Only Human, After All: 10 Dos and Don’ts When Drawing People


There’s a Gary Larson cartoon that makes me laugh. It’s a scene of complete disaster, an apocalypse. Buildings are on fire, King Kong is on the rampage, emergency vehicles race past and panicking citizens run hither and thither. In the foreground, two dogs have just met. They touch noses and wag their tails. It’s the end of the world, but the dogs only have eyes for each other. It’s the same for us – we are fascinated by our fellow humans. Above all the things in the world I could choose to draw, I love drawing people.

Most of all I like to draw my family and friends, because I am a sentimental fool and looking at sketches of my loved ones makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Conversely, when I look at photos, I feel sad and nostalgic for a time that is past. I haven’t figured out why sketches make me happy and photos make me sad but I have a couple of theories. I think it’s that a sketch is the touch of a fellow human, whereas a photo is a trick of a machine, a pale imitation of life, enough to make you miss the person in the image, but not enough to conjure up their soul.

Drawing people can be hard. For one thing, they move. For another, unless you get the drawing just so, they won’t look like the person you’re trying to capture. That might not matter – it depends on your confidence and your general outlook as an artist – but most people want to capture something of the look of their subject. So here are a few tips on how to make drawing people more satisfying.

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