Shop Forum More Submit  Join Login
Nsio explains: Simplifying the Complexity by Nsio Nsio explains: Simplifying the Complexity by Nsio
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.
Add a Comment:
Shadowgirlfan Featured By Owner Sep 11, 2018
lol this explains very well why I preffer drawing females xD
Naughty-b-Nature Featured By Owner May 12, 2018  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
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! 
DarkLored123 Featured By Owner Mar 4, 2018  Hobbyist Digital Artist
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 Featured By Owner Mar 4, 2018  Hobbyist Digital Artist
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 Featured By Owner Feb 14, 2018
A little complicated, but it's worth it
Diabolik91 Featured By Owner Dec 5, 2017
very useful, thank you.
HerosLegend Featured By Owner Oct 1, 2017
Thank you for sharing this.
smartbird95 Featured By Owner Sep 29, 2017  Hobbyist Artist
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 Featured By Owner Edited Aug 31, 2017  Hobbyist Digital Artist
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 Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2017  Hobbyist Digital Artist
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 Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2017  Hobbyist Digital Artist
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 Featured By Owner Sep 1, 2017  Hobbyist Digital Artist
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 Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2017  Hobbyist Digital Artist
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...
Nsio Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2017  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I would rather say that you may consider it as an option. Choose which ever eye level that you need for any particular situation.
TheSkaldofNvrwinter Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2017  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Maybe my choice of words was bad. "In reality." Sorry.
TheSkaldofNvrwinter Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2017  Hobbyist Digital Artist
You've drawn this--and the torso one, with the blocky shapes, etc--with the sight line in the middle, haven't you? About the middle of the torso. It's an interesting choice. It's my observation in reality it's probably closer to the mid of chest.
Nsio Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2017  Hobbyist Digital Artist
It seems you are talking about the eye level. I understand what you are aiming at with your comment, but it's incomplete.

The definition of eye level is that... well that something is on the same level as the eyes. So anything or any part that's on the eye level (and within the field of view) is directly "in front" of the viewer. Fairly simple.

So where are the eyes? You say they are around the mid of the chest. What does that tell about the eye level? That anyone who sees the object has her eye level around the mid of the chest. Fair enough.

However, that also means that if we assume the viewer is standing straight, she is a bit shorter than the illustrated characters I drew. So obviously she would see the character so that her eye level is on around the mid of the chest.

But the viewer is merely a metaphor for anything that sees the scene. It can be anywhere and anything. I chose it to be around the middle of the torso rather than higher up. I could have done it otherwise, but I went with this eye level. It's not any more unrealistic that your own eye level.

