Drawing People on Location

drawing people

Drawing people is the whole reason I got into drawing in the first place. Although I enjoy drawing objects and making clipart sets, I get the most pleasure from drawing humans.

I’m a character driven reader. My favorite books are not about intricate plots or situations, they mostly have a complex character whose inner life is exposed on the page: thoughts, habits, beliefs, attitudes, reactions. This is the reason I love the British writers so much: Anita Brookner, Penelope Mortimer, Margaret Drabble, Barbara Pym.

When I was little I had the horrible habit of staring at people, my parents had to turn me around on my restaurant chair and tell me how unpolite that was. However, I’m extremely curious about the inner live of humans, especially now, living in Montreal, the contrast between Mexico, where people speak to each other constantly to a city where people look down at their phones, avoid someone asking for directions on the corner of a street and ride the Metro in complete self-aborption. (Myself included)

For years I’ve been admiring the people who draw reportage, I mean look at Veronica Lawlor’s work. I die a little.
Their fluid sketches and scribbly lines bring so much life to their work, but as we know, drawing the human figure is the hardest thing and if your proportions are off in a bad way, you risk of making really bad drawings.

These drawings require also to observe with intention and capture details super fast. It makes your brain zoom in on one individual and one detail that captures your eye. With this you draw a whole story.

Many urban sketchers and reportage artists manage to distort the human body to make it more compelling, but before arriving to that, you really need to practice drawing people as they are.

The first real drawing class I took was Sketchbook Skool, where they encourage you to ditch the pencil and go straight to ink and they also encourage you to see and make your hand follow what you see, which I interpret as doing contour drawings. Then you add your shadows and such.

These are some of the drawings I did as a result of that class.

First sketch
This was the first sketch I ever made.

Not exactly great.

I tried to do “capture” the moment but as as a beginner there was only so much I could do. Plus the discomfort of drawing in public is not easy to overcome. I was terrified that someone would come and talk to me, or worse, take a look at my page and dismiss it as something so uninteresting that it would scar me for life. So during the summer I only drew in public if I was with my husband and I had safe distance from my subjects.

As the summer progressed, I tried different techniques, different approaches and I learned to distinguish between drawing people and drawing a scene with people in it. I don’t get much pleasure drawing buildings.  I kept trying to develop a technique to draw people in public and the best I can do is to wear my sunglasses or be really inconspicuous.

The first time I tried to draw a scene with people. (you can say, what? are those people?

At one point I showed hope:

Her hand is missing though… but I liked how the dog turned out.

All this time I avoided sketching with pencil, I thought, that’s what real sketchers do: you commit to your lines, there’s no erasing, etc.

Well, to hell with demonizing the pencil.

If you start with a pen and your drawings are so-so, and you can’t correct them, you’re bound to get discouraged and stop practicing. When we see no reasonable progress, we tend to stop. It happens with anything: diet, exercise, learning, etc.

I took Marc Taro Holmes’ class, Sketching People in Motion. And I am quite impressed by his teaching and by what I was able to do after.

This was a major breakthrough because I felt so much more at ease drawing in a waiting room! Lately I’ve been sketching roughly with pencil first and then adding details, shadows and other lines in ink. The initial pencil sketches are just very rough shapes.


It’s not the world’s greatest sketch but I think I was able to capture two things:
The woman was impatient and frustrated with the waiting and the man seemed quite sad.

I think progress is made when you choose the right classes and you decide to invest a little money, time and practice.


By Luisa Fernanda

Artist, Illustrator, Cruelty-Free Advocate. Notion Geek.

1 comment

  1. Brilliant illustrations, you have an amazing line, I honestly love it. Would really like to see a video on a drawing from a to z, it would be encouraging for noobs like me.
    Thank you for sharing these, thank you thank you !

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