The shape of a form is its silhouette. Every volume has a shape state. Nathan Goldstein
To draw or paint a figure (or any subject) convincingly, you have to be able to see it accurately, and you have to understand what you’re seeing.
The human figure contains 16 basic forms: the head, neck, upper torso, lower torso, 2 upper arms, 2 lower arms, 2 hands, 2 upper legs, 2 lower legs, and 2 feet.
Here’s how to construct a basic silhouette. Remember, no preliminary drawing is done when painting silhouettes:
1). Start with the upper torso. The upper torso is the largest part of the body.
2). Add the lower torso, which is about half as high as the upper torso. Connect the upper and lower torso with a shape that represents the spine.
3). Add the neck and head. There are 4 head lengths between the top of the head and the bottom of the lower torso, and the bottom of the lower torso is the mid-point of a figure.
4). Add the upper and lower legs and the feet. The upper leg is slightly shorter than the lower leg and foot. There are 4 head lengths between the lower torso and the bottom of the feet. The foot is the same length as the head.
5). Add the upper and lower arms and the hands. The upper arm (including the shoulder) is slightly shorter than the lower arm and hand. The hands end at mid thigh, and a hand is 2/3 the length of the head.
6). Add the flesh and clothing – and walla! You have it – a silhouette! See photo above.
Hint: If you are new to figure drawing or painting, it may be helpful to begin by marking off 8 head lengths on your paper as I did in my illustration above, to help you determine the size and placement of the 16 basic forms.
BTW: There are many concepts for measuring and dividing the body and its parts. One of the two commonly held theories states that the figure is 7 1/2 heads high. The other states that the figure is 8 heads high. I like a slightly elongated figure, so I use the 8 heads high approach, which by the way, was Michelangelo’s hypothesis.
Some differences between the male and female figure: 1). The female’s hips are broader than the male’s, and where her hips join the body there is a much sharper angle. 2). The female’s hips are about the same width as her shoulders, the male’s hips are narrower than his shoulders. 3). The female’s shoulders are narrower and taper more than the male’s. 4). The female’s waist is narrower than the male’s. 5). The female’s upper thigh is thicker, and the curve from the waist to the knee is much more prominent than in the male’s. 6). The female’s arms, wrists and fingers are smaller and thinner than the male’s. 7). The female’s lower legs taper to thinner ankles and smaller feet than the male’s.