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Time
15 mins

Five Minute Sketching: People
A quick but effective way of sketching people is by drawing what’s known
as the “contour” — in essence the outline — emphasizing the shape and volume while reducing detail. There are different ways to approach contours, and these can be great starting blocks or fun styles in themselves, but contour drawing is a useful skill for the quick people sketcher.

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  • How to make a drawing. Contour Drawing - Step 1
    Step 1

    Tips to get you started

    Basic outline Contour means outline, so start by simply sketching someone as a basic silhouette. You might practice by actually holding your pen up and drawing an imaginary line in the air around the person you want to draw, to help visualize the contour. Draw the line slowly and deliberately, taking care to think about the shape. It’s hard to focus on just the outline, so try sketching it as a continuous unbroken line; it doesn’t have to be perfect!

    Pete Scully,
    Cowboy contour, 2016.
    In this sketch, just the general outline has been drawn in a fairly deliberate fashion, but with a few details showing the edges of the figure’s clothing. This is just one way to approach contour drawing; for a more “alive” feel, a quicker and looser line is better.

  • Step 2

    Minimal line gestures Some of the most effective contour drawings don’t have a continuous line running around the figure; rather, there are broken segments of line that merely suggest the contour, letting the mind fill in the rest. Practice doing this by sketching a person just by the curves, such as the shoulder, the chin or maybe the gesture they are making with their hand.

  • How to make a drawing. Contour Drawing - Step 3
    Step 3

    Blind contour A fun game to play is when you put the pen on the paper and draw your subject without looking down at the page. This is called blind contour drawing, and is a good way to turn off your dependence on the page and trust
    your instincts — and the results can be surprising! Sketching blind contour helps take the “thinking” out of observation drawing by letting you just “do.”

    Pete Scully, Blind contour, 2016. Blind contour drawing means not looking at the paper, but trying to draw the outline or the general pose of the figure, preferably without lifting the pen from the paper, letting your hand move as your eye does. It is not easy and often produces interesting results. In this one I have sketched a seated mother and child, letting the lines overlap, adding a little expression to their pose.

  • Step 4

    Sketch a crowd’s contour Go somewhere where a good-sized group will be gathered
    and sketch the outline of the people as a single shape, watching carefully for the spaces between them, and the general shape of legs and feet as well as heads. Then sketch a few contours of individuals, to bring them out.
    Try sketching a group of individual contours and have them overlap, a trick that gives the impression of movement.

  • Step 5

    Add a little detail! It’s a good skill to practice, but you don’t need to stop at the contours. Try adding in some details here and there, more as suggestion than anything. Maybe draw interior details, such as faces or clothing, in a different color from the contour. Drawing the contour first means if you run out of time for the sketch, you have the main structure in place.

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