Draw the Human Figure--the Marvel Way

Learn to sketch anything in 5 easy steps

Creativity 7 min read Aug 12, 2020

“What can be more basic than having an artist teach us how to draw? Certainly better than a plumber.” - Stan Lee

The human figure is not an easy form to sketch. Each of us is unique and not made from a mould. And drawings need to show motion and emotion, not mere form. Yes, it takes some practice to sketch moving beings like a pro, but it’s not impossible to learn.

You need not be Michelangelo to be able to draw people, although knowledge of the human anatomy is an advantage. As with any creative endeavour, we start with learning a basic set of skills. Not all artists use the same method, but if you’re a fan of comic books or graphic novels, read on.

John Buscema - world-renowned illustrator and partner in crime to the late, great Stan Lee - devised five steps for drawing “the Marvel way”:

Step 1. Draw the basic centre line.

In the stick figure you start with, draw the centre line. It is what runs along the head, spine, and down to the foot that holds the dominant position. It determines the pose and the action of your figure.

Step 2. Construct the sketch.

Using the basic building blocks of spheres, cubes, and cylinders, add the head, torso, and limbs. This step sets the “muscle” and bulk of your figure.

Step 3. Draw through the figure, adding the basic details.

Stan Lee advises to keep your pencil strokes ‘”loose, light, and graceful”. If a line isn’t right, go over it lightly and repeatedly, until it begins to assume a proper form.

Step 4. Bear down on important sketch lines.

Look at all the little sketch lines and select the ones you like the most. Bear down hard on the pencil over these lines to make them prominent. Clean up the unwanted lines with an eraser.

Step 5. Shade.

Vary the intensity of your shading, decide where you want light and shade. Give the figure form and texture.

Add more details: hair, facial features, clothing, and other distinguishing qualities. These are what set your figure apart from others and make it a character.

If you are not satisfied with your drawing, start over!

These five steps are of one artist who draws superheroes and villains. If your characters are of the mortal kind, facial expressions matter more than their physical exertions. In that case, focus on sketching the face. Depict various emotions through the eyes, for instance.

To better illustrate this five-step process, here’s a short clip by Canadian artist Ian Milne.

Ian, who is now based in Melbourne, studied at the Vancouver Film School. He has done work for Cartoon Network and specialises in storyboarding and hand-drawn animation. If you’re in Melbourne, you’re in luck because Mister Morris is hosting a drawing workshop next month, featuring Ian! If you have yet to develop your own style or need help taking it to the next step, you can’t do wrong with learning from this passionate artist.

If you’re in Sydney, you too can find a drawing or painting class to satisfy your creative cravings here. How about a workshop on how to illustrate with watercolours? Andrina Manon - who’s worked with Lalaland Stationery, BioPak, Princess Highway Clothing, and more - will be at Maker’s Loft - Craft Cafe Studio next month. Don’t miss it!

Whether you want to be an illustrator or want to immortalise the face or physique of a real person, there’s a workshop or class to help you. The secret here is to find out what works for you. And to keep practising. You’ll get there!

Learn to draw people--fast!
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