Techniques and Tips

How to Draw People Using the Block-in Method

How to Draw People Using the Block-in Method

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You can learn how to draw people—how to draw realistic people—by using the envelope block-in method and gridding to measure and map the figure in your life drawing. Your figure drawing will be less daunting and your proportions of the human body will be more accurate if you use and practice the techniques in these two step-by-step demonstrations.

Robert T. Barrett wrote a very helpful article, “Drawing the Hand,” for the July/August 2012 issue of Magazine. Click here to learn more about how to draw hands in Magazine’s July/August 2012 issue.

By Robert T. Barrett

Exercise I. Drawing the Human Figure: Using a Simple Block-In

Using an envelope block-in and gridding to measure and map the figure isn’t a new process. Though some examples of gridding may seem complicated or complex, this measuring process is, nonetheless, a useful tool in learning how to draw people.

I suggest using a simple form of gridding to plot points and angles when completing a traditional life drawing because it will help you establish the correct position and dimension of proportional relationships.

1. Drawing the Human Figure : Create an “Envelope” Around the Figure

A first step in gridding the subject is placing an “envelope” around the outside edges of the figure (below). It’s helpful to use only straight lines during this process because landmarks will occur at intersections where the angle of each line changes direction in a drawing of the human figure.

2. Drawing the Human Figure : Plot the Inside Landmarks

After you establish the envelope and create the outside angles and proportions, look for inner landmarks (see below). These are often located at points where two angles intersect or at “hard places” where the skeleton is close to the surface.

3. Drawing the Human Figure: The Finish (see below)

This model for my life drawing class, in Seated Male Figure (Nupastel on paper, 30×22), had great anatomical definition, which made the figure drawing techniques of mapping his figure easier.

Exercise II. Figure Drawing Techniques:Using a Grid and Landmarks

Materials list for life drawing

  • Kneaded eraser
  • Nupastel stick
  • Paper towels
  • Sanding block
  • Sketch paper

After setting up an initial gesture drawing, use a grid to help establish relationships and proportions. This process in learning how to draw people includes using landmarks and either lines or angles. As you draw the figure, look for the strongest angles or lines on the outside of the model. Then try to duplicate those general angles as closely as possible with lines. Simultaneously, note the points where lines change direction in your life drawing.

It’s helpful to hold your charcoal or pastel up to the model to assess the exact angle of an outside surface, then transfer it directly to your drawing surface. Assess the length of the line as much as possible. Lines don’t actually exist in space but are a contrivance to help separate spaces and boundaries between objects and values.

1. Figure Drawing Techniques: Start with the Angles and Big Shapes

As you begin drawing the figure, place large areas of value lightly on your paper (see below). Look for the big shapes and the overall silhouette of the figure. Pay particular attention to the angles of the shapes.

2. Figure Drawing Techniques: Define the Angles and Shapes

After you’ve ghosted in the figure in Step 1, begin to define the specific angles and shapes in your life drawing (see below). At this point, look mainly at the outside contours and assess the relative distances between your points.

3. Figure Drawing Techniques: Focus on the Inner Landmarks

As you move from the outside angles and shapes to the inner ones in your figure drawing (below), carefully locate and place these landmarks relative to the outside ones. The form shadows on the inside of the figure are important to consider as you connect your inner landmarks to each other.

4. Figure Drawing Techniques: Strengthen and Adjust

Continue to strengthen and clarify your figure drawing (see below) as you define each shape and contour line. Look closely at the negative shapes or “windows” between the arms and the torso, for example, and make sure these are correct. As you work from larger units to smaller ones in your life drawing, add more detail.

Robert T. Click here to learn more about Magazine’s July/August 2012 issue. Subscribe and don’t miss an issue!

ROBERT T. BARRETT is a drawing instructor at Brigham Young University and an illustrator. He lives in Provo, Utah, and his work is represented by Marshall-LeKae Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona. Click here to find out more about his book Life Drawing: How to Portray the Figure with Accuracy and Expression, on how to draw people. See Barrett’s website at

To find out about a video workshop from Costa Vavagiakis on drawing a portrait from life, click here.


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