Whether you’re a beginner artist or have been sketching away for years, learning how to draw bodies is one of the most important skills that you can learn. After all, humans and animals, in all their various types, make for endlessly interesting drawing subjects!

In this post, we’ll walk you through how to draw some of the most basic body shapes, from realistic styles to more cartoon-like figures, so that you’re ready to create your own amazing works of art.

How to Draw Realistic Bodies

When you’re drawing realistic bodies, you’ll want to start with some source materials and pieces of inspiration. This will help you to learn the overall shapes of the human anatomy. 

Cut out pictures from magazines to trace—or look at how other artists draw their figures—and begin to visualize the different shapes that the human body is composed of. The head, for example, is usually an oval or egg shape, whereas a torso may be a stretched-out oval, teardrop, or hourglass.

drawing from picture
Sketching out a rough outline first will help you to keep your proportions correct.

Working on skills like observational drawing will help you to master your hand-eye coordination and also give you good practice in drawing bodies from a photo or model. When you’re new to this type of art, it can be difficult to create realistic visuals from memory or imagination alone. Again, start from a shapes-based angle and map out your sketch from there. There’s plenty of time to add in the details later, but the outline underneath will decide the direction that you go in for the rest of the piece.

anatomy of body
The “8 heads” model is the best place to start when you’re learning how to draw bodies.

Keeping your proportions accurate is also crucial when drawing realistic bodies. The general guidance is that a man is eight heads tall, or seven-and-a-half heads tall if you’re drawing women’s bodies. 

What does that mean? Start your drawing with the oval head, and then mark out eight lines down your paper at an equal distance that’s the head-to-chin length of the oval you’ve drawn. This will then be your reference point for all the other key elements of the body as you continue the drawing. The pelvis will sit in the spot between lines three and four, with the kneecaps at line six and feet at line eight.

figure drawing
Image blocking is a simple way to start your drawing while leaving room for mistakes.

You don’t have to map out actual guidance lines like this if you feel more confident in how to draw bodies, but working from a “blocked” image is still useful. This means that you’ll sketch out a rough outline of your body drawing that you can then work from to solidify lines and build the details into later on.

No matter the order or number of techniques that you use when drawing bodies, the key to a realistic look is to maintain your proportions and basic shapes so that the human form is instantly recognizable to the viewer. Finishing touches like light and shadows will make your drawing look as real as possible.

How to Draw Cartoon Bodies

Drawing cartoon bodies can be more fun than realistic ones, as there are really no rules or limitations on what you can do. But you’ll still want to remember the basic principles of shape and proportion, no matter what your cartoon figure looks like.

Thinking about the guidelines that we used for our realistic bodies, you can start to be more creative when it comes to the spacing of these when you draw cartoon bodies. Instead of using lines of equal width to give human-like proportions, try placing your guidelines at different distances to emphasize various parts of your cartoon body. 

cartoon body
Cartoons don’t need to fit into the same model as realistic bodies, so have some fun!

For example, you could create a head area that’s two-thirds the size of the torso and legs, while giving the character a tiny neck. These distinct poses or body shapes will help define your character, making them memorable to your viewer. 

cartoon boy
Try a few different poses to give your cartoon character some personality.

Posing cartoon characters is a great way to bring some of their personality into the sketch. Again, use different shapes and lines to create the illusion of movement in your drawing as you add in the details of the pose. This is the perfect way for beginners looking to take their first steps in cartoon illustration and will provide an excellent base to work from for more complex designs.

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Types of Bodies to Draw

1. Women

body drawing
Take your time when you’re practicing how to draw bodies.

When it comes to drawing women’s bodies, you’ll want to start with an outline of the whole body before adding in the details that makes it clear that the figure you’re drawing is female. This is true for both realistic and cartoon figures.

For realistic drawings, when you’re thinking about how to draw women’s bodies, start with the type of body shape that you’re going for—is she toned and muscular, or curvier? Reference images can be useful here to get the exact shape that you’re after. Then you can start adding in the details like hairstyle and clothing. 

For cartoons, think about the final style you’d like to use before you start working on your sketch. Anime characters with their big eyes and focus on the head will look very different from a Disney-looking cartoon. Knowing what you want the final image to look like ahead of time will help you make sure that all of your proportions are correct for the style you’re using.

2. Men

body figurine
Men’s bodies are similar to women’s when you’re first starting to draw anatomy sketches.

In many ways, learning how to draw men’s bodies is very similar to drawing women’s bodies. You’ll start with the same basic outline and use your shapes and guidelines to sketch a blocked body before going back in to add the details of the face, hair, and clothing.

Again, depending on the type of body you want to draw, there will likely be some differences from women’s anatomy drawings. A muscled man sketch usually has wider shoulders, so your torso will take up more space on the page, and the legs may be longer than a typical drawing of a woman. Having a good idea in your mind, or using reference materials, before you start working on your project will help to ensure that you’re using the right lines and shapes as you build out the anatomy.

3. Cats

cat sketch
Sitting cats are some of the easiest animal bodies to draw as a beginner.

Cats, dogs, and other small creatures are great for beginner artists to sketch. When you’re first learning how to draw cat bodies, choose a simple reference to work from. Cats sitting down or standing with their tails out are quite straightforward to draw, which means that you can focus on details like the fur or facial features once you become more comfortable with this type of drawing.

A sideways view is likely the easiest place to start, with a circle for the head and a long swooping downward curve for the back. Sketch out the front legs, with an oval for the one back leg that you can see from this angle. Once the basic shape is formed, add in the features like ears, tail, and face to complete the drawing.

4. Horses

horse drawing
Think about different movement points when drawing a horse and work around those when sketching the rest of the body.

Just like with your human drawings, the body of a galloping horse can be broken down into a series of shapes and lines. This is true of any moving object, particularly humans and animals, as they’re all made up of various joints and muscles. Knowing the essentials of how these work and what they look like in movement will help you to translate that onto the page.

Block out the outline of the horse first—a long cylinder shape for the bulk of the body, a curved rectangle for the neck, and a circle with a long oval for the head. Using a reference image, mark out the legs of the horse and all of the joint points along them from the shoulder to the hoof. Once you have these shapes added, you can connect them together with lines and add in the finishing touches to make your horse look more realistic.

Turn Simple Shapes Into Stunning Works of Art

Sketching realistic and cartoon bodies can seem daunting at first, but breaking down the parts into shapes and lines—much like with any other drawing—will help you to find what works for you. 

Practice your observational skills using reference sources until you feel confident in drawing bodies from your imagination. Before you know it, you’ll be a master at sketching and painting human and animal figures.

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Written by:

Holly Landis