Quick Sketching My Son – Tips on Sketching People

2014_AlexoniPad_web 2014_AlexandCat_web

There is something about sketching my son that I find difficult. It’s almost like I forget the rules because I already know every detail and angle of his face and I want to get it in the sketch. It never ends up accurate because as with any person you sketch, they are always moving.

When I sketch in public, it is so much better. I am not going for the details as I seem to want to do with my son. If I could just remember this when sketching him I would probably be much more pleased with the outcome.

I do love to sketch people and I do tend to pick a lot of the same types of places (restaurants and coffee shops) to sketch them. If you want to try sketching people, these are great places because people are sitting and lingering for a while.

Here are some of my methods for sketching in public:

  1. Find a place where people tend to linger and be relatively still for a while and find a corner spot that you have a great view of the room.
  2. If I am interested in capturing the whole scene, I will draw in parts of that scene and maybe a key figure first and then add people as the come and go into that existing scene.
  3. Draw quickly. Look for overall shapes, values and proportions.
  4. Ignore details. Don’t get caught up in facial features. Remember that sketching is not drawing a portrait. Squint if you need to to block out the details and focus on values.
  5. Is there an action line in the persons pose that you want to capture into the feel of the sketch. Are they putting all their weigh on one foot or leaning on something?
  6. People will be in somewhat constant motion even if it is subtle. Look for repetitive motions that you can capture a certain phase of. Do they keep looking up or bring up a mug to drink from? Draw it loosely with simple action lines.
  7. Lastly, I tend to use a pencil or thinner pen at first and sketch initially with a light quick hand. I will then go back toward  the end of the sketch and add a thicker line to accent certain areas. I like to use Sakura Micron pens in 01 and 05 sizes for this. Nice places to accent are the outline of the larger shapes, lines in the shadow side of the figure to add weight or where certain lines join together to create visual tension.

These are most of my major steps in sketching. The biggest thing to remember is don’t worry about exact likenesses and practice as often as you can. Your hand  eye coordination will get better the more you consistently practice.

6 thoughts on “Quick Sketching My Son – Tips on Sketching People

  1. Rebecca, great advice and insights. People who are not artists automatically assume that those of us who are can draw anything, including portraits and people’s likeness. We all have an area where we feel strongest. I agree it is definitely not easy to do people’s likeness. For years I had resorted to creating more of a caricature than a portrait. When my son got into sports, I found the best “portrait” was to create their likeness through their action pose. And sports have the wonderful benefit of their jersey number. I kinda took a page out of sports painter Leroy Neiman whose paintings were always so brushy that you could never recognize the athlete by their face, but by their actions. I found a new niche where I was creating sports portraits which I loved because you could always show the back of the subject’s head or hide their face in the helmet/mask. If I was being honest with myself, I don’t think any of the faces looked like the kids I was depicting, but no one ever questioned it because the action pose, the jersey number and the essence of the moment were captured. I have another artist friend who leaves the face part of a painting completely blank, just skin tones. I asked him why and he said that it allows people to see themselves in his paintings rather than the person he chooses for them. Thanks for the article Rebecca.


    • Wes, you make some great points. It reminds me of what my art school life drawing teacher used to say. “You will get the likeness of the person through correct facial planes and tones”… The details are just the icing on the cake. If the solid foundation isn’t there the rest won’t work. Thanks for your comments!


  2. A good rendering is an image of how others think something looks, not necessarily what it actually does look like. Rendering is the art of Key lines of recognition, the fewer lines the easier it is to recognize. Nice drawings of your son and cat, it fits the formula well.
    I draw to much and sketch to little, great difference in those two.
    Like your posting


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