top of page

How To Pose Characters


How To Pose Characters

Comics are known for two big things (besides the superheroes): The graphical art style and the way everything seems to be drawn dynamically.


Creating something dynamic tends to be an advanced technique no matter the medium. The greatness of comics can be broken down into dynamic character poses, thoughtfully planned storytelling, well composed shots and world building.


Today, we are going to focus on just the character posing part. It is one of the most difficult tasks for a comic book artist and that’s because so many other foundational drawing skills are required to master it.


But don’t worry, I’ll be walking you through all the in’s-and-out’s of the topic and showing you step by step how to get professional results quickly.


Topics in this Tutorial:

  • The shapes that make up everything.

  • How to simplify the body for easy construction.

  • The keys to making a good pose.

  • The quickest ways to improve.

  • The whole process for drawing a finished pose.


Everything Is Built From Simple Shapes


Drawing Primitive Forms

That’s right; Everything in your physical world can be constructed from only a handful of shapes, or rather volumes.


When we use the word volume, it means a 3-Dimensional shape. These basic shapes are the cube, sphere, cylinder, cone and pyramid (or triangular volume). The cone maybe is the least used, so I tend to leave it off as it is really very similar to a tapered cylinder.


The task of drawing volumes is the first prerequisite for this posing lesson; It’s known as perspective drawing.


Perspective drawing is a skill that allows the artist to render three dimensions effectively on a flat 2D plane. As a warm up, I suggest you draw a ground plane perspective grid and etch in some simple shapes with cast shadows to show each of these volumes.


The Human Body As A Volume


The Human Body As A Volume

With that warm up done, we can move on to how in the world can the human body be represented by these simple shapes.


After all, when you think of a human body, you may tend to remember all the details, like the intricacies of hands, the folds in skin or the complex meshing of muscle groups. This is to forget the body as a whole.


When you look at somebody as you would in a comic or in real life the details can blur away and all that’s left is the general shapes described with light and shadow.


Volumes of The Human Body

So let’s look at a couple of examples to prove this fact.


First, is the head. The human head and facial features are very complex but at the basic level of structure the head is just a sphere with a cylindrical jaw shape tacked on the bottom hemisphere.


Even more apparent is the arm.; The forearm itself is pretty much just an oblong cylinder. The hand is probably the most complex but it still can be described with a cube for a palm and cylinder-like fingers.


Basic Forms of The Human Body


Perspective Drawing Practice: Part 1


Drawing Forms of The Human Body In Perspective

Using perspective drawing, sketch two cylinders connected by a sphere. Have the two cylinders bend at the sphere.


These will be the base for more organic forms in part 2. For now make these volumes rigid and focus on accurate perspective and centerlines.


Fill a whole page with these volumes. I actually find doing this process very soothing; Just let your mind relax as you see the volumes take shape on the page.


Perspective Drawing Practice: Part 2


Basic Forms of The Human Body In Perspective

Great work on part 1. This next step is the bridge between drawing simple shapes and drawing an organic human body.


First, lightly erase away the rigid volumes from your page. We’ll now sketch organic appendage like shapes on top of the first layer. The best way to get comfortable with these shapes is to look at photos or better yet, have action figures or posable art figures handy.


You can rotate these figures around and it makes visualizing organic shapes like arms or legs so much easier. Follow how I have converted the rigid shapes in to natural looking appendages.


Great work. Do exercises like this regularly to keep your artistic eye sharp.


What Makes a Great Pose?


What Makes a Great Pose

Before we dive into the process of actually drawing a figure from scratch, I want to really highlight what our goals should be when attempting a dynamic pose. There’s not too many guidelines to follow so let’s get right to it!


Balance


All objects have a center of gravity and it’s important to pay attention to them as you draw. For artists, we need to be aware of this imaginary middle line that divides your figure.


It may even help to draw a dotted line in your underdrawing if you are having a hard time visualizing this concept.


Pretend that the figure is on a sea-saw and you are attempting to make the figure stay balanced. You can contort the figure in any way you’d like but the end result should have this balance.


There are a couple instances where balance isn’t needed, and they are when the figure needs to look like they’re in motion. Actions like falling, running or not being affected by gravity at all are examples.


