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Nsio explains: Simplifying the Complexity

The third tutorial in the series.

Seeing basic shapes
Human body has always been one of the most fascinating subjects of study for artists. It's also very complex thing, so drawing human body may seem overwhelming at first. However, this is where simplifying kicks in. When drawing complex things, you first need to break it down into very basic shapes, such as cubes, cylinders, spheres, cones and so on. It's significantly easier to sketch things quickly with basic shapes than actually render the details exactly.

Drawing basic shapes may be boring, but it's really useful practice because you can't really get away from perspective. And as simple as it may seem, it's not that easy to draw even those basic shapes right at first. It took me a lot longer to draw that row of basic shapes than I had expected. It was surprisingly good practice even for me.

Once you are able to draw individual shapes, you can start mixing them together to represent more complex things, such as human figures. Also, you can use a box as a guide and draw more complex object inside it. Using reference objects is very useful.

Seeing the planes
In order to truly understand the 3D, you will need to understand where the surface actually faces. This is where basic shapes come handy again.

You could say that the "curvature resolution" in human figure is so high that everything appear very smooth. However, it's quite hard to tell which way the surface is actually facing. A cube, on the other hand, is pretty easy: it has six faces, so they face six different directions. Smooth surfaces can be simplified into more blocky forms that make it easier to see the planes. This will also be extremely useful when you are applying shadows. When you are familiar with seeing planes, applying shadows will come naturally to you.

I usually use middle lines to determine the planes, sometimes contours with more organic shapes. With the two human figures, I wanted to illustrate the planes. I hardly ever draw things like that, so it was pretty refreshing to do. I also like to draw the characters like they were action figures xD.

Note, that while human figure drawing requires general understanding about perspective, it's not always necessary to construct the perspective. I find that the perspective guides are very useful, but once you can see three dimensional shapes and understand how we truly see (see my first tutorial), you won't really need the guides. I find that drawing doesn't need to be perfect, as long as it's convincing.

Remember that these are drawn for illustration purposes. You don't need every single guide when you are sketching. Once you are familiar with the 3D shapes and planes, you can drop quite a lot of the guides. I included some sketches there to demonstrate the roughness (I'll cover dynamism and foreshortening later). If you want to know more about the guidelines, search some other tutorials.

Proportions: heads as a measure
One common way to determine the proportions of the human character is to use heads. That is, how many heads stacked on top of each other would it take to equal the height of the character. An average adult human is around 7 - 7.5 heads tall. In illustrations, very epic characters tend to be as tall as 8-10 heads tall. Super deformed chibis are often around 2-3 heads tall. I often draw my female characters 5 - 6 heads tall for more cute proportions. I also scale some body parts to exaggerate the feminine body shapes.

There are a lot ways to determine the placement of each feature in human figure by guides. I haven't really used other than heads much at all. I have used more detailed guides on facial features only, but I have settled to very simple rules: eyes are around halfway, the ears are on eye level. The mouth/nose is around 1/4 head from chin and the earlobes are on nose level. Also, the distance between the eyes is one eye and half-eye from the outlines (forgot to illustrate this though ^^').

Remember, that the number of heads has nothing to do with the actual height of the character. It's just determines the head size compared to the rest of the body. That said, a character with 3 heads can be as tall as character with 8 heads. The difference with the proportions is just tremendous.
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Wusnt's avatar

thanks a lot :)

Thank you for this work

SarahSpyborg259's avatar

Thank you for this. My style of drawing humans is still in the works.

Megapixel98's avatar
The best drawing tutorials I've ever seen are from you and a guy on YouTube named "Mikeymegamega". It seems like drawing anime tiddies for a living gives you unprecedented knowledge of the human form, as well as granting you the power to spread that knowledge to others in a clear, understandable way.
AvengedAnim8torX's avatar
Could I use that little pose with the girl with the gun as a reference?
Nsio's avatar
Sure, just link back to the original and we are good :)
Shadowgirlfan's avatar
lol this explains very well why I preffer drawing females xD
Naughty-b-Nature's avatar
And again the conclusion that I think in a complex way. I need to simplify that and take a few steps back on adding complex situations.

Challenging myself is nice, hitting walls because of fails is not. (I "like" to fail but hitting walls can be too much sometimes)

I was used to make 3D models in 3DS Max and am now (after a long break) drawing on paper myself, that´s a whole different approach.
I think I need to go back to basics and level up from there. Tutorials are very helpful because I can SEE were I go wrong.

I don´t think that I´m performing bad in general, yet the problem zones are getting visual now. That´s my missing link.
For me seeing is understanding. :eager: by darkmoon3636 And it inspires me as well! 
TehProTrollBoi's avatar
seeing your shortcomings is a part of leveling up
Naughty-b-Nature's avatar
Knowing how to deal with them is the other part...

Thanks! :bow:
DarkLored123's avatar
I was pondering about some stuff recently, and I came up with a question out of curiosity. Why do we draw forms? It is pretty self evident that it is there to define the amount of space an object is occupying and define structure, but why is there no alternative to it?

It is kind of a weird question, but I just wanted to know what you think about it? I just thought I might not actually understand the purpose of it, other than what it is. 
Nsio's avatar
I suppose it's just easy to project ideas on forms that are easy to perceive. 3D forms are tangible and provide important visual cues of the properties of the subject, such as the facing of the surfaces (important when it comes to shading for example). Using some other methods would require other means of assuring that everything is alright. If they aren't obvious and easy to check, then such methods don't serve their purpose.

It also depends what is considered as "drawing a form". For example, drawing negative space involves drawing anything but the form itself, yet it still defines the silhouette of the form.

