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5 Ways to Improve Figure Drawing for Comics and Fantasy Art

figure drawing by Rene Arreola

Table of Contents

Learning to draw the human figure is a valuable skill that every beginner should work on improving. The human figure is one of the most important aspects of comic and fantasy art – whether drawing it in comics or learning how to pose figures in professional-level artwork.

The methods I describe in this article are what I used to help transform my drawing ability from the drawings seen below. On the left is a drawing I made of the character “Binary” in 1985. The pencil drawing next to it was done in 2021. 

1. Start Figure Drawing with Pencil or Pen on Paper

Drawing with a pencil or pen on paper is the easiest way to begin drawing because the tools are so simple; they allow you to focus on your comic book character drawing immediately.

The first thing you need is a piece of paper. The best paper to use is sketch paper, which you can find at any art supply store. It’s thin enough that it won’t interfere with your lines but thick enough that it doesn’t bend easily. 

Next, get yourself a good-quality pencil with an eraser on its end. I recommend getting an HB (or No. 2) pencil since it’s dark enough to see your lines clearly and soft enough that it won’t damage your paper if you press too hard when shading.

For my own tastes, I’ve discovered I don’t really need anything too fancy. I can draw in my sketchbook using a plain old Ticonderoga pencil. In this case, it’s a No. 2 HB lead.

Ticonderoga No2 pencil
A simple Ticonderoga No 2 pencil is all I need.

When working on your figure drawings, remember that it’s essential to keep things simple! Use simple shapes. You don’t need to add details every time you draw something new — focus on getting the basic shape down pat before adding anything else to it. This way, when you add details, they’ll look good without distracting from the overall picture.

When drawing a figure, use basic shapes to create the form of your subject. For example, basic shapes such as circles and triangles help create more realistic proportions in your characters’ bodies than just relying on lines alone will do on their own.

You can use circles, squares, rectangles, and triangles for basic body parts like heads and shoulders. Use curved lines for arms, legs, and other body parts that bend or curve. Once you have all of these basic shapes down, begin adding details like facial features, hairstyle, and clothing to make them look more realistic.

Below are some figure drawings I did from some life drawing classes. Some were done while I was in junior college, and others while I was at a state university.

There is also a range of time per each one. Some of these were done in as little as one minute while more complete figure drawings were done in around 40 minutes.

2. Use a Sketchbook and Work from Imagination

sketchbooks
Some of my old sketchbooks. As you can see, i used everything from pencils, inks, and markers to draw the figure.

Drawing is an art form that takes practice, but the more you draw, the better you’ll become. To help improve your figure drawing skills, use these tips and techniques that will help you create more accurate drawings.

Keep a sketchbook

Drawing from life is a great way to improve your figure drawing skills. It helps you see how light behaves on different body parts, how shadows fall on the body and how muscles move underneath the skin. Keeping a sketchbook is also vital because it keeps your mind fresh with new ideas, leading to better art.

Get out your bad drawings

The only way to get better at drawing is by failing, which means getting out all of those terrible drawings you made in history class and ripping them up (or burning them)—just kidding about that. But, of course, you’ll never get better if you don’t let yourself fail first!

Draw from imagination

With my initial concepts, I do this a lot. Mostly, so I can get out ideas quickly. It is one of the reasons why sketchbooks are invaluable. If you have never done anything like this before, try drawing from imagination first. 

Drawing from imagination trains your eye to see things differently by forcing yourself not to see anything or use reference material while drawing. You’ll be surprised at how much easier it becomes once you start doing this regularly!

3. Use Reference to Practice Figure Drawing

I love figure drawing. It’s a great way to challenge your skills and the best way to practice anatomy. But it’s also a great way to have fun drawing.

I’ve been drawing figures for years now, both from life and photo references. And my work has improved tremendously over time.

Using Photographs

Using photo references can significantly enhance your figure drawing. It’s an easy way to get accurate proportions and perspective in your drawings. For example, you can use photos from stock images or take photos yourself with a digital camera or smartphone. I have purchased and downloaded many of my photo references from Grafit Studios over at Cubebrush.co.

In the videos below, I am working digitally. But my process is the same: I work with the photo reference off to the side. I almost always never do a straight-up tracing over the photo.  And it can be pretty tempting to do so digitally because it is so easy.

If I were to trace the photo, my drawing could appear too stiff. Instead, reference the photo next to my drawing. Then, I force myself to keep on my toes! Because my drawing won’t be an exact copy of the original photo, it should feel much more natural and look original enough.

Using Digital 3D Models

When drawing figures, you want to make sure that they are anatomically correct and proportionate. If not, then your artwork can look funny or even unrealistic.

Using 3-D digital models can help you pose figures in different angles to practice your figure drawing skills. Doing this is an excellent way for artists who cannot afford expensive equipment like clay figurines, mannequins, etc., but still want an object they can manipulate into different poses without buying them all.

Drawing a figure from imagination can be challenging because you don’t have references. However, you can practice drawing figures from your imagination using 3-D digital models. These 3-D models allow you to see how the character looks from different angles and poses so that you can render them accurately in your drawings.

4. Study Books on Figure Drawing

Studying anatomy is another important step you can take in improving your figure drawing. The human body is a complex machine, but its basic structure is relatively simple. So you need to understand how each part of the body works together to use it properly.

Study the figure in motion. The human body in movement goes along with studying anatomy, but it also requires a different approach. You need to learn how each part of the body moves as it interacts with other parts of the body and gravity itself.

Find reference materials from real people or photographs or videos of people doing various activities such as walking, running, or bending over. Use these references when drawing figures in action to see how those actions affect their musculature and proportions. You can also learn how specific movements look from different angles and distances away from them (i.e., foreshortening).

5. Ink Your Own Drawings

Can you imagine being a writer who could only write and not spell? Or an artist who could only draw but not choose colors for his work? Inking is an art in itself. Many artists do their inks over existing pencils, sometimes completely changing the basics of how things were set up in the original pencil version.

Ink, pencil and paper are the basic tools of the comic book artist, but learning to ink your own comic book art can be daunting. The learning curve is steep, but it’s worth it in the long run.

Why should you learn to ink your own comic book art?

By learning to ink my own comic book art, I became a better artist and more efficient. By learning how to ink my own work, I no longer needed to rely on other artists to complete my pages because I could do it all myself in a fraction of the time they would take.

Inking is an art form unto itself and requires careful attention to detail and patience — lots of patience! There are many ways to ink your work: brush, pen or marker. These tools require different techniques and skill levels depending on which one you choose. But once you’ve mastered one tool, you can move onto another without having to start from scratch again!

Based on my own experience in drawing, I have to say I generally prefer ink drawings over pencil drawings. In fact, I’ve been known to sketch with nothing but ink, totally foregoing any pencil at all! There is something about the final polish that ink can add to a drawing, especially in comic book art. This has to do with making the artwork more readable for print reproduction. But even in this day and age of digital art and how almost anything can go art-wise, I still admire comic book art that is inked naturally.

Conclusion

These are my five ways to improve figure drawing skills for comic books or fantasy art. I get better at figure drawing by improving my observation of the human body, learning to draw clothing and other accessories, comparing to real-life models, and understanding anatomical structure.

These are my five ways to improve figure drawing skills for comic books or fantasy art. I get better at figure drawing by improving my observation of the human body, learning to draw clothing and other accessories, comparing to real-life models, and understanding anatomical structure. 

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