Life Drawing

Taken from the online version of the Sheridan Portfolio Requirements. 
1. Observational Life Drawing -three drawings of a human figure (preferably nude, however, models wearing a swimsuit or bodysuit are acceptable)
• Any two of the above five drawings [human and animal drawings] should show stillness.
(e.g. the figure standing, sitting, crouching)
• Any three of the above five drawings
[human and animal drawings] should show the figure in motion (e.g. walking, running, pitching or batting a baseball)

Note: In the three Life Drawing sections above
[human figures, animal drawings and hand drawings], all figure drawings should be drawn from life, not from books or photographs. We are more interested in you demonstrating a knowledge of structure than the ability to use shading on your drawings.
 ***Photographs of nude figures below; if you'd rather not see them, don't scroll past "BLOCKING IT IN". But if you're planning on going to school for animation or any art, you better get used to it.  You have been warned! ;)


In this section, I'm going to talk a little bit about getting started with life drawing and what you should be aiming for your drawings to look like for your Sheridan Animation portfolio.

If you are reading this blog and thinking about applying to Sheridan in the near future and have never done any life drawing before, you should probably start NOW.
Life drawing is one of the more important parts of the animation portfolio and it takes time to get good at it. And even when you think you're good at it, you're not there just yet. It takes years of practice to get good with any aspect of drawing, and since drawing from life is such an invaluable thing to do, you need to start as soon as possible to start improving your drawing skills.

If you're still in high school, it's possible that some studios that deal with nude life drawing won't allow you to join their life drawing class until you reach a certain age. That was how it was for the studio that I drew at, but I'm not sure about how common that is. If that is the case, look into clothed modelling, or ask friends and family members to do some poses for you to practice on. Preferably, the model should be wearing tighter clothing so you can get a better idea of the form underneath them.

Depending on where you live, you might have trouble finding a studio that hosts life drawing sessions. But look around! It's very important that you start early. Ask your local art store if they know of any studios that teach it or have open sessions. Google life drawing in your area, search on craigs list, ask any artists you might know that live near you.

For starting out, it would be best to go to a life drawing class with an instructor. An instructor will be able to guide you with drawing the human form, teach you what to use, how to use it, how to observe the model and they'll be more knowledgeable about different techniques and teaching how to draw quick poses vs long poses. That would be the best option, but it's not something that's available to everybody. And classes can get pricey depending on your financial situation.

Fortunately we live in a time where people post a lot of things online with sites like youtube and blogger and such. I'll be posting a lot reference material just from the internet because there are so many great examples available already, by people much more professional and experience than myself, so it would be a shame not to show them.


So if you don't have access to a life drawing class with an instructor, but you've found an open session where anybody can pop in and draw, you should start as soon as you possibly can.

You will not become good at life drawing over night. Not even a week or a month. You'll most definitely improve, but you must keep at it, doing it at least once a week if you want to see improvements.  Life drawing, like all art forms, take a life time to perfect, so it's never too late to start.

Each studio will vary with how their life drawing setup is done. Some are more professional with good lighting, a good stage for the model to pose on and a good amount of space for the artists to sit anywhere 360 degrees around the model. Some studios might be a little more easy going and  have regular tables and chairs, they might be more specific about their lighting because they have certain "regulars" who want the lights a certain way. Whatever kind of studio you're drawing at, focus on what you need to get done and get better with.

Things that you'll need for your life drawing session:

NEWSPRINT is very popular and cheap for doing life drawings on. It's great for gestures. It's a really good idea to draw bigger than you probably do normally because you want to be able to block in shapes and make some nice loose lines, and once you start drawing too small, you're not moving your whole arm to draw the pose and your drawing usually tends to be more stiff and lifeless.

I would suggest using CONTE when doing your life drawings. Conte can be tricky to use, but it's a really good starting tool because you can get a wide variety of line thickness and tones which is super for life drawing. Try getting some that's not too soft, you don't want it to feel like smudgey pastel and get black dust everywhere (it'll happen a lot though, and it'll get on your face and nobody will tell you about it :p ). And one that's not too hard either, since you don't want to have to press too hard on the page to get a decent line.

A KNEADABLE ERASER is great for life drawing! You can do a lot more with it than you can a regular eraser. You can squish it into any point that you need, or you can use it to "dab" at your drawing to easily lighten an area. Because it's soft it's less likely to rip your newsprint, which is pretty thin.

If this is your first life drawing session and you've never seen a nude human figure before, you're probably going to feel a little uncomfortable for the first little while (usually with the nude males :p). But don't fret! It gets much easier. You'll eventually start thinking of the model as an object to draw rather than the naked elephant in the room.

 Before you go out for your life drawing session, do some internet searches for life drawing or the human body. It's hard to know what you should be aiming to achieve if you don't have any guidance and there are tons of life drawings posted online by industry professionals!

