Human Anatomy Fundamentals: Basic Body Proportions

What You’ll Learn in This Human Body Drawing Tutorial

  • How to draw a body step by step
  • How to draw bodies’ basic figure
  • Drawing a body’s basic profile
  • Basic human body drawing outline
  • Human body proportions drawing
  • Body drawing practice exercises

1. How to Draw a Body: The Basic Figure

Step 1: Create Your Chart From Heads

Let’s begin with the basics of human body drawing. A well-proportioned figure, regardless of variations due to gender and such, is defined by the alignment of the joints, which is invariable (that is, we perceive something odd if it does vary). This is our groundwork for the proportions of a human body diagram. Draw your own chart with me as we go—it really helps with learning the material.

To learn how to draw a body, we start with the head. Start by drawing an oval or egg shape (pointy end down) for a head, and mark down eight measurements, the last one being the ground.

The measurement (ideal male height = eight heads) was set down during the Renaissance as an idealization of the human form. It’s rather obvious that very few people are actually eight heads tall (even Northern Europeans, who served as the basis for this model, are closer to seven heads), but this is still the best model to start your anatomy drawing, as it makes it easier to grasp the alignments.

a- Starting with the head
Human body drawing reference for the head.

Step 2: The Pelvis

Add the pelvic bone next, simplified as a flattened circle between marks 3 and 4, with the hip joints sitting on 4. Its width is roughly 1.5 to 2 head-widths. You can now add the spine to your body sketch, connecting the head to this most important part of the body, its center of gravity and stability.

b- The pelvis
Human body drawing reference for the pelvis.

Step 3: The Legs and Knees

Let’s assume the figure in this human anatomy drawing is standing with the feet vertically aligned with the hip joints. The knee joints sit on mark 6, as that line corresponds to the bottom of the kneecaps.

When the leg is stretched out, the knee joint is placed on a straight line with the hip and ankle (left). But this straight line is virtual: to complete the leg, connect the hip joint to the inside of the kneecap, and then again, the outside of the knee to the inside of the ankle (right).

This is a very simplified but accurate representation of the actual bone structure, and it helps capture the natural look of the human leg when drawing bodies, which tapers in from the hip, then staggers out at the knee, and tapers in again. It also helps with placing the muscles of your anatomy drawing at a later stage.

c- The legs
Human body drawing reference for the legs and knees.

Step 4: The Ribcage, Nipples, and Belly Button

The ribcage-lungs group is the third important volume of the body, after the head and the pelvis. Simplified, it is an oval that starts halfway between 1 and 2, down to mark 3. However, it’s best to chop off its lower part as shown here to imitate the actual rib cage, as the empty part between the two volumes is important: it is soft and subject to change (flat belly, soft belly, wasp waist) and it is also where the most torsion and movement happens in the spine.

When drawing a body, it’s good to be aware of that and not to attach the torso and pelvis together like two blocks, as that would “block” your body drawing’s range of motion. The width of the oval is roughly the same as the pelvis for now.

Two more details here: the nipples fall on mark 2, just inside the sides of the head, and the belly button on mark 3.

d- The torso
Human body drawing reference for the ribcage.

Step 5: The Shoulders

The shoulder line is about halfway between marks 1 and 2 of your body sketch, with the shoulder width 2 to 3 head-widths, but its apparent position can vary a great deal. To begin with, it’s slightly curved down, but in tension the shoulders tense up and the curve can itself turn up and look higher.

Furthermore, the trapezius muscle, which from the front appears to connect the shoulder with the neck, is highly individual. If it’s very muscular or carries much fat, it can make the shoulder line look so high there’s no neck. Inversely, an underdeveloped trapezius, often seen in very young women, gives the impression of a long neck.

This brief digression into non-skeletal details is to ensure there’s no confusion between the actual position of the shoulder line and its apparent placement in a fleshed-out body, some examples of which are shown on the human anatomy drawing below.

e- The shoulders
Human body drawing reference for the shoulders.

Step 6: The Arm, Wrists, and Hands

Finally, let’s learn how to draw a body with arms. The wrists are on mark 4, slightly below the hip joints, which sit on it (you can test it out for yourself by standing up and pressing your wrists against your hips).

