Tutorial: Drawing the Female Figure

Tutorial Tuesday is here, and this week we’re going to tackle the Female Figure in comics. The basic tutorials and tips I’m going to discuss here applies to drawing females in your typical American mainstream action-hero style. You’ll notice that females vary greatly from genre to genre – you wouldn’t necessarily use some of the tips in this tutorial to draw females in manga, or if you were doing an Indie style comic where the females are normal in appearance. The women in mainstream comics tend to be hyper-sexualized, over proportioned and exaggerated idealistic forms, much like their beefcake counterparts on the male side. But – what you can take from this is the basic principles of anatomy.

For this lesson, I’ve used illustrations from Christopher Hart as a visual aid to explain my points. (These images are all copyrighted but I’m not looking to profit off this in any form, and these are merely used as examples.) His ‘how-to-draw’ books are an excellent source for aspiring comickers looking to start drawing on their own. Although some of the instructions are easy and for beginners, he offers a ton of insight on properly rendering anatomy and helping you understand the process in developing the characters that look real in terms of proportion and structure.

Okay – let’s begin.

The Major Muscles and Forms

The above diagram shows the major muscle groups found in the human body. You’ll note that the female variation features less emphasis on bulk, and more emphasis on tone. So when you’re drawing women in comics, there’s a few things you’ll need to consider. The arms and legs are slender and defined with smooth curves. On a man, the lines are more angular and rigid. Take note of how each part fluidly transitions into the next. There’s no exaggerated bulges or stretched muscle fibers.

In order to draw females, there’s a certain amount of exaggeration that goes into the curves of the breasts, hips, legs and glutes. Scientifically speaking, women have a higher percentage of body fat and it ends up in those spots, so it’s natural for women to be drawn a bit ‘curvier’ than they naturally are. This is typical in comics, since humans are drawn in that ‘idealistic’ view.

In mainstream comics, females are often ‘over-drawn‘ since they are mainly read my pubescent and adult males. The breasts, legs and buttocks are often made extremely shapely as ‘eye-candy’ for guys. They old adage ‘sex sells’ rings very true in comics, and it is the main reason why it is such a male dominated business. But you don’t need to objectify in order to draw females dynamically.

Drawing the Head & Features

The female head is drawn a bit differently than the heroic male. The jawline tapers to the chin, and the chin is drawn a lot smaller than a male’s chin. The eyes are drawn with a heavy emphasis on eyelashes, the nose is drawn with as minimal linework as possible, and as daintily as possible. The lips are full and drawn with strong definition. For more detailed explanations, look at the images below:

Female eyes focus on strong, dark lashes, thin eyebrows, and elegant shapes and linework. These examples show the female eye in various poses/directions.

The lips are drawn with exaggerated full shapes. The lips are drawn big and bold, and taper to the ends to create the corner of the mouth. The first drawing in this picture shows the 5 bulbous areas that define the shape of the lips. By making these curvy and pronounced, you can create a set of lips that are full and noticeable. Some artists will place a reflection or sheen to the lips to indicate lipstick or glossy lips.

Hair is often difficult to draw properly. In these diagrams, Christopher Hart shows the direction lines in which hair falls on a female head. Pay close attention to their direction, and you’ll get a sense of how to render hairstyles properly. For more resources, check out different hairstyles on the Internet – hair styles change so quickly that you don’t want to make your characters appear dated.

The side view of the female head shows the elegance of the curved lines and brings out the fullness of the lips, the subtlety of the chin and the delicate parts of the nose. This is in sharp contrast to the male head, which has stronger, angular features.

At 3/4 view, all the same rules apply. Strong eyes, full lips, small chin, subtle nose, and emphasis on the direction of the hair. Keep your line work smooth and generous with the curves.

The Upper Body

Judging from this illustration of the female torso, you’ll notice the lack of defined muscles. You can see a slightly defined area that denotes the bottom of the rib cage, full breasts, and a general ‘mass’ that indicates the position of the abs. If you render each of the ab muscles individually like you would with a male, your female character ends up looking a lot more muscular than you’re accustomed to seeing.

Another important item of note: pay close attention to the angles of the shoulders and the angles of the hips. They are always drawn at opposite angles of each other. You can get away with having the shoulders and hips at the same angle, but your figure will look more like a curved tube. The body rests naturally in that position (with the hips/shoulders at opposite angles), so keep that in mind the next time you’re drawing a torso.

Also, when you are drawing the area close to the neck, it is wise to clearly define the collarbone and some of the tendons leading to the base of the neck and head.