Here are some great life drawing examples:

Gnass Studios
 Eddie Pittman Life Drawing
Dave Pimentel 
 Francis Vallejo
Moro Rogers
Rad How To
Rob Jacobs Life drawing
Article on life drawing 1
Article on life drawing 2
Drawing Force

And there are tons more all over the internet, you just gotta look in the right places.
If you like some in particular, print some out and bring them with you to you life drawing session. They can serve as a source of inspiration for you when you feel stuck or don't know what direction to go in. You can learn a lot from seeing how other people approach drawing, but make sure to draw from life as much as you you can. It's usually pretty obvious when an amateur artist has copied from a photo, because it tends to be more flat and stiff, so avoid doing it!
There are so many different artists that post their work online, and it's good to view a wide variety of styles to see what the possibilities are and to find something you might like to work towards. Don't try to flat out copy the way someone else works, but feel free to try and make it look like theirs, try a bunch of different styles, it'll help you get a hang of what works and what doesn't and you'll soon start to pick up things and learn what works for you.
Don't get frustrated if your drawings don't turn out too good. This happens to everyone. Even the people that are good and have been drawing for years, they have off days too where everything comes out looking terrible. If you do get frustrated, try to turn it into motivation to get better, just don't give up!

For the first while, you're probably going to draw really slow, but you'll learn to speed up and know how much time you have to draw for each time length. Chances are there will be a lot of unfinished drawings while you get used to drawing in the time limits.


Gesture Drawing
A gesture drawing is a quick drawing where you try to capture the movement and fluidity of the human body. A gesture can be drawn in a time span of a few seconds to a few minutes (up to 5 perhaps). Gestures can vary between artists, some like working within a few seconds, and some find it hard to do so. They're also used to "warm up" in a life drawing session, because it get's you thinking and moving loosely and quickly, to try and get as much information from the pose as possible. Gestures are very important in animation because in animation we study movement and what better way to study something than to draw it, right? But movements are often fast! People or animals walking or running, that's what you have to scribble it down as fast as you can. A lot of times gestures can turn out looking awful, but that's okay too. Not every drawing has to turn out great, because that's how you're going to learn, by drawing and making those bad drawings. So just keep going!

Sustained/Longer Poses
Long poses can range from around 5 minutes to infinity, I guess! but nobody's going to pose for THAT long. The longest pose I've ever drawn for was 3 hours. It was a in depth workshop at the studio I was studying at.
We usually did a 1 hour long pose with some breaks near the end of every regular session. For the breaks, the instructor would place pieces of tape around the model and we would refer to our drawings to see precisely where the model was before the break. Longer poses can be good too because it gives you a chance to really think and observe what's going on under all the skin and draw more as a study of the human body. Typically though, the model will start out with gestures and the poses will gradually slow down to about maybe a half hour pose. It really depends on the place you go to and the model. Models tend to like doing longer poses because there's less effort involved (although posing takes great strength and effort on it's own!) and some of them read books while posing if they're lying down or sitting ;)

Things to think about when drawing
When you first start drawing, you want to have some understanding of the human body. You know what a skeleton looks like, right? Well you should be thinking about the structure underneath the pose; what's holding the body up? Well there's bones and then there's muscles and the skin lies on top of those. You want to start with a blocking pass which is a somewhat quick, light under drawing of the human figure. Don't just start with drawing one part and adding details on it because by the time you finish the drawing, everything's going to be out of wack! You won't be able to get a good sense of proportion, and you might end up drawing off the page because you didn't account for the size or position of the drawing when you first started it.

Don't worry about getting certain details in. Things like defining facial features or scars or piercings, chest hair and tattoos aren't important at this point. You need to learn the basic shapes of what makes up the human body first.

Proportion is very important with you life drawings. If your figure is drawn with a head that's too big or too small, things are going to look weird. Or maybe you've drawn the legs too short and the arms too long, they might start looking like an ape! Whatever size, shape and height your figure is, it needs to be in proportion to the rest of it. Getting things in proportion will take time for you to get after you've been looking at figures a lot more than usual. If you're unsure whether you've got good proportion going on in your drawing, ask some body else if they can notice anything that looks weird. If you're drawing in a life drawing class there are going to be other artists who have been drawing the human figure probably longer than you have, so they might have a better idea if something's off. If you start noticing a pattern with what you're getting out of proportion, it's probably a good idea to focus on that part to make sure you start getting better with it.

 Showing a good sense of weight can be tricky, but if you get it right it really adds a lot of believability to your drawing. Weight doesn't only mean how heavy the model actually is, but it applies to what body parts are carrying that pose's weight; which legs is more tense and which is more relaxed? Is the model holding something in one hand that is making the muscles more tense? Is the model leaning towards one side more than the other? These are a few things to think about when drawing the weight of a pose.

You want to make sure that your figure feels like it's taking up space on your page, giving the illusion of being real and 3-dimensional. Overlapping lines can help your drawing feel like it has volume, since showing that one things overlaps another means that's it's taking up enough space to block the visibility of another part. This happens often when something is in perspective; the part that is closer to us will be overlapping a part that's behind it. Perspective is sometimes harder to draw right, but if it's done correctly it can work really well for your pose. Because a drawing is actually just a flat rendering of what we're seeing in real life, we have trick our eyes to make it seem like it has volume and is 3 dimensional, because just a plain drawing is actually flat. So whatever is closer to us, we draw bigger, and if something is further away from us, we draw it smaller. This is also called foreshortening, when we draw something smaller or bigger because of the perspective. Overlapping things subtly is often a good idea, you'll notice it happening a lot in the human body, even when something is not obviously in perspective. Volume can also be related to proportion, making sure that your volumes stay consistent, for example that one arm isn't thicker than the other if they're not in the same view plane.

Line Quality
While not one of the most important things at an earlier stage, line quality can help your drawing, giving it more feeling of weight and volume. It's related to volume in a way because it's also used