact surface on the side. The pencil shown is dulled from use (I haven't drawn with it in forever, so I had to dig it up for the photo), but this kind of exposure of the lead cannot be achieved with a normal pencil sharpener. In this case, I used a box cutter to carefully carve away the wood. Sometimes I would still use a regular sharpener to sharpen the tip to a point, but it's important to realize that your lead is rather fragile, so you're going to accidentally break it pretty frequently when getting used to doing this. Lead holders may be an easier alternative, but I have no experience with these so I can't say so for certain.
As homework, I recommend doing the following:
Take your time, and take as many breaks as you need. No need to rush. Be careful and methodical - take the time required to properly measure out our proportions and to construct your shapes.
I strongly recommend finding a life drawing session with nude models. Chances are that if you take the time to look, you should be able to find one near by. If you can't, then you may still use photo reference from the internet. Some resources include:
Avoid using posable/posed 3D models - I see some beginners share these around, but it's not a good idea. Reason being, they rely largely on the skills of the person posing them, and more often than not those poses end up stiff and rather lifeless. This will in turn train you to draw stiff and lifeless characters, so stick to models that are actually alive.