Or you could start drawing the surfaces right a way without drawing the forms itself, though doing something like that requires the ability to see the goal in ones mind in advance, and fixing errors wouldn't be so feasible because of the efforts already put into the drawing before the errors even become visible. Simple forms don't require much investment and they quickly reveal problems in the big picture. Therefore making sacrifices will be easier.
GuIlherme-Svl's avatar
A little complicated, but it's worth it
Diabolik91's avatar
very useful, thank you.
HerosLegend's avatar
Thank you for sharing this.
smartbird95's avatar
Nsio , I was technial draftsman.
I had taught intersections, edges, curvatures, circles, corners, levels in 2D as line or 3D as body and then every time again measurements. This tutorial remember me to this.
DarkLored123's avatar
Is it really necessary to use heads as a measure? I find it easier to see landmarks of the body rather than measuring by heads, like for example I know that a body can be divided in half in order to represent the division of the torso(including the head) with the legs and how the elbow ends at the end of the rib cage.

So the real question is, is it necessary to measure by heads in order to get the right proportions or can you use landmarks as a substitute? I usually use heads as a measure to check the proportions of the clavicle width(EX: Half a head on either side should make the proportions of it right or you can fit three necks on the clavicle bone for it to be proportionate) 

EDIT: Actually I realized that I've asked you this question already before, so I'll ask a different question.

After the discussion we had I had started using prisms and other 3D shapes to develop my human figure, I struggle with adding alternate forms like your second example in this tutorial but I just can't get my head through how I should put it on top of a box shape, so rather the question is how to add forms ontop of forms or is it unnecessary? I am not really trying to achieve what you did with your second example at this point but I just want to know how should I approach adding the forms ontop of forms since it is a bit hard to wrap my head around.

This is an example of how I approach it:
Nsio's avatar
Short answer to the first question is no, you don't have to use heads as a measurement 
However, it's a tool that pretty much guarantees "good" propotions. It's an easy way to find how tall the character will be depending on how many heads tall you want the character to be. It's good to note that 8 heads is for "idealistic" human figure, for most of the landmarks will be full heads apart from each other. In reality humans are generally less than 8 heads tall, closer to 7 heads. I personally enjoy drawing my characters 6-7 heads tall for cute proportions.

But sure, if you can figure out the proportions without using heads, then there isn't any reason to use heads as measure. You should figure out which route and methods suits yourself the best. It may not be wise to ignore the usefulness of heads as a tool. I won't know how it works out for you.

I think that with "shape within another shape", you need to understand why to use it. First of all, boxes are easiest to draw and also the most useful for analyzing the direction in space. Boxes are easy to read. So when utilizing "shape within another shape" method, your primary goal is first to figure out the orientation and size of the object you are going to draw and then use the box as rough guidelines to draw the actual shapes in desirable perspective you chose with the box. Boxes are also great for getting into human figure drawing even before you have any idea about the actual anatomy. So you get to draw what you want earlier and you will improve your technical drawing skills while you are at it, which makes it easier to pick up the anatomy later on. On top of that, you will need the sense of depth and perspective to draw anything great, so you get to practice those with easy shapes.

Just keep challenging yourself a bit at time.
DarkLored123's avatar
So let me see if I understand this correctly, lets say I get a grasp on the forms and their properties and I also understand the perspective of them, does that mean that the next step is to learn the general anatomy of the human figure in order for me to actually make something on 2nd Mastery?

Here's the thing, my aim is to get to second mastery but I am a bit confused on whether general anatomy is needed to get to that point after you do understand the three dimensions, wouldn't organic shapes be enough for me to construct the human figure in a believe-able way if I put them after I used the boxes as a guideline?

I don't really want to focus on anatomy but I am not sure what I should do in order to achieve second mastery, learning to use form and get a handle on perspective is obviously a must but how would I go about adding the skin ontop of the basic forms? Or is it just detail and I can get away with decent guesses regarding the anatomy?

Now moving on to the figure made out of the boxes and the figure that is made out of the complex forms, would it be advantageous to draw the complex figure after getting a good grasp on the super simplified one? As far as I can see the complex figure simply describes the surface and form of the character in more detail than the first one.

I am just curious about this since it is a bit hard to determine when I can make the next step and if what I am doing is right or wrong or when to move on to a more complex type of practice.
Nsio's avatar
The next logical step is to arrange those bits of knowledge and understanding into a full human figure and then gradually adding some general anatomy. But learning won't happen that linearly. Don't aim just for the 2nd mastery, because it's more like a checkpoint than a goal. When you aim higher, you will eventually realize you have reached 2nd mastery.

At first your goal is to get the concepts that really matter in place, such as symmetry, proportions and perspective. You can start adding general anatomy even before mastering any those, but the better you are at them, the easier it's to add more complexity. The point in simplified human figure drawing is to tackle as few challenges at a time as possible. When you get used to it, then drawing simple human figures is fairly easy task. That's the point when you start adding more challenges to you drawings, such as uncommon viewing angles and anatomy.

Exactly when you are ready for the next step is difficult to say.

2nd mastery is just about getting past the projection views and adding at least some perspective while also maintaining symmetry and proportions- When you can reliably draw things from 3/4th viewing angle, you are on your way to the next mastery level. Note that you may still have some skills that are below 2nd mastery, so reaching 3rd mastery may take a while.

Remember that you will be building a solid foundation for the rest of your life. So once you can draw super simplified human figures, keep using it as at tool and guideline for more complex forms. That way you will always have something to build on, and you can literally construct your drawings properly. Sometimes you can streamline your drawing methods and skip some phases, but in general it's good to keep drawing even things you have already mastered.
TheSkaldofNvrwinter's avatar
I want to keep your response up until I get a chance to copy and paste it for further reference. So...should I do it that way? In the middle of the torso then? Is that standard? I was only going by what I seemed to have gathered from photographs. I used to draw figures with the "eyeline" at the groin...
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