Drawing people part 2

As a follow up to our recent tutorial, Draw a Face Using Simple Shapes, we’ve decided to take things a step further and show how to draw an entire body. We won’t be using as many simple shapes as we did for the face: there’s a little more drawing involved. But don’t worry, it’s very easy! But before we dive in, we need to discuss some very important considerations when drawing the human figure.

Since we’ve got a lot to cover we’re splitting this tutorial into 2 parts. The first tutorial, covers the basics of proportion, anatomy, and other things to keep in mind when drawing people. This second tutorial will apply these principles to a vector illustration. Let’s get started!

We’re going to match the face we drew in the Draw a Face Using Simple Shapes tutorial, so of course our body will need to match the style. This means working with simple shapes to get the pose down, then fine tuning the points until we’re happy with our illustration. We’re not going for realistic proportions: We want her to be angular, geometric, flat colored: very retro in look and feel.

We’re going to draw a sassy, stylized woman with her hand on her hip. We’ll then show you how you can easily customize the pose and clothing, reusing elements to create something that looks totally different.

0102I always like to start with drawing legs. I have no idea why! Using my pen tool I’m going to trace a rough leg shape. Now, legs in real life have curves! But I’m going for a much more angular style to suit the simple geometric shapes we used to draw our face in the past tutorial.

Note that the knee falls about halfway down the leg, and how the ankle tapers at the bottom (see the example on the left).

I’m going to take this leg shape and copy-paste it in front of itself (command-C command-F on a Mac, or control-C control-F on a PC). With the new shape selected I’ll hold down ‘shift’ while clicking on my keyboard’s direction arrow and offset the second leg to the side (see the example on the right).

I’ve drawn enough legs to be able to eyeball the entire thing from hip to ankle. However, you might find it easier to start by drawing the leg as 2 shapes: the upper leg (thigh) and the lower leg (shin and calf). You can then rotate each portion of leg to create a bent knee. There’s no ‘right’ way to draw, do whatever seems the most logical thing for you.

03These look a little too straight up-and-down for my tastes, especially since we’ll be drawing the woman wearing heels (which will change the way her weight is balanced). We’ll select both shapes and rotate them slightly to match visually. Select the two shapes and open your ‘Transform’ palette. In the field on the bottom left of the palette type in however much you’d like to rotate your shapes. In this case we used 4 degrees:

Transform Palette Tip: Using the Transform Palette to rotate a shape, but the rotation direction (counter clockwise) is going the wrong direction from what you want? Rather than pull out your compass and trying to figure out which of the 360 degrees you need, just plug in a minus (-) sign before typing your number. Voila, your rotation will reverse.

04Now for a tricky part: Shoes. Shoes are hard to draw! If you can, try and use photo reference to make sure things are looking accurate. Since we’re only going for a retro, quirky style it’s not too important that we get the shoes looking perfect and realistic. We can play a little with angles and shapes. An example of what we’ve ended up with is shown to the right.

You might think the feet here look abnormally big, but that’s because we don’t have an upper body yet!

05For her torso, it’s important we incorporate some curviness. Her legs are all flat angles and that’s fine, but her waist, hips and bustline will be drawn much much softer to accentuate her femininity. Here’s what we’ve drawn on the left:

It’s looking good so let’s tidy things up here. You’ll note that the legs aren’t matching up with the rounded bottom I’ve drawn under her torso: Don’t panic! You can always go in and clean up those shapes at any time. What’s important right now is eyeballing the shapes, seeing where the limbs are in position to each other, and whether the basic proportions are panning out!

Let’s zoom in to where the legs meet the torso. Select the torso shape, and we’ll add a point on the bottom left hand side along the curve like so. To add a point, bring up your pen tool while the shape is selected (P on your keyboard) and hover it over the line: you’ll see a small ‘+’ icon appear under your cursor. Click and a new point will be created:

Example 2

If you’re in CS4, go to ‘View’ and make sure ‘Snap to Point’ is turned on. You’ll see why in just a minute!

tools-direct-select-arrowSelect this new point with your Direct Select (white) Arrow. Now click-drag this point until it ‘snaps’ against the top left hand corner of our left leg shape:


It’s looking strange until we adjust the curves to create a smoother transition between leg and torso! To adjust the curve, bring up the Direct Select Arrow (A on your keyboard) again. Click-drag across the line in between the point we’ve just created and the next point on the line to the top left. As you can see, the only curves we have on our points are along this one line segment between our control points:


We’re going to adjust the curve coming from our new point. To do this, click on ‘Option’ as you click on the curve with your Direct Select arrow. Why? Because by clicking ‘Option’, we’re separating the two curves and only modifying one. Drag around the curve until it transitions nicely into the leg:


Pen Tool Tips: Check out this tutorial for basic how-to’s on using the pen tool!