The fingers end roughly at mid-thigh, which is mark 5 on the body sketch. The elbows are a slightly complicated joint that we’ll examine in detail later, but for now it’s helpful to mark them in your anatomy drawing as elongated ovals sitting on level 3.

f- The arms
Human body drawing reference for the arms.

We’re done with the basics of how to draw bodies… almost. Before summing this up, let’s extend those marks into lines and see how this works in a profile body drawing.

2. How to Draw a Body: The Basic Profile

The next step in learning how to draw a body is the profile. Start by drawing the head again, the same egg shape but with the end pointing diagonally down, and drop a vertical line from the crown to the ground.

In an erect posture, you can place the pelvic bone (a narrower version of the head’s egg), the shoulder, and the knee of your human body diagram roughly on this vertical line. They are on the same level as before: all the joints are, but the others are not on the same plane as these.

g- Starting the profile
Human profile drawing reference.

Step 1: The Spine in Profile

From the side, the spine is revealed as being shaped like a flattened “S”. From the base of the skull, it moves down and back till it reaches its furthest point at the level of the shoulders (between the shoulder blades). Note the shoulder joints are ahead of the spine! This is because, again, the shoulder “line” is in reality an arc: the medallion shows a top view of it.

The spine then comes back forward, and peaks again (inward) a little above the pelvis (the small of the back, which varies in depth and can make for an arched back). Finally it changes direction again briefly and ends in the coccyx or tailbone.

h- The spine
Human profile drawing reference for the spine.

Step 2: The Ribcage and Legs in Profile

The ribcage is closely attached to the spine and, in a reasonably fit body standing erect, the chest is naturally pushed forward.

The hip joint is ahead of our vertical axis, and this is counterbalanced by the ankle being a bit behind it. So our hip-knee-ankle line is slanted backward, and staggered again: from the hip joint to the front of the knee joint, and from the back of the knee joint to the ankle.

The overall effect of this posture is a visual arc from head to chest to feet (in green), and when it’s flattened or reversed, we perceive an uncertainty or slouch in the posture.

i- Torso and legs
Human profile drawing reference for the ribcage and legs.

Step 3: The Arms in Profile

Finally, the arms of your human body drawing. The upper arm falls fairly straight from the shoulder, so the elbow can be aligned with the latter (or fall slightly backward).

But the arm is never fully stretched when at rest, so the forearm is not vertical: the arm is slightly bent, and the wrist falls forward, right over the hip bone. Also, when the hand is relaxed, the fingers curl a little, as shown here.

j- The arms
Human profile drawing reference for the arms.

3. How to Draw a Body: Summary

This completes the basic, undifferentiated human body drawing tutorial. Here’s a human body diagram to sum up all the human anatomy drawing outline techniques we reviewed:

Summing up

Human Body Proportions Drawing Reminders

The following examples of how to draw bodies are a few useful visual reminders based on human anatomy. They come in handy when your human body drawing is not standing upright.

Proportion reminders

4. How to Practice With Body Drawing Exercises

We’ve covered a lot of material in this human anatomy drawing tutorial. Now is a good time to pause the studying and familiarize yourself with this basic figure and the principles of drawing a body with the right proportions. Then, we’ll move on to the differences between male and female structures (and others).

For instance, you can integrate this new knowledge into your daily human body sketch practice by overlaying a quick energy sketch with this correctly proportioned basic figure.

Tips on Proportions When Drawing Bodies

When I’m drawing a body, I consistently start with the head. But it doesn’t really matter what part you start with when drawing bodies, as long as you’re comfortable and get a good result. If you’re unsure or are having a hard time learning how to draw a body, then I suggest trying with the head first.

Get used to drawing this basic figure of your human body diagram with a light hand, since the finished body will be built up over it. Traditionally, the final lines are inked and the guidelines then erased (hence the importance of a light hand), but even when I’m sketching with a ballpoint pen with the intent of inking on a different sheet by transparency, keeping a light hand ensures I can see what I’m doing.


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