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If you draw characters, chances are you don’t always want to draw them standing still and facing forward. To showcase their personality, you probably want to illustrate those characters in dynamic poses—running, jumping, walking, or dancing. But to do that effectively, you must first understand how to draw legs.
Legs are the foundation for movement, whether you draw humans, animals, or cartoons. Need some help drawing legs? Find guides for all types of characters below.
How to Draw Legs
While legs are complex, containing lots of different muscle groups and joints, there’s good news: Once you understand the general anatomy of the legs, you can apply that knowledge to any drawing style or type of character—even animals. To get you started, we’ve broken it down by leg types.
Drawing realistic legs begins with understanding human anatomy. While you don’t need to know the scientific name of every leg muscle, you should be familiar with the leg’s general muscle groups and joints.
Here’s the basic rundown: At the front of the leg, three long, teardrop-shaped muscles extend from the hip down to the knee. At the back, the hamstring runs from the glute down to the back of the knee. The calf muscle is the focal point of the lower leg, although especially muscular legs may also display a shin muscle that runs across the front of the leg.
At the beginning of your journey to learn how to draw realistic legs, it can be helpful to first block out the basic structure (think: circles for the hip, knee, and ankle joints, and long cylinders for the upper and lower leg), and then adding in the detail of the muscle on top.
Men’s and women’s legs both follow the same general muscular structure, but there are some differences between the two. For example, men’s legs tend to be thicker with more muscle definition. Men may also have rounder calf muscles, which creates a more dramatic taper toward the ankle. To learn how to draw man legs, it can be helpful to place reference photos of men’s and women’s legs next to each other, so you can clearly see—and imitate—the differences.
Women’s legs, on the other hand, tend to be thinner. Their calf muscles are generally less pronounced, creating a straighter lower leg shape. Women may also have more curves near the top of their thighs and hips.
While you can certainly draw figures that defy these generalities—like a very muscular woman or a tall, thin man—they can provide a good foundation for drawing male and female characters.
Methods for drawing cartoon legs can vary widely depending on your illustration style. Many cartoonists suggest that you begin with a working knowledge of the anatomy of a real human leg, and then simplifying or exaggerating from there. For example, most characters will still have the same main elements of anatomically correct legs—hips, knees, and ankles—but you can choose to extend their limbs to be impossibly long and thin or short and wide.
Another approach for how to draw cartoon versions is referred to as the shape method. Generally, legs can be broken down into simple, flat shapes, like rectangles, triangles, or ovals. Try combining these shapes to create different types of cartoon legs.
Put Those Legs to Use
Cartooning: Drawing People in Motion
Learning how to draw animals is a completely different, well, animal. While some animal legs have anatomy similar to a human’s, others look and function very differently—with, for instance, additional joints or joints that bend in the opposite direction from a human’s. When drawing animal legs, it’s best to start by looking at reference photos of your subject so you can understand how their limbs look and function.
For more specifics, whether you want to learn how to draw dogs or how to draw bunnies —or anything in between—check out the tutorials below.
To draw for a dog, think of the leg structure as a sort of zig zag: The topmost portion (which is largely hidden) angles forward. Then, the middle portion of the leg angles to the back and connects to a joint similar to a human’s elbow or knee. Finally, the lower leg angles forward and connects to the ankle joint. At that point, the foot angles forward even further and transitions into the dog’s paw.
Once you understand what’s happening under that fur, you can more accurately interpret movement and poses into your dog drawings.
Wolf legs are typically longer than dog legs, although they share the same basic anatomy. Want a simple approach for how to draw wolf legs? Draw two straight front legs, narrowing at the heel, with the paw extending at a slight angle to the front. For the thicker back legs, use a curved line—almost like an S—to achieve the general silhouette.
If you want to learn how to draw cat legs, here’s a helpful tip: Cat legs have the same general bone and joint structure as dogs. In fact, most four-legged animals share the same bone structure, with some differences in bone length. Cats, for instance, have rather long legs, and the knees of their hind legs are positioned higher than you might expect.
Once you understand that structure—how and in which direction the joints bend—you can illustrate cats in nearly any pose.
Somewhat surprisingly, bunnies also have the same general leg structure as dogs and cats. However, because rabbits are much smaller animals and have shorter legs, you can simplify their legs into less complex shapes. For the hind leg, draw a large circular shape with the foot extending from the bottom. For the front leg, do the same—just smaller. Even with few details, you can capture accurate anatomy and illustrate a realistic bunny.
A Solid Foundation
The legs are the anchor of a character—they determine how the figure moves and poses. By learning how to draw appendages you can create more interesting and dynamic character drawings. Whether you illustrate animals or humans, drawing legs is an essential skill for any artist.
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