7 Tips For Drawing Realistic Humans

There are mistakes we repeat again and again while drawing characters with realistic proportions. Here are 7 pointers that will help you to stay on track – without actually knowing complicated anatomy facts.

1. Follow the Line of Action!

Often times constructed poses look far to stiff. The easiest way to fill your character with more life is to not start with a construction grid, but draw a line of action first (yellow) and then build the pose around it (first red, then blue).

The line of action indicates all the direction, power and emotion of the pose that you want to put into your drawing. It does not only visualize the flow of physical energy, but should also reflect the emotional state of the character.

2. Do a Head Count

People tend to draw the torso and head more or less correctly, but then cut the legs too short. A general rule of human proportions is that the legs have the same length as torso and head together – which is pretty long.

For a tall, stereotypical hero, this could mean drawing the body 8 heads high. So, 4 heads for the torso and an additional 4 heads for the legs. Normal adults, women and children are shorter, but the the hips are still about the center. It’s important to keep the balance (unless you enter cartoon land or start drawing crazy perspectives).

3. Remember Your Head and Shoulders

Also often overlooked is the human shoulder width. If you’re drawing a strong character, 3 heads is probably where you need to be. Normal adults have a bit less, but it’s still much wider than we would instinctively think.

4. A Space to Think

Here is another length we always underestimate. Because our brains just sees it as lot of empty space we don’t remember how long a forehead actually is. The eyes are actually pretty much exactly in the middle of the head.

5. Get Your Head on Straight… But Not Too Straight.

Another common mistake made by beginners is to draw the neck as a cylinder shape that simply plugs straight down into the space between the two shoulders. Come on guys… you’ve got to know anatomy just isn’t that simple! Actually, the neck flows diagonally into the shoulder.

6. Smile From Ear to Ear

Okay, this next one is a nit-picky detail just to show you how even the smallest bit of anatomy knowledge can make a difference: The corners of the mouth cannot really move upwards – only sideways.

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The muscles that make the ends of move up are actually attached before the corner of the mouth (and not every person uses those strongly). This means a realistically drawn smile doesn’t have the typical banana shape:

7. Think inside the box

You might already know grids to construct the head from the side view and front view (pretty much every “How to Draw” book has those), but did you know that if you map them both onto sides of a cube, it’s super easy to draw even very difficult perspectives?

There is more… hidden right in front of you

There is one thing all those tips have in common: You can “just” see them. They are there in plain sight and every careful observer can notice them.

Sure, if you have the time to dive into anatomy and learn what muscles and bones connect where and why, definitely do it! But before that you can already draw humans that look more or less right by learning proportion counts and keeping an eye open for little facts like these.

Do you have any observations that are helpful for avoiding common anatomy mistakes?

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Very nice article, i definitely appreciate this website, keep on it! 😀

i would love to see more like this one on drawing people 2.

mary g.

I love all the times you guys do drawing tips. I know these days everybody just does animation in 3D and stf but I love to draw and these are super helpful. Please keep it up, Drawing Island! ^.^ Or you could make the website Drawing Island and I would live there!


Hi yes this post is truly nice and I have learned lot of things from it. thanks.|


This is great, i have learnt some tips from this.