Illustration

Free PDF with Tips and Examples for How to Draw People

Learn how to draw the human face and gestures like walking in a realistic way with this guide, including examples to practice in your own sketchbook

A drawing of a place isn’t complete without its inhabitants, but adding figures to a scene can be intimidating. Illustrator Zoë Barker (@zoe_barker_draws) advises experimenting in a personal sketchbook to get confident drawing faces and bodies.

Here she shares a quick reference guide for starting to sketch figures. It includes a facial geometry diagram to help you draw facial features in a realistic style, and body proportions with silhouettes you can copy to practice gestures.

Sketches and illustrations by Zoë Barker.

Zoë realizes the importance of finding joy in creating something that nobody else might ever see, using sketchbooks to explore places you visit. Over her 15-year career, she has illustrated for clients like Harrods, Cartier, and The Telegraph. She also illustrated the children’s book Feast Your Eyes On Food.

In her course, she teaches how to draw atmospheric scenes with architecture, nature, and people. So, how does she confidently populate her drawings with interesting, dynamic humans?

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Working from sketches can help you become more confident drawing a finished scene.

Download the free PDF guide with tips and examples for drawing people

In this download, Zoë shares how she outlines faces and figures, including a facial geometry diagram to help you draw facial features in a realistic style, and a guide to body proportions with silhouettes. Try copying out the figures in your own sketchbook and adding them to scenes.

After clicking the download button, you’ll find a PDF file titled How to Sketch Faces and Figures by Zoë Barker in the Downloads folder on your computer.

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This resource will be available until May 31, 2022. If you want to access the material after that date, you can sign up for Zoë Barker’s course, Sketchbook Illustration with Colored Pencils. There, you’ll learn how to achieve effects like texture, color, and atmosphere, and understand the benefits of keeping a sketchbook.

Plus, read on for some bonus tips on Zoë's drawing process...

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Some walking sketches you can copy with the download.

How to draw people step by step with silhouettes

Zoë uses a silhouette technique to quickly draw figures in her larger scenes. She notes that the blank page or a pristine drawing of a scene can be scary to work on. You don’t want to upset what seems so neat and perfect.

So, she begins very lightly, using a couple of colored pencils to slowly add details layer by layer. Here is a summary of her steps:

1. She starts with the shading, adding lines in later. Using a gray pencil, she blocks out an area where a figure will be walking.

2. Then, she uses the proportions explained in the download to decide how big the figure will be and how light and shadow will affect it.

3. Next, she uses an indigo pencil to outline the figure, either filling it in as a full silhouette, or drawing more detailed clothing and features with dashed lines.

4. Finally, she chooses a peach or yellow pencil to add highlights, for example if the figure is lit by a street lamp or the sun.

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Adding details with a sharp indigo pencil.

How to add details to a human face

When the figures are very detailed or close-up, you may need to add facial features. Zoë suggests these tips for a realistic finish.

1. Remember faces are rarely symmetrical: allow features to be unmatched.

2. Divide the face in half to see where the eyes should be.

3. Divide the bottom half in half again, to find where the mouth should be.

4. Work with a mirror handy so you can reference yourself, or take photos of yourself and your friends.

5. Draw outlines first, not details—as these can quickly get out of proportion.

6. Draw straight geometric lines first, adding curves later.

Discover more illustration resources to draw human bodies

1. Try these gesture exercises to express body language in your drawings.

2. Check out these ten free beginner-friendly tutorials on anatomy.

3. Inject some personality into your character’s poses with this character illustration course by Magdalina Dianova.

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