How to draw a standing figure of a man, using a Bargue plate

Today, we’re going to look at how to capture a pose by using a 15 block mannequin and simplifying it into 15 governing movements. What we’re going to look at is how to capture movement of a figure by using these 15 blocks which incorporate the head, the rib cape, the pelvic block; the arms and legs each having 3 blocks. In this way, we are understanding the machine – the human machine and what it’s doing and how it’s overlapping in proportion of that human machine and getting the movement of the pose. We can then simplify it by working with governing ghostly bandy lines and simplifying the pose into its basic essence.

And in that sense, you have a core foundation to then proceed forward and build form; create volume; separate light and dark and create a convincing figure. So in essence, looking at a human figure can be quite complex. So we want to simplify that again by breaking it down to its core essence by using these 15 blocks. By positioning these blocks, you’ll gain a better sense of movement and understanding of structure and breaking down into the 10-14 or 15 ghostly bandy lines. You’ll be able to capture the contrapposto of the pose, the gesture of the pose; the proportion of the post. So, without further ado, let’s proceed forward.

Alright, for those of you working from the figure. One of the most important things we need to first do before actually even drawing the figure is we need to capture the pose. So we’re using a reproduction of the drawing from the Charles Bargue book “Cours De Dessin” from the 3rd part of the drawing course where we have a bunch of figures in different situations. So we’ve picked this figure drawing here from behind, almost three quarter view from behind. And what we going to first do to capture this pose and give you guys an idea of what to look for when you are looking at the figure. I find one of the easiest things to do is break the figure down into blocks. And if you can visualize these blocks then you can capture the figure in a simple statement that we call “The gesture construct.” So I’m going to show you how capturing the figure with blocks will then allow you to see the governing movements and gesture of the figure. And it will also give you a sense of the proportion of the figure that you are getting. So we have 15 blocks we have to deal with. Those blocks are the head, the rib cage; the pelvic block. We have three blocks for every limb. We’re not going to be dealing these arms too much since they’re hidden behind the torso. But with the legs, there’s the thigh, the chin, the foot. And then with the arm, there would be the upper arm; the forearm and the hands.

Alright so, I’m going to draw this larger to scale than I’m actually looking at. I’m just going to put a few landmarks just to get going. We’re going to decide the head is going to go all the way up here. And the feet are going to be all the way down here and just to give me an idea of where some of the blocks are going to land. We know the midway point of the human figure using the Leonardo’s drawing of the “Vitruvian man” is about the pubic area. So we’ll estimate the halfway mark between the top of the head to bottom of the head. And then we’ll look for some quarter marks and again going back to Leonardo’s “Vitruvian man.” These – the first quarter would be the bottom of the knees and the third quarter landmark would be nipple area.

Alright, so that gives me a good idea of how large I’m going to draw; how tall I’m going to draw. So let’s begin with the core blocks. So, the pelvic block, the rib cage and the head are the first three blocks I’ll like to establish when seeing how the figure is moving. So we’re going to look at the slant of the shoulders. We know we have to keep that one higher and that one slightly lower and we’re going to establish the bottom of the rib cage midway between our pubic area and the nipple area. So the bottom of the rib cage is about here; the block of the ribcage is coming this way. We’re getting the back of the rib cage now and we want a gentle C-curve here to suggest how the rib cage is tilting.

Now, these blocks that we’re doing are not going to be 3 dimensional. We’re not going to look at all sides of the blocks right now. All we are after is the perimeter of that body part and giving us an idea which way it tilts. So now we can feel the rib cage almost like a barrel. We’re swelling these ghostly bandy lines a little bit, so they are not stiff. There’s a little tether. And the rib cage block is a little wider at the shoulders tapering a little thinner towards the waist. Now to establish the ribcage, you can use the shoulder line, the clavicle; the landmark of the clavicle. You could go over the trapezium from shoulder to shoulder finding the sides of the rib cage and then the bottom of the rib cage. You’re going to want to look for key high points on either side; maybe the rib cage is protruding out and you’re getting a sharpness of high point from the bone – the lower bones at the rib cage. You might be getting a dipping in coming from the other side.