We’ll repeat this on the left, where the hip isn’t meeting well with the leg. Add a point, move it, then play with the curve angles until it blends as smoothly as we can make it.

Now to add an arm. We’re drawing her with one hand on her hip, and this is a tricky pose to draw for arms. We’re going to cheat and use reference! Here’s one of my photos that has a great arm angle:


We’ll quickly trace the outline of her arm, simplifying as much as we can (for more info on using photo reference, please see this tutorial). By this, we mean we’re not going nuts and drawing every single fold where her skin is bending, and we’re also going to straighten out some of the curves in her arm. We’ve also removed a lot of detail from the hand. It’s the shapes and angles we want, not the details!:


14Note that we’ve also made the arm slightly thinner than the photo. Strange thing about drawing people from a photo, even slender people like our gorgeous model in the above photo: you do need to exaggerate a lot when converting to a vector. This means adjusting after tracing and trusting your eye to tell you what looks best. Another thing I’ve noticed when tracing photos of people? Facial features need to be enlarged (lips and eyes), or the faces look ‘off’ somehow. I scratch my head over this every time I use photo references of people!

Here is our arm in relation to the rest of the body on the left. You’ll notice that we’ve divided the arm into 3 sections: upper arm, lower arm and hand. We’ve done this because it makes things much easier to adjust: If the hand doesn’t look good, just rotate it until it works with the rest of the body.

We’re also going to draw a shoulder in behind the body (her torso is angled away from us so there’s no need to draw a whole second arm). We’ve also added a neck. Here’s how she looks after a shadow under her breast to add some definition, and coloring her back arm darker to show that it’s behind her body (also shown in outline mode below):


That’s all there is to it! With some simple shapes, point tweaking, and flat shading it’s fast and easy to draw a person. The most important thing to remember is proportion. It’s the backbone (no pun intended) of any good character drawing.

From here, it’s easy to take any limb and move it around to create entirely new pose. All you need to do is rotate the limbs and bend them at the elbows, wrists, knees, ankles, and hips. In the example below, we’ve reused the same arms, legs and faces:

You can also dramatically change the way the same pose looks through adding accessories, hairstyles, and clothing. Check out this example, it’s the same pose repeated 4 times, but with very different costumes:


(A note about the file above: Check out this tutorial for some advice on how to create simple shading like we’ve used on the Halloween girls!)

© 2009 Jennifer Borton


12 thoughts on “Drawing people part 2

  1. Thank you for posting this tutorial on how to make vector illustrations of people. I love this kind of illustration and it’s so hard even to find them! Congratulations for your blog!

  2. can you give some examples of doing hair, especially clown hair as i have just started to learn illustrator and need to to do this for exam.

    • bortonia says:

      Interesting you mentioned clowns! I recently provided a critique for a drawing of a clown:
      If you scroll towards the bottom of that thread, I did a side-by-side comparison of a clown drawing. What I did was create the hair shape then used circles all the way around to make it look like curly hair. From there, I added some half-moon shapes placed randomly to look like highlights off of the curls. I hope this helps!

  3. dacascas says:

    Simple and very cool. Thanks for this tutorial =)

  4. chris says:

    this is amazing and serendipitous cos I was looking for a logo and found this. Good work

  5. Sharona says:

    You have some great tutorials. They are the easiest I’ve found to follow. Do you have one for drawing vector hair?

  6. DH says:

    Very, very nice! Would be great if you domore of that kind (perhaps a male or a dog – there is no relation between those ideas LOL)! Thanks again…

    • bortonia says:

      Unfortunately, I really suck at drawing men! Their proportions are slightly different than a woman’s, so usually my men end up looking too girly!

  7. Kerleisha says:

    Thanks so much for this and all the great tutorials you do! So informative!

  8. Easy breezy. I will be forwarding this tut to a friend of mine who will absolutely love this. Thanks!

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