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Home >> Painting by Theames >> Figure Drawing

Figure Drawing

The art of figure drawing can be traced back some 30,000 years to the very beginning of drawing itself, when the earliest men and women made the walls of their caves, their canvas.

The human figure has always been a source of inspiration for artists. The shifting moods of a person, his or her reaction to the world are manifest in body language. And the artist attempts to capture this in his work.

Why has the human figure been such an enduring theme in art work? Perhaps, an answer to that question lies in the challenge posed by the versatility of the human figure. No two figures are alike, and indeed, no figure an unchanging subject. The slightest change in posture and in expression, inspires a new artistic creation.

The theme of the human figure is vast and varied, and has been further specialized into the following application areas:

  • Portraiture
  • Cartooning
  • Sculpture
  • Medical Illustration


A portrait is a representation of a person's appearance and personality. It is usually not more than the head shot, or the head and shoulders. The oldest portrait in the world dates back to 27,000 years ago. It was discovered in the Vilhonneur grotto near Angoulême, in 2006. the world's most famous portrait is the Mona Lisa, painted by artist Leonardo da Vinci.A type of portrait is the self-portrait . This is a representation the artist does of himself.


Cartooning is a form of figure drawing wherein the artist (called the cartoonist) represents his subject in an unrealistic fashion. This is done by exaggerating prominent features. Hence, the effect is humorous.

The cartoonist first makes his sketches (link to Sketching) using a pencil. He then goes over them with black ink.


A sculpture is a three dimensional representation of a human figure.

Medical Illustration

As the name suggests, a medical illustration is quite simply, an anatomical drawing.

Such drawings date back to the medieval period. A number of manuscripts and Arabic scholarly treatises with drawings of the anatomical system have been discovered from that time.

The Vitruvian Man , by Leonardo da Vinci is perhaps one of the most well-known anatomical drawings. It was one of 200 such drawings, and is the study of the proportions of the human body. Da Vinci also drew the human skeleton, muscles, tendons, the fetus in the intrauterine position, among others.

Mediums Used for Figure Drawing

Life drawing, as figure drawing may also be called, employs a variety of mediums. As with sketching (link to Sketching) , the artist may use a graphite pencil, pen and ink, charcoal, crayons.

A figure drawing may be made from a live model, a photograph or from the imagination.

Drawing from the imagination requires an immaculate understanding of the body. It is necessary that the artist have observed to perfection, various postures and accompanying moods, and have mastered the art of recreating these purely from memory. In addition, he should be able to employ his imagination to modify these figures.

A figure drawing made from a photograph is often criticized because it is a ‘flat' image, and purely a reproduction of what the photographer has captured.

Live models are perhaps the most challenging subjects. The artist has to not only be accurate in his or her representation; he or she must also give allowance to shifting light conditions, angles and perspective, and the fact that the model will not hold exactly the same expression or pose for the entire sitting.

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