Another thing to look at is the spine and we can see the spine is travelling diagonally like this. Therefore, the block of the ribcage should follow that – should be parallel to that. And we need to close our blocks perpendicular to the center. So now that we have a rib cage block, we’re getting a good sense of how large we’re getting. We can now move in to the pelvic block. Now for the pelvic block, the top of the pelvic block; look for again, the protrusion of the highpoints of the bone on the pelvic area. You’re looking specifically for the iliac crest or the Ilium where the – and that’s around the belly button height.

For the bottom of the pelvic block, we’re going to use the bottom of the buttocks here to establish that. And we can also look again at the spine moving into the tail bone and towards the center of the glutes to give us an idea of the direction the pelvic block is going. And that means we need to keep that block parallel to that. And so, we’re going to follow through from the oblique Ilium area and just close that block up. And we’re adjusting any lines that we feel aren’t working parallel to each other or we’re looking at proportion; maybe making an adjustment on the sides of our blocks. Maybe it needs to be a little wider or a little smaller or a little taller or a little thinner.

From the core of the body, establishing the ribcage and the pelvic block; we can now move back up to the top of the head. And we’re not seeing the head completely. We see his chin bearing behind the rib cage but we’re going from forehead to chin and then from the top of the head – we’re just imagining where the skull is. We’re ignoring any hair and we’re going to go from the base of the neck to the back of the skull, basically establishing the crown of the head. And that should give us an idea of the tail to the head; how large the head is and how it’s going to sit on top of our shoulders.

Now with those three blocks established, we can already feel a zigzag movement going down the body. Now this is occurring because of the weight bearing leg and what that’s creating is a situation known as contrapposto. The idea of the counterbalancing of the blocks to balance us and that way, we don’t fall over. Alright, let’s establish his arm and right now, the only block of the arm we really do see is the fore- the upper arm. So we’re dealing with the humerus area and you want to close the block below the joint of the ball of the bone. So just around the armpit area; you can use as a landmark. The bottom of this block should close above the elbow.

Now, another clue as to the height of the rib cage is that it would be at the height of the elbows. So, if you can follow the arc of your elbows, you’ll have an idea of where the bottom of the ribcage is. And we’re giving this block a gentle flex just to suggest how it’s resting on the body; how the gesture of that block is coming. Alright, so we don’t see any more of his arms. So that’s the only part of the arm we’re going to deal with in this pose and we’ll do more poses to show you how to do this in different situations – seated poses, reclining poses, straight on views, three quarter views, standing poses.

So let’s move to the legs. We talked about that the legs are going to have three blocks. Each limb needs three blocks. We have the thigh block, the chin block and the foot. So let’s deal with the weight bearing leg. We can see the weight bearing leg slightly inside to the left of the end of the glute. The inner thigh is about here and we want that to end at the top of the knee. So look for key landmarks that can help you see the top of the knee and that’s usually the muscles resting over the knee bone, the femur, the head of the femur, the bottom of the femur, the patella area and the top of the tibia. That’s all your knee area; so you want to leave a little gap for that.

So, starting at the bottom of the knee, we can now establish the positioning of the shin bone or the shin block. Incorporate – I like to incorporate the mass of the calf into this and suggest the gesture that – snapping back. So, the thigh is gently flexing forward; the shin is flexing backwards. And we’re going to go to the top of the ankle to close that up. And, because this is bending so much, we’re still keeping our closure of the block perpendicular and square to the direction of that block. Alright, the other thigh is starting way up here around the groin area and it’s pushing forward. The bottom of the thigh – the back of the thigh is almost coming from the middle of the glute.

Be aware that this block too will taper from wider to thinner as it approaches the knee area and now we’re after the bottom of the knee here. And so we’re closing this again, perpendicular to the direction block is going. In other words, don’t go across it and close it on an angle. And these blocks are very light, they’re very gentle. They feel like they’re just floating and I can move them around if they’re not in the right position. But more importantly, it’s allowing me to visualize what I feel the human form is doing in this situation. And it’s a good way of mastering – capturing your poses by visualizing these blocks on the figure. You don’t always have to draw them out. You can practise this by drawing them out in your half-hour poses or 15minutes poses and it’ll get you better at capturing the pose. We’re getting the other leg in. We’re getting the shin now coming back in towards the back leg.

