Drawing the human figure is one of the hardest skills to master. People shirk away from proportions and anatomy. They complain that hands are too difficult. Heads and eyes come out too large. Torsos are truncated. Characters mutilated!
I’m guilty of taking shortcuts to avoid the human figure too. “Stylized” or simplified figures are common in my work. When I stop to think about it, I probably started using these figures because they allowed to me convey my message easily and quickly. Portraying a realistic-looking person takes so much longer.
Then I took my first figure drawing class.
Any traditional art student will go through the experience. The atmosphere of the first class pregnant with awkwardness as the first model de-robes. The body that has taken center stage is nude, not naked, your professor insists. Your more immature classmates suppress giggles – or did that sound just come from you?
Before you can bat another eyelid, the model is in a pose and the timer begins. You’re forced to contemplate the awkwardness of nudity alone and in silence. Well, not complete silence. The frantic scratching of charcoals and pencils is audible because you’ve all been thrown into a series of lightening-fast sessions.
Thoughts of nudity are forced out of your head as you try to capture its form on your paper before- time’s up, next pose!
After a while, maybe even just one class later, it isn’t awkward at all. You jump readily into the task of capturing curves and contours, lights and shadows, as accurately and as quickly as time allows. You revel in 30-minute sessions – what an excess of time! – but also find them exhausting. Then you graduate to hour-long sessions, and find 30 minutes wasn’t bad at all.
Does figure drawing seem fun yet?
In my case, a class like this leads you to develop a love for this art form, so strong that when the class is over you’re at a loss. And when you graduate from college, you’re even more lost. And when you go and live abroad, well, you’d better stop feeling lost and do something about it.
At first, I was determined to find figure drawing classes or open sessions in my area. But being in a country more conservative than my own, I didn’t even know how to go about asking where I could find a place to draw nude models.
I turned to the next best thing – the Internet. And no, I didn’t have to weed through any sketchy (haha) websites.
These are four resources I’ve used over the years to maintain my skill and continue figure drawing without models.
Stock Photos from Deviant Art
This is the most basic resource. You can find thousands of stock photos online. I’m sure there are a number of other websites you could use. But the site I started with is deviantart.com.
For those not familiar with Deviant Art, it’s a social media-esque platform for posting your artwork. I think I started using it in middle school. I’m sure a lot of kids still use the site, which features a lot of fan art.
Unfortunately, there have been many cases of art theft, with people using, reprinting, and even selling artists’ work without their knowledge. It was a fun community for me, but you won’t see many professional artists there.
Users also post stock photos! You’ll find a range from the extravagantly costumed to simple poses for drawing reference. Don’t expect to find nude models though. Two of the most reliable stock providers I’ve used are senshistock and jademacalla.
I like senshistock for their variety and simplicity. They focus on the human form. There is one primary model – the user – and although other models show up frequently. Most of their models are in leotards or tank tops and tights, so you get plenty of arm and leg muscle.
They have unique poses like a running hug and even a whole category for pregnancy. They have both male and female models.
Another good user for action poses is jademacalla. This user specializes in action and military-like poses. His stock images are clothed according to the scenario – in suits, camouflage and Kevlar vests.
It turns out there are a lot of stock photo groups too. Here are a few I haven’t tried, but look okay based on a quick browse:
Quick Poses is a step above stock photos. It’s one of many websites made specifically for artists practicing figure drawing. This is the first one I tried.
Challenges (themed collections; 10 different categories, with examples below)
Timed gestures (my favorite)
Library (images you can browse freely)
For each session you can choose:
Nude and clothed options
Type of images (full poses, hands, feet, or faces)
Time intervals: 30sec, 45sec, 60sec, 90sec, 120sec, or custom
At the end of each session, the site displays all the poses you drew. While I like this feature, but I don’t really use or do anything with it. Maybe it just reminds you of how much you’ve accomplished.
You do have the option to create your own custom image sets, either by browsing through the library or from the images shown after a session. Make a Quick Poses account to try this, track your progress, and even earn a certificate.
There are other features that I don’t really find useful, but some might. You have the option to choose a white or black background. You can also work in upside down mode, but this reminds me too much of tedious art class assignments.
Quick Poses is a solid figure drawing site, with a lot of different features. It feels a little unorganized to me, and as a result, I mostly stick to what I tried first. I typically use the Timed gestures section, and that’s about it.
The images are good quality but started to repeat for me after a few sessions.
I do like that Quick Poses keeps track of the poses you’ve drawn and shows them all to you at the end. This feature, combined with the button to skip images actually saying “skip,” makes me feel more pressure to draw each pose.
So in a subtle way, Quick Poses is a little more motivating. They’ve also started hosting competitions, though I’m not sure about the frequency of these, and I tend to see more new features and blog content, which similar sites seem to lack. But the next site might provide some competition.
Line of Action (formerly known as artists.pixelovely.com) was just revamped on November 24th, with a new name, domain, and features that I still haven’t fully explored.
Even before the change, Line of Action was quickly becoming my new favorite tool. My first time using it was with a 30 minute class session. It wiped me out and made me hungry enough to eat a second breakfast that day.
Four main categories:
Hands & Feet
Faces & Expressions
Lessons and tips section
Practice & Advice
Making an account allows you to post in forums, but no other features require you to log in. The forums allow you to post your work and receive feedback or simply share your successes.
For each session, you can choose:
Nude or clothed
Timed intervals or class mode
Time intervals: 30sec, 60sec, 2min, 5min, 10min, or custom
Line of Action has a lot of images to work with – it took me longer to run into repeat images compared with Quick Poses, though I do get repeats with this site too.
I’m a fan of class mode, which starts you off with images shown for 30 seconds each and gradually moves up to longer periods of time. You can choose class modes ranging from 30 minutes to 6 hours! (Is that even possible?!)
Line of Action is still my current favorite. While its functions are similar to the other two figure drawing websites on this list, I prefer the layout, which to me feels cleaner and easier to navigate. The site feels more active now, with a regularly updated blog and forum activity.
This site doesn’t start timing immediately after you start a session – you have to press play. This seems insignificant, but I do like that I choose what type of session I want and then get settled with my materials. It’s a little more relaxed. Of course, you can also just prepare everything before you hit start.
Unfortunately, I found this feature the hard way, when I forgot to hit play and kept drawing, wondering while this session felt so long (it must’ve been my skill, right?).
Another nice little detail is that when time is almost up on an image, it begins fading to black, giving you a warning to wrap it up. I really wish other sites did this too.
In each session, you can choose:
Nude or clothed
Type of pose (action, stationary)
View (front, side, back)
Time intervals: 30 sec, 1 min, 5 min, or 10 min
Sketch Daily is easy to use and customize, and has the most straightforward layout. They have a couple of extra options that the other sites don’t, like choosing the type of pose and the viewpoint.
The site creators are transparent about the number of images available for each category, shown at the bottom of the page. You can see exactly how many images of a certain type are available after you choose your desired settings.
There is no option to put in a custom time and fewer time choices overall.
Have you tried any of these resources? If not, I hope this gives you some ideas on where you can start to improve your figure drawing game. If you have, let me know what you thought!