There is a rule in good perspective drawing that the eye level shouldn't be at the eye level of the characters in the scene, because if they all have the same height, then the view looks weird and unnatural. When the eye level is lower (be it around chest or middle of the torso) there is more dynamic flow in the scene.
DarkLored123 Featured By Owner Mar 17, 2017  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I have a question regarding the proportions at different viewing angles and poses, how would you determine the head number of heads needed to match the rest of the body? I pretty much usually guess it but end up feeling unsure at the end due to that, thanks in advance.
Nsio Featured By Owner Mar 17, 2017  Hobbyist Digital Artist
There probably are some ways to do that, but I'm just eye balling it. I'm just thinking how I should see the figure from the chosen angle. It's not easy, but the more you do it, the better you get at it.
Radicaljman Featured By Owner Feb 19, 2017  Hobbyist General Artist
You make amazing tutorials
IWESWTDH Featured By Owner Sep 2, 2016
Wow, blender on paper
Lonely-Creatures Featured By Owner May 15, 2016
This worked a lot. i have been trying to find more tutorials to improve my drawing and you have been the first helpful one.
dcofjapan Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2016  Student Traditional Artist
thanks for all the tuts
Da-4th Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2016  Student Artist
This seems really helpful. =)
kukuro-kun Featured By Owner Jan 14, 2016  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This is very helpful. Thank you!
Troxey Featured By Owner Dec 8, 2015
Thank you so much for these tutorials. Especially the Dynamism and Proportions.
My older drawings are stiff as a full-on erection. They're becoming more fluid now, though.
I just can;t tank you enough. <: ♥
GenuineSongBird Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2015  Student Digital Artist
I love this comment.
VegetablesHour Featured By Owner Nov 16, 2015
tnx for this, i don't get the "relative size" thing though ;S
ann47 Featured By Owner Oct 31, 2015   General Artist
so  useful!:)
MrCopacetic Featured By Owner Oct 27, 2015  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Cool info, take me back to art school. Well done.
Neonfluux Featured By Owner Aug 9, 2015  Student Digital Artist
tytytyty!! <3  Your tutorials are awesome!! :D
TheMightyCelt Featured By Owner Jun 30, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
That is so helpfull
5aq Featured By Owner Jun 22, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Is it me or are hips difficult to do? I find myself having a hard time drawing the circle for the legs.
TheMrMinish Featured By Owner Jan 7, 2016
For me it's the connection between torso, arms and neck
Meowberries Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
That and legs, too.
5aq Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Legs come with time, because they're just like arms. At first you have to guess what you think is the right size for arms and legs, however after a bit of practice you just sorta know when you draw them. 
goRillA-iNK Featured By Owner Apr 6, 2015  Student General Artist
You really just need to make these into a book! So many aspiring artists are in need of this kind of precise teaching and encouragement.
Imnoobbutwithheart Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2015
This is good! Really good!
tacrae Featured By Owner Mar 15, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
WOW this is amazing!  Could you do a tutorial on drawing contours like you mentioned in your notes?  You say doing this will help you to see the image more in a 3 dimensional space and will help with shading?  I have trouble with shading the human body...could you do a tutorial on the contours you were talking about?
Nsio Featured By Owner Mar 15, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thanks :). I'm planning to make a tutorial about using guidelines, so I may give tips how to use contours as well. I don't know when I get to draw this tutorial though.
BDTite1919 Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2015  Hobbyist
Aye, Thanks!
Avidge Featured By Owner Feb 5, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Can I ask what you think is the best place to start drawing a character? I've had a lot of trouble drawing humans without reference (or at all, really) because I can't really... See where everything connects? It's kind of hard to explain. If I draw the head first, I can't figure out how it connects to the torso, and how the arms would move. I've also tried starting with the pelvis as Foervraengd's tutorials suggest, but I haven't had that much success with that either.
Nsio Featured By Owner Feb 5, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
For me the best part to start drawing human body is the head, because I use it as an unit to determine the character's proportions. That said, once I have the head in place, it will become a reference point for the rest of the drawing. I then move on downwards with neck, torso and legs. I do these in this order because by knowing mt proportional goal, I can determine the most significant factors that affect the pose. For example, let's say I'm drawing 6 heads tall character, I know that the legs are pretty much half of the total height of the character so the torso will be ~2 heads and legs are 3 heads. So once I have drawn the neck, I draw the torso according to head (2 heads in height) and make sure that it's centered according to the neck (because the head rest perfectly in the middle). Then I "plant" the character on ground (if we assume the pose in question is a standing pose) by making sure that it's a believable balanced and dynamic pose and that the legs are ~3 heads tall. Although I may do a quick sketch of the hands even before moving on torso, I usually leave them last for their positioning isn't as important for the pose as the rest of the body.

That's how I go about it. Starting from pelvis has different rules to follow. Basically the point is to draw such a body part that will then determine the limits of the whole body. Pelvis is good for that because you could say that all the peripherals are attached to it. For me, head works better due to reasons mentioned above.

If you have problems figuring out how the body parts work as a single entity, you will need to make a lot of studies about human body. If you have a large mirror, have a look at yourself. Explore the limits of your body by figuring out how your body is articulated (for example, how freely you can move your shoulders in order to move your arms, how your arm posing affects the positioning of the hand etc.). You also need to study human skeleton a bit to understand where the joints are located and how they allow us to move around. Knowing the skeleton is beneficial because it has a fixed structure. Bones can't bend or transform after all.

Another thing you likely need work on is understanding 3D. You see, if you don't understand the depth cue and can't draw it, your character drawings will also end up wonky because you can't determine where the body parts are posed in three dimensional space. For example, body parts can't pass trough any other body part, so knowing their volume and form is crucial to determine the posing limitations. You also can't plant the character firmly on the ground if you don't know how it's aligned according to your character and your chosen viewing angle.
Sillageuse Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2015  Professional Traditional Artist
I just read this comment in addition to the tutorial, and it really helps a lot, thanks! :happybounce: 
Qtit Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2015
That's just epic. Gonna use it in 3D Character design. Thanks a lot!
demondeagonking Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2014
thank you this will be useful for some of my artwork I really appreciate you posting this :-)
DreadedOne131 Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2014
Interesting way of looking at it and helpful!
LegendarySidekick Featured By Owner Dec 4, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Great guides. I have a long way to go, but the tips are helpful. I am definitely learning to appreciate the pencil (and eraser).
GravityParadox Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2014
Awesome tutorial!
swordcat9 Featured By Owner Edited Nov 24, 2014
Dammit! I never get the seven head proportion count right-especially when it comes to the length of the legs and torso! Is this hard or is it just me?
Add a Comment:


Submitted on
September 18, 2013
Image Size
1.6 MB


339,418 (48 today)
10,172 (who?)
10,332 (1 today)