The hands are also a part that differs greatly between male and female. Where hands of a man are strong, angled and thick in shape, a woman’s hand is slender, graceful and comprised of smooth flowing curves to indicate softness. In comics, the most rugged drawn woman won’t be rendered with “man-hands” even if she’s a bare-knuckle brawler. Another defining element of female hands are long nails. A set of elongated nails will feminize hands significantly, so feel free to exaggerate the nails slightly. Try to keep the number of lines and creases to a minimum. This extra definition can make your hands appear more manly as well.

The Legs and Feet

In this action pose, you can see the extended leg, and the major parts of the leg superimposed overtop. You can see that there are a number of different muscles that make up the main form of the leg. Pay close attention to the length and position of these muscles, and where you are able to draw additional lines indicating tension and strain. Most artists just starting out tend to draw lines to show musculature in the wrong areas. These mistakes are easily noticeable, even to the untrained eye. They may not be able to explain why, but they can suspect something wrong. Don’t take your notes from the Rob Liefeld school of anatomy – learn your bones and muscles!

Now, in a standing pose, you’ll see how the muscles change in shape slightly. Muscles are like elastic bands. They stretch and contract, depending on the action involved. You can see in the above illustration that the muscles in the standing leg are shaped slightly different than the one that is bent. Always remember to maintain the proper proportions. Learning where these muscles are and how they appear in different situations will help you learn how to freehand draw legs and feet from memory to some degree of accuracy. Look at bodybuilding magazines or take in a few life drawing classes featuring models.

Exaggerate the Body Types

Since you’re building an idealized character, you must exaggerate certain characteristics in order to send the message that your character is a particular personality. From the above diagram, we can see six different character types, each with their own exaggerated and de-emphasized features. Just by adding a few simple lines to the abdominal area of the ‘typical’ woman in the diagram, you can indicate an ‘athletic character.’ By over emphasizing the muscles in the arms and legs, you can develop a heroine. By adding more curves in suggestive areas, you can create a bombshell. By subtracting certain elements in figure and form, you can create a young/shy looking female.

The list doesn’t stop at just six. Throw in additional factors like weight, ethnicity and emotional characteristics, and you open up a million other combinations for character development. In addition to that, injecting the comic style will also alter the rendering of a female character – Japanese Manga, European fantasy, Indie abstraction, and so on. Females will take on all sorts of shapes, sizes and features. Just remember some of the basics that were brought up in this tutorial, as they apply from genre to genre. Without these fundamentals, you’ll be stuck drawing androgynous looking characters – and that can rob your viewer from the connection they make with characters on an emotional level, since they can’t relate to someone of undefined sex.

That’s it! Again – I’d like to point out that the illustrations used as examples in this tutorial post are the property of Christopher Hart and the publishers of his books. If you like the work he’s done, support him by picking up his books. He has tons of great tutorial books on drawing all different kinds of things in comics – from vehicles to people to backgrounds. The library is extensive and well worth looking into.

See you next week!

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19 thoughts on “Tutorial: Drawing the Female Figure

  1. This is truly nice explained tutorials… Christopher Hart is one of great illustrator and mentor for comic books… I have some of his masterpiece; Heroes & Villains, Draw Great Looking Comic Book Women, Drawing Cutting Edge Comics, The Ultimate Guide For Comic Book Artists…

  2. He gets some flak for how simple his books are, but I think they have some really useful tips – even for advanced creators!

  3. This is extremely helpful! I have a much better understanding of the female figure now, thanks to this! Here’s to hoping it makes me a better artist! :) Thanks so much!

  4. Any tips for drawing women with glasses? I’ve experimented a little myself but can’t seem to get the eyes right behind them and I’m really struggling to find any worth while tutorial style help online.

  5. Pingback: drawing styles for comic books | Book Shop

  6. i have draw many things over the years and love to draw all sorts my biggest problem is “hips” female and the face of both men and women, where as hands are ok. and how all the naturall muscle groups lined out and explaind has already in proved my skill and the faces and lips are also great i cant exspress how help full this was

  7. I love drawing, but my characters looked like mush because I didn’t know the muscles behind the movements. This is a fanttastic website especially for those who just to to brush up on thier skills like me. :) Thanks for posting these :)

  8. Did you get the picture references from “How to Draw cutting edge comics”? Because I have that book, and this site has helped in drawing comic women, thanks. How can i post my work, scnners make my pencil sketches look fuzzy? Anyway cool site, I really wish I didn’t mis place my book, Also is “how to draw comic book anatomy” a good reference guide as well?

  9. Drawing the female figure? Flashing a big wad of cash, (works better than sticking a roll of quarters in your jock). Sketching a female figure for comics/manga and illustrations? Well what she said covers it. Best bet is to read several tutorials. Then PRACTICE, a lot. After you’ve done a few hundred your proud of, then practice more, with challenge outside your comfort zone. Draw in dirt, on window condensation and on old newsprint with a piece of charcoal. If you get overdrawn? Try painting.

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