Creating Balance Within a Character Pose


Contrapposto


This is a concept that dates back to the Renaissance. In Italian, it means “counterpoise”. Practically, it means to present a figure that has its weight shifted to one side producing a raised hip and a cocked opposite shoulder.


This effect is very natural because it’s a stance that everyone uses daily. Make sure to add some of this to your figures for an easy way to make them look more realistic and dynamic.


Contrapposto In Figure Drawing


Twist


This may be my favorite of these goals because it is gives you a ton of bang for your buck.


Put very simply, if you draw a figure’s torso facing one direction, you should turn the head so that it faces a different direction. That’s it. That’s all you need to do.


This also can be applied to the upper and lower torso, and the legs and upper body. It’s pretty easy, so twist your figures to have them instantly appear like they have purpose and poise.


Twists In Figure Poses


Foreshortening


Here’s the big, scary one: Foreshortening.


While twisting may be the easiest concept to understand, foreshortening figures tend to be the hardest. Foreshortening happens when objects are oriented directly at the viewer. At that view parts of the object get “shortened” or simply disappear when rendered correctly.


With repetition and study, this concept can be mastered just like any other.


In this particular example, there isn’t a stand-out section of the body that is dramatically foreshortened, however, there are still areas to take notice.


I’ve highlighted in red the ‘wedging’ (as George Bridgeman would say) of select foreshortened areas. Check out the figures inner calf and note that it’s covered by the knee. While it’s not drastic, is still a form of foreshortening.


*Tip: These ‘wedges’ should always have two distinct lines with one butting up against the other.


Foreshortening Figure Poses


Silhouette


A silhouette is the shape that an object makes without any inner detail. To test your figures silhouette, just fill in the body with black.


If your figure still looks like what you are trying to convey, then your job is done.


The old Disney animators staked their successes on this one principle. If a character has a great silhouette then the viewer will instantaneously get the point, even without motion or detail.


Pose Silhouette


Flow


Last, is Flow. Another way to put this concept is from Life Drawing class; the Line of Action. If you haven’t read through the Gesture Drawing Tutorial right here on HTDC, I highly suggest you check it out as gestures are another prerequisite for posing characters.


If you are not aware of what gestures are, it’s a drawing of a figure in the simplest forms using ‘rhythms’ instead of geometric volumes.


To start any gesture we first need a good line of action. This line of action should be followed all the way to the finish drawing. All your anatomy and perspective shapes should flow with this line of action, so refer to it now and again


Great! Now that we’ve gone through these goals, we can get into how you can improve your skills with them.


Flow Within a Pose


How to Improve Quickly


To get a handle on creating good poses from memory, you kinda have to copy them first. Look through the internet for photos of people doing different actions.


Generally if they are professionally produced, they will have already a good-looking poses.


Drawing from real life is always a pillar of art because it achieves two things: It forces you to interpret all the immense detail and distil into line work. And, second, your natural style will start to reveal itself over time from doing this. Draw poses from life often.


Drawing From Real Life

That being said, not all the cool things that we see in comic books have a 1-for-1 representation in a real life photo. To pick up tried and true methods of posing for comics, you should also copy other comic art.


That’s right; Copy from your favorite artist’s poses, because it will be a good way for you to build a library of possibilities in your mind. If you consistently draw from comic art along with studying from life, you will improve very quickly.


Let’s Study From Life


Are you ready to give it a try? Okay, first find yourself a photo of a cool pose or use the one that I have here. The first step is to draw the line of action. This should be 1-3 sweeping lines. Essentially, if you could only draw this figure with a few lines what would it look like.


Posing With The Line of Action

Now, try to create geometric looking shapes for all the main parts of this ladies body. Notice that I shifted her pose around a bit for a different effect which brings something to mind.


As you study from life, you should actively be trying to improve upon the pose by applying the Posing Goals that we already went over.


For example, here, I’ve twisted her upper body and lower body in opposite directions farther than the photo has shown. I’ve also popped out the back foot from the leg to improve the silhouette.


If you actively try to improve the reference you have, it will suddenly become more than just a study, it will become your art.


