Keeping it Simple: The Straight Forward Step-By-Step Guide to Drawing the Body

Known for his animated and lively artwork from Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, Charles Martin Jones perfectly explained the process of drawing. In a famous interview of his, he once stated, “The whole essence of good drawing — and of good thinking, perhaps, is to work on a subject down to the simplest form possible and still have it believable for what it is meant to be.” Essentially, what Charles Martin Jones meant is that art, and in this case the human body, does not need to be elaborate or perfect to be regarded as good work. A simple drawing that is identifiable as the human form is sufficient. Therefore, as this tutorial on how to draw the body progresses, don’t fret if it isn’t perfect, and don’t quit if it isn’t just right. Eventually, by practicing the following simple steps, you’ll have the concept down perfectly.

Figure Drawing — The Basics

Before beginning, there are a few basics that I’m going to cover. When drawing, proportions are important. They serve as the bones, per say, of the body. In drawing, there is something known as “The Standard Unit of Measurement,” or “SUM.” Generally, the length of the head, which is the distance from the top of the head to the chin, serves as your SUM. Typically, you’ll find that the average height of a male or female figure drawing is 8 heads. SUMs of different length can result in variations in height. To ensure your figure is proportional, a tip you may find helpful is to draw 9 horizontal lines on the paper before beginning to draw. This will leave you with 8 SUMs. While there are many different poses that are possible, to keep things simple and at a basic, we are going to assume that the subject is standing straight.

Proportions to Keep in Mind

Although proportions are an important part of drawing the human body, you should remember that they are only very general, basic guidelines. Each individual person is unique and has his or her own proportions that can vary slightly from these guidelines. So as you draw, you don’t have to measure each shape to ensure it is drawn to the exact centimeter. With that said, here are some approximate general proportions to guide your drawing:

•The entire body is 8 heads tall.

•The head and torso are as long as the legs.

•Hands should go no farther than halfway down the length of the thighs.

•Thigh and calf are equal length, and so are the lower and upper arms.

•Even at rest, the arms and legs should not be perfectly straight.

•A female subject will have a smoother, more “feminine” form than the male.

•A male figure has a proportionately larger rib cage, while a female figure has a proportionately larger pelvis.

•The shoulder width is about 3 head widths.

•If the arms are at the figure’s sides, the wrist aligns with the groin.

•An open hand is proportional to the head width.

Although it may not seem so, the basic sketch of the human figure is comprised of a melody of basic shapes such as ovals, triangles, and circles. So, let’s begin with the first steps and create our figure drawing together. I’ll be creative here and name him Billy. Throughout this tutorial, you’ll draw Billy with me and see him evolve from what looks like a child-like drawing, to something a bit more professional.

The Basic Sketch

After drawing the nine marker lines using Billy’s head as the SUM, I begin drawing my figure as follows.

•First, begin with the oval-shaped head. Using lined paper works great, as you can keep better track of proportions. According to my sketch, two lines are equal to the length of Billy’s head. Next, give him a simple neck, which should equal one fourth the length of his head.

01 how to draw the body head and neck

•Continuing from the bottom of the neck, sketch an upside down triangle. At the top of this upside down triangle are the shoulders, which remember, are as wide as three of Billy’s heads. The pointy end of the triangle is where Billy’s belly button is to be. This triangle is approximately two of Billy’s heads, or four lines. The bottom of the first of these two heads is the nipple area, and the bottom of the second of the two heads is the belly button.

02 how to draw the body triangle

•After sketching up to the belly button, Billy also needs a groin area. Thus far, the groin area is a simple oval, which is also equal to the length of one head. Also, I’m going to keep this little tutorial rated G – there will be no guidance on how to draw genitalia.

03 how to draw the body pelvis

•Next are the upper thighs.  Beginning from the bottom of the groin area, I’ve added two nicely shaped ovals, which are each the length of Billy’s head. This section is the fifth head length.

04 how to draw the body upper thighs

•Continuing with the legs, the next long oval for each leg is going to end up right above the knee.  Because the knee is a joint, mark it as a small circle. This is the sixth head length.

05 how to draw the body lower thighs

•Moving on, the next oval is the lower leg, and it is an oval that stops just above Billy’s ankle.

06 how to draw the body lower legs

•Let us next add ovals for the feet. One regular oval whose bottom is the bottom of Billy’s foot, and a second, horizontal oval for Billy’s foot.

07 how to draw the body feet

•Lastly, the final additions are the arms and hands. Make an oval for each upper arm that begins at the shoulder and ends just above the belly button area. From this joint, make another oval that extends to the groin area. Draw an oval to represent each hand, going no farther down than mid-thigh.

