The Different Elements in a Sketch of a Figure

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Sketching is an art, but it is also a science. I am an artist, so I want to believe that my sketches are art, but I am also a scientist, and I want to understand what makes my sketches better or worse.

In this blog post I will discuss the different elements in a sketch of a figure and how they link together.

A sketch is composed of two parts: the lines and the shading. First we will look at the lines in a sketch of a figure.

In order to make accurate lines in a sketch we need a good idea about where the edges are located. We can find edges with tone variation, value contrast and contour change.

When we draw tonal variation we first make the darkest dark next to the darkest dark and then we make everything else relative to that darkest dark. Contour change works similarly: each edge has one side that is lighter than the adjacent values and one side that is darker than the adjacent values

Value contrast works very differently from tonal variation and contour change. Value contrast doesn’t have anything to do with edges; it uses changes in lightness or darkness within tone masses. The most important thing when using value contrast is to know which areas are light and which are dark in your

The other day I found myself explaining to a student the differences between light, shade and cast shadows. This got me thinking about how best to explain how to create different elements in a sketch of a figure.


So we have tone, which describes the lightness or darkness of the paper and ink.

We also have line, which describes the thickness of the line drawn.

And then we have values which describes the gradation of tone from dark to light within that small area that we call a value.

We also talk about edges being hard or soft. Hard edges are those where there is no gradation of tone within that small area that we call an edge. Soft edges are those where there is a gradual transition from light to dark within that small area that we call an edge.

So these are the basic elements we see when looking at a drawing or painting and they link together in certain ways. To begin with we will look at tone, then line, then values, then edges and then finally how they all work together to create different effects and moods in our drawings and paintings. I hope this proves useful for you as it has for me.”

The human body is a very complex thing.

Sketches of the human body can be very simple and also very complex. There are different elements in a sketch of a figure which when combined together, create a sketch that may look either complex or simple.

The following are the essential elements to combine:

1. Proportion

2. Basic Shapes

3. Lines

4. Tone

5. Value/Color

6. Texture/Material

7. Space/Background (optional)

Proportion: The relation of one part of the body to another part of the body, as to length, size, or bulk; hence, the relative magnitude or extent of anything as compared with something else; relative largeness or smallness; as the proportion between two sides of a triangle or two branches of a river; proportionate extent; comparative magnitude; size in comparison with other parts or with reference to something else; as the proportion between labor and capital, between revenue and expenditure, etc.; in botany, the relation between the length and thickness of stems and branches and seeds and fruit, etc.; also, harmonious adjustment of parts; correspondence in dimensions; as the proportions of a temple, an edifice, etc.; symmetry.  1:

There is a lot of debate on how to draw and paint the figure. When I started drawing and painting I didn’t really know what the different elements where in a pose and how they related to each other. I just copied what I saw on photos and from life.

I did not know about line of action or cross contour or any of that stuff. And when you look at the work of many young artists you see that they don’t either.

So I looked into it.

I want to share with you my findings because I think it is important to understand this if you want to draw and paint realistic figures. The idea is not that this will make your drawings more realistic (though it might) but that using these elements can give your drawings more energy, drama and movement which are essential qualities in composition and art.

If you are interested in learning how to draw the figure check out my other article called The figure in 30 days or my book Figure drawing for all it’s worth!

The Elements:

These are the different elements that make up a figure:

Line: The first element of any sketch is the line. It can be thick or thin and it can be short or long, but the line is always there. There are many different types of lines that an artist can use, from a rough scratchy line to a smooth and flowing line. A line can be broken up into three main parts, the beginning, the middle and the end.


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