Constructing The Human Figure With Simple Building Blocks

Now, let’s transform these volumes into something organic, like we’ve already done in the previous exercise.


Because this lesson requires you know anatomy to some degree, this part is the hardest to explain.


The best way to start is to join the shapes contours together and use ‘wedging’ if there are part of the body that need to be foreshortened. No need to draw facial features; only a crosshair of where the brow and centerline meet will work.


Sketching Figure Poses From Reference

Great job! For this figure we will stop here, though, I want to point out a couple of things.


Notice how we didn’t do a gesture for this figure. Notice how hard it was to get clear volumes aligned in the right locations without using a gesture under drawing.


I also wanted to point out that even though this character isn’t grounded, the flying pose still looks balanced because her center of gravity still feels right.


Drawing a Figure from Start to Finish


Alright! Let’s draw a figure as if you were getting ready to place one in a comic book. We will be using reference to keep us on track. This particular pose has a three point perspective so it is a little more tricky, but just follow along and you will do fine.


Step 1: Draw a Perspective Grid


Draw a light perspective grid. Work from the photo and draw in a grid that matches the perspective in the photo. Hint: Use the ladders rungs to help you find the right lines.


Set Up a Perspective Grid


Step 2: Draw The Line of Action


Now, let’s etch in our Line of Action. Remember, keep it to just a few lines that describe the overall figure.


Establish The Line of Action


Step 3: Draw Gesture


Gesture time! This round we are drawing a full gesture. Use C, S, and straight lines to get an accurate but ‘energetic’ depiction of this man with the bow. Oh, and don’t forget to draw the bow. We need that.


Drawing With Gesture


Step 4: Create Simple Volumes


Great! Now let’s convert this gesture to the simple volumes mannequin that we’ve already discussed. Don’t be afraid to draw through the shapes.


(*Drawing Through means it’s okay to see the lines on the opposite side from where we are viewing the figure). Take your time and have fun.


Building Figures With Simple Volumes


Step 5: Clean Up The Drawing


It’s time to make an accurate figure with clean lines. This step is where we connect the volumes together and add ‘wedging’ where needed.


Since we are bringing this drawing to a finished level I’ve also sketched in a bit of facial features to help out the final line work. Make sure to include fingers, toes, and all musculature where needed.


Clean Up The Drawing


Step 6: Get Creative


This step is where your creativity comes in. It’s time to make this man a real character and not just a figure.


This figure could be anything so it’s your turn to put in the design work.


I decided to combine a native tribesman look with some armor. It’s nothing too special but it does look neat because I took the time to make a design that worked with the pose.


Since designing characters on the fly is not the point of this tutorial, just do your best or if you are struggling, copy what I’ve done here. You should have some polished final lines when you are done. Some will find this to be the most rewarding step and I’d agree.


This is where all of your previous hard work pays off.


Design The Figure


Step 7: Add More Rendering


This last step is even more rendering. This is pretty much part 2 to the previous step. Here, you should add more rendering, black out areas in shadow and make the figure look as cool as possible.


Render The Figure With More Detail

Excellent! We just made a killer pose. That was a blast!


Posed Character Drawing


Closing Thoughts


Before you head out remember that there are tons of different approaches to posing characters so look around for other books, and videos.


This particular approach is very similar to Michael Hampton’s, so I highly recommend it. Keep practicing daily or at least routinely because it’s necessary to see improvement. The only way you will get through the hard times when all these concepts are not yet set in your mind is through the work.


I’m very glad to write tutorials for HTDC. As much as I try to share some knowledge through these tutorials, I am also learning through the process as well. Be sure to check back in for more tutorials in the future.


There is a growing community at howtodrawcomics.net and all their social media pages so get in there and ask for feedback on your work. Feedback is key to learning.


For some of you who are ambitious, I would also recommend checking out the Mentorship Program as well, for more honed feedback. If you have any questions regarding this lesson, please leave a comment or DM me on Twitter or Instagram @catapanoart.


And, lastly, if you like my work, I have a successfully crowdfunded comic book called STAR CIRCUIT. If you like sci-fi and cyberpunk you can learn more about it at joecatapanoart.com.


Thank you for reading.

- Joe Catapano


Tutorial by Joe Catapano

2,615 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page