Again, you want to close above the ankle. So, what we’re doing is we’re skipping all the joints so don’t close your blocks at the shoulder; at the elbow; at the abdomen. You’re skipping the knee areas and you’re skipping the ankles. All the joints don’t need to be connected because you want these blocks to feel like they’re floating on your paper. Alright, so now let’s grab that foot. So, the relaxed foot. We’re going to go from the heel – top of the heel. We’re going to go under that ankle and we’re going to go to the top of the foot and we’re going to grab the top of it and we’re going to establish the end of the foot and grab how the foot is planted on the surface. The other foot; we’re just seeing a little bit of the top of it.

Again, we’re going to go under that ankle. We’re going to come around square of that heel; grab the back of the heel and capture the ankle of that foot. So, there you have your 15 bocks that pretty much capture the pose and give you a real good understanding of how the blocks are shifting; where they’re located and where they’re positioned. And again, because you’re working so light and gentle, you can still make adjustments to say “You know what? This block could have been a little bigger. It’s looking a little thin. Maybe the glutes are a little lower. Maybe the ribcage is wider at the top.” You can make all the adjustments you want and you can use your eraser to clean it up. What you want to do is do this enough that it becomes part of your memory and you almost immediately see this in front of a life model.

Like I said, you don’t absolutely have to draw this but if you can visualize this, then what you’re dealing with is the machine. You’re dealing with how the figure is moving in that situation. You’re dealing with the stress that’s coming from the weight bearing leg. And as you can see, going back to the old pose, we’re getting that zigzag moving coming all the way down the leg as each block needs to adjust to balance the figure. So that’s the contrapposto. So we have then – when we have a contrapposto like this in a dominant side of weight happening on the figure, we will have an active side and a passive side. So this is the relaxed side of the figure. This is that dynamic energetic charged side of the figure. So what I like do then after this, is – I like to simplify into 10-14 main movements. Now those movements are: flat, C curved, S curved and zigzagging. And I put these four movements together to capture my figure and I’m going to go a little darker to superimpose over these blocks to show you what I mean. And then will erase it and show you the simplicity of how simple one can start their drawing of the figure. And that will start with the arm here.

So we’re going to gently adjust the tilt of that. All we need is a C curve from the corner of the shoulder to the corner of the elbow. And we’re going to mark the bottom of the arm. We’re going to still work with slope of the shoulders, following the trapezium. Now I’m going to go after that dynamic side. So I’m going to start a little flat this way then quickly come in towards the bottom of the rib cage and this is still keeping the momentum of the contrapposto. I’m going to gently just C-curve this side of the buttocks. And the leg – the blocks now showing me that I can capture the leg in an S curve. So using an S curve, I’m going from the Achilles tendon to the back of the thigh. And I’m just capturing that all in one movement and I will square up the heel again marking the bottom of the foot. And coming over to the passive side, I now notice I can just use a gentle C-curve that captures how the ribcage and the pelvic block are pulling apart. And then I just need a relaxed C-curve going from the corner of the knee to the top of the thigh. And then again, another gentle C-curve grabbing the shin area, and we’ll position the foot again. Just go over that again one more time. And I’m going to landmark the bottom of the glute. I’m going to grab the back of this thigh and I’m going to grab my calf and shin area.

Now, that has simplify the figure into about 10-14 movements. I’m going to erase the blocks now so that you can see how the blocks have helped us to derive a very simple drawing that is certainly giving us a very good idea of what the pose is doing. And as you can see, i can almost erase most of that leg and I can bring it down to the bare essence of capturing a pose. And that’s what we call a “gesture construct.” So I still have the dynamic movement on the active side. I have the gentle relaxed movement of the figure on this side. And what I’m dealing with is not just the gesture of the figure at this stage of my drawing. I’m dealing with proportion like – how far apart are the knees? How far apart are the feet? Is one foot higher than the other? Where are they located? How long is the arm? How wide is the torso to help tell where the torso is? And, I haven’t invested in a lot of detail but I can minimize the amount of erasing I’m going to do. From this stage I will then move into completing my construct and this is where I’ll start to move into small proportions and blocking anatomical landmarks.


I came out of this with a heightened attention to detail, and practical knowledge of how to make a graphite drawing to a high degree of finish – in stages. I can see how doing more of these copies would improve the accuracy of my drawing.
– Jon, Drawing the Bargue