Drawing male and female anatomy

If you’re going to be drawing webcomics, one of the things you will almost inevitably have to do at some point is draw a person. Since we are surrounded by people (or images of people at the very least) every day, we have become very good at recognising when a drawing of a person does not look right. Learning to draw humans (or a passable facsimile of a human) is one of the entry-point skills you will need if you are going to be a success at making webcomics.

Before I go any further in this article I would like to take a second to state that what I suggest here is in addition to taking art classes. Some people have left comments, or e-mailed me (or even simply gone off and made jokes on forums) about how in a previous article I suggested copying other artists as a way of learning to draw.

Male and female forms from the NASA Pioneer plaque

Male and female forms from the NASA Pioneer plaque

The fact is I didn’t intend that to be the message for that article; which was about finding your style and identifying your weaknesses by comparing your work to that of other artists. Nothing beats getting a thorough grounding in art by taking a decent art course; and everything you read here should be taken on as an addition to that course.

Now, back to the discussion. Let’s put society aside and look at the human form from a purely aesthetic standpoint. Taking even the most average, slightly overweight people with the usual level of muscle development that comes with a Western lifestyle, it’s easy to spot a load of differences between the male and female form.

Height Differences

First of all, there’s the issue of height. Unless you’re looking at a particularly tall woman or short man, the average man will be an inch or two taller than the average woman. This is well worth remembering when laying out your comic pages. Unless your Western women are tall (or wearing heels, etc.), the top of their heads should be anywhere from around 3 to 6 inches lower than the top of their male counterpart’s head. This is based on average height data taken from the United Kingdom and United States, so feel free to adjust it to fit with wherever your characters come from.

It’s also worth noting that if your characters are travelling in time, this height difference will change. Western people are generally taller now than they were in the past (I’m not as well versed on the changes in other parts of the world but if you’re setting stories there, I’m going to assume you know a bit about those locales so feel free to leave comments on this) so when travelling backwards in time, it’s entirely possible for your characters to tower over their ancestors; or at least be a few inches taller. See all those centuries-old vampires on TV? How are they not short-arses compared to modern folk? Totally breaks the suspension of disbelief.

Differences in Limb Length?

When I was learning to draw people, one of the more commonly-held beliefs was that women had longer legs and shorter torsos than men, who were more equally proportioned above and below the waist. This is generally not true in life, as you can quickly tell from measuring a person or even looking at a photograph.

The illusion of difference comes from women usually having a more defined hip-to-waist definition, caused by the way fat is distributed on their bodies when compared to men; which has the effect of appearing to lower the waist height on a man. In truth, the average person’s legs constitutes about 60 percent of their height, regardless of whether they are male or female.

Heads, Shoulders and Hips

It has probably not escaped your attention that most men have wider shoulders than women; although this is, again, somewhat down to genetics. Going by averages again, a man’s shoulders will be around 1.5 times the width of his head, while a woman’s will be around the same width as her head.

Male heads are often slightly longer than female heads, too. In general, a male face will have a longer lower half in the form of a more elongated upper lip and jawline. Note also the higher likelihood of a squared jaw on men. This can be useful to know when your characters meet differently-gendered versions of themselves from other universes, for example.

Hand and Foot Proportions

Although it’s not a 100% accurate rule, a good guideline for properly-proportioned hands is that your hand can cover from your eyebrows to the bottom of your chin. It’s a useful defensive tool against anything that’s attacking your face, and it’s also a good way of measuring whether your character’s hands are the right size.

With regards to feet, there is no hard and fast rule. Although foot specialist websites are telling me the length of the average person’s foot is fifteen percent of their height, this is not a hard and fast rule. Foot size depends on both height and bone structure, with more heavily-built people usually having larger feet. Go with what looks right for your characters.

In summary, you can see from the constant references to averages and the fact that genetics plays a large part in a person’s overall shape, there are no hard and fast rules that you have to stick to. Use the information here as a guideline to getting an average person’s shape and then adjust it to your own needs.

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