08 how to draw the body arms

In all, if your figure is 8 heads tall, you should have a rough sketch of Billy comprised of ovals, triangles, and small circles as seen above. Have you been able to follow along so far? Up until now, this tutorial has shown us how to draw the body using shapes as a “skeleton”.

More than Just Bones

The famous author Walt Whitman once said, “I sing the body electric.” I suppose you can do as I do, and imagine Billy all of a sudden bust some moves on the page, but such a quote also resonates quite well with the next steps. Essentially, Walt Whitman is pointing to a notion that expresses love and admiration for the human body. It means to enjoy the movements, and the shape, and the image of the body itself. Therefore, as we continue to draw Billy, you don’t have to draw him as what the “ideal” human is expected to look like. Draw him as you want him to be (just keep him proportional). Apart from the arms and legs, which essentially leave just the torso and neck, I accentuated them on Billy by giving them shape. In this case, I drew the torso wider and slightly muscular and the neck a bit stumpy. Once you’ve given your subject’s torso and neck some shape, it’s time to continue to the arms and legs.

09 how to draw the body torso

How to Draw Arms

Both arms and legs are probably two of the simplest parts of the body to draw. Once your torso is fully drawn, you can take the next step and add detail to the appendages. The shoulders, elbows, and wrists should each be marked by a circle that connects the ovals that you drew for arms and forearms. Rather than leave it in such a vague state, turn the ovals into straight lines that match the outer edges of the circles marked for shoulders, elbows, and wrists. Next, erase away the circles, and you should be left with a full arm. To make things more defined, the forearm should break down into three parts, with each part thinner than the last, with the wrist being the thinnest part.

10 how to draw the body arms

How to Draw Hands

While hands may seem intimidating, they really aren’t. It’s all about sketching and practice. There are several methods. One way to draw hands is to begin with a square, attaching sticks for fingers and a small triangle attaching the thumb. If you need guidance, look at your own hand. Your own body is a great tool for learning to draw. Next, sketch the joints along the fingers. Each finger, except for the thumb, has two joints. Add a joint for the wrist, leaving a slightly raised bump for the bone. Give Billy’s hand some skin, and outline the shape of the fingers along the circles. Erase the inner circles and sketches, and you’re left with a hand that just needs shading, nails, and the appearance of skin. To do this, just look at your own hand and draw what you see.

11 how to draw the body hands

How to Draw Legs

Like most of the body’s shape, the shape of legs can also vary. You should already have a circle for the knees. Start with the outside of each leg and sketch the upper thigh and lower leg. The upper thigh should be wide, and as the line reaches the knee, it should become narrower. Then, do the same for the inner legs. Depending on your preferences, you can keep the legs thin or add thickness. Lastly, simply erase the circle and sketch a knee.

12 how to draw the body legs

How to Draw Feet

Unless you don’t want our subject to walk, then you’re going to need to add some feet. As simplicity is the key to this entire tutorial, begin with the ovals attached to the bottom of the leg. The front of the foot and toes should be sketched out. Next, soften the rough lines and give the foot a proper shape. If you drew your character’s hands, this process should be fairly simple. Upon completing the feet and giving your subject a shape and human appearance, you should have a fully-formed body before you.

13 how to draw the body billy

Practice Makes Perfect

As Jackson Brown Jr. once said, “You can’t hire someone to practice for you.” Truer words were never spoken. You really can’t hire someone to perfect your skill or to turn you into an expert, which is why you need to practice. Through dedication, hard work, and following through with this figure drawing tutorial, you’ll be able to master how to draw the body in no time. Just adhere to the proportion rules, add joints where necessary, and practice, practice, practice!


  1. I find your site useful to refer students to.

    This is similar to how I teach the figure, but more anatomically accurate is the 8 1/2 head rule. The head points don’t exactly correspond so perfectly/coincidentally with the real figure, but it is much more natural looking outcome. for eg. the spine is the same length as the femur (the longest bone in the body). The neck is about 1/3 of a head, with the arm-pit being about 4/5ths of a head below the chin. The extra 1/2 head balances the 3-head width of the shoulders to look less neanderthal. Out of interest I also teach a 9 1/2 head rule for fashion students.

    • Hi Tristan! I am happy you find the site useful. The guidelines in this post were meant only as very basic, general points to keep things simple for those just beginning. You are right, though. In reality, people don’t perfectly conform to the 8-head rule used to simplify things for artists. Thanks for sharing your measurements for those who want to get it even more exact!

  2. Jack, I think you hit me right on target. I’ve just tried your figure drawing and its fantastic. I am untrained and your site speaks to me in a clear, uncomplicated, do-able way! Many thanks, I shall try this over and over. It was fun and satisfying.

  3. Wow this was truly helpful. You make everything look so easy

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