Sketching Women

© Copyright 2001-2004 by Paul Hsieh
Last updated: 10-04-2007
Prior to 2000, a coworker of mine made a comment that he liked the art on my homepage, but asked why I had not drawn any women? The question caught me off guard because it occurred to me, that for some reason, up until this point, I had very seldom drawn women. I had drawn women for art class, because that would be our assignment. But the way I draw/doodle for my own entertainment is very different from the way they were trying to teach me in art class.

In art class there was always just a model, and I am a master xerox machine, so while I could satisfy my teachers, I was using a totally different part of my brain than what I use for my fun art. I'm not sure my teachers ever understood this, but I never explained it to them. Oddly, enough, comic book fantasy art has been the only form of art which has inspired me enough to actually just do it spontaneously. Comic book artists don't use models -- they have to use their imagination, and that's how I do it.

But it has also lead me to emulate what is commonly seen in comic book art. Women are there, but clearly in the minority, and, in retrospect (IMHO), are not drawn as women who happened to be characters, but instead as characters who happen to be women. Women are (usually) smaller, but more flexible, less aggressive but more empathetic, but you would never know it from comic book characters. Not that its the place for comic books to make statements about this, or that this should affect how they are drawn. But women become part of the background in comic books, rather than the foreground because of this.

Another problem, is that outline drawing works ok for drawing men, because their physical stature is more represented by sheer size, and proportions of their features. Women, besides shape, are better defined by the contours of their bodies. So the 70s and 80s style of comic book art (whose style which I first started copying) are just an ineffective palette for drawing women (though ). So I never doodled women! Of course modern comic book art has dramatically changed/improved in the mid to late 90s, to the point where

In any event, I took this question/comment seriously, and so endeavoured to prove to him that I could draw women, and that it wouldn't be a problem. What I used to have my tech index page is one of my early attempts to do this, some time in 2000. I had actually drawn some half dozen candidates prior to it that I had to throw out because of unacceptable quality. This is very unusual for me, since all other doodles on my pages are first attempts. Even with this artificial filter to improve the quality for this one image, you can see I was still having problems. Look at the size of her neck, and shape of her legs. She also has somewhat larger than usual shoulders and forearms than you are going to find on any typical woman, physically fit or not. She's wearing some kind of armor/clothes that were supposed to help hide the fact that the details were somewhat difficult for me to render -- I copped out.

There followed dozens more doodles of females, or varying degrees of quality. And I was slowly coming to the conclusion that my super-xerox abilities coupled with my mental visual skills were not sufficient to compensate for my lack basic of knowledge in the area of drawing women. It was pretty frustrating, but I could not stand the idea that my artistic skills would be limited in this way. Now, I could have spent more than a decade trying to gain such skills, the same way I've gained my other art skills, but I wondered if there would be a way to short cut this process. Should I go back to "manual photocopying" of various women (the classical artistic education method), to gain the skills through standard repetition?

Well what I did was a started looking for cartoon art of women. The reason is that cartoonists tend to draw exaggerated physical features and use the most basic of visual hints to make sure you understand what the depiction is. One of the artists at SPUMCO (the creators of Ren & Stimpy; their internet site is down, I don't even know if they exist anymore) had a few sample sketches of female characters (go look ). They are cartoons to be sure, but have exactly what I was looking for. Proportions, shape, and poise hints that perfectly explained what I was not doing in my feeble attempts. They were perfect, because they are incomplete sketches, which revealed the core line structure without any distracting colorizations or line cleanup. The key, for me, was understanding the smaller proportions, the arch of the back, and realization that a woman's body is entirely curves. A few simple concepts my art teachers neglected to tell me.

I've kept drawing women doodles pretty exclusively for the past couple years, to get the correct feel for it. The first few I drew were (first attempt) sketches inspired from some NeverWinter Nights characters. But I've added more since then. They are not perfect, but I think I have made some progress.

Click on the pictures to see them at full res (unless you are using IE which does pixel sampling scaling which just makes them look like crap.)

Update: I was rather shocked to learn, that after only a few days up, this web page has been indexed by at least 3 major search engines, and that this page itself comes up as a high ranking hit for people who are searching for tips on how to sketch women! In an effort to satisfy the intent of many people who might find their way here through a desire to learn how to draw women I have included an extra sketch group that perhaps is more revealing of how I actually do my sketches.

What you see here are two groups of sub-sketches. The top line are the mid-section sketches. Believe it or not, I usually start here. Probably because its the part that I have failed to get right so much in the past, and that I have finally gotten a bit of a grasp on. This is where the "pear shape" of the female body is captured. The third on the top shows some dotted lines, that perhaps might give you a kind of guide for quickly reproducing what I have done.

On the second line, of course, is the torso. This where I prefer to introduce shading, and different weighted lines since volumes, and contours are better at depicting this section. Here there are just a few things to get right. The collar bone shows through, a much thinner adams apple (versus males), breasts, lower shoulders, and recessed stomach.

Arms and legs, I have not studied here. I think arms are somewhat simple (thinner, esp upper) but legs I have not mastered, and I always have problems with feet (though I think I am reasonably good with hands.)

Faces are a study in of themselves. I still rely on simple tricks to do faces to the point where I wouldn't want to advocate exactly how to do them.

The primary thing to notice, in my method of drawing women, is that I don't use the standard skeletal layout to start with. I just start somewhere on the page, plot down the mid section, and draw out the rest around it. My art teachers would not be pleased. This works for me because I have pretty good visualization skills. If it doesn't work as well for you, then you might like to start by drawing a skeletal first (draw a line representing the back bone, then an oval for the hip bone, then lines for collar bone, then legs, and arms and an oval for the head) and then follow my pattern of drawing the various sections.

A step by step approach

Fig 1

Fig 2

An online speed sketch

An online sketch


Links

While I don't have any particular opinion about "manga" art, the tutorial here is pretty good, and pretty complete. The artist here is also clearly talented.

Art tips from a professional animator.

by Canadian animator Tealin.

A site with numerous resources for live figure drawings. They have linked this page as well -- probably unaware that I do not use models or references at all for any of my drawings (though, I don't know whether or not that is a criteria for being linked by them.)

A professional comic book artist.

Excellent digital art and tutorials from a pro.

A really fun game based on speed sketching. Its really cool. Its supposed to be like pictionary -- I'm not sure people appreciate it when I try to draw true to life renderings of the clue word.

Paul Adam's Online sketchbook.

Tyree's comic book art gallery and other things.

Mike Wieringo's comic book art gallery.

Pamela Ramali's anime style art.

Mark Behm's art.

Blue Abyss.

Sketchbook sessions forum.

Society of Figurative Arts.

Some impressive work by Steve Gordon.

Comicbook art from Outcast Studios.

Scribble -- comicbook art of Jonboy Meyers.

Artwork by Westley Burt.

Tutorials on the GFX Artist website.

Art books by Andrew Loomis.

Art Cluster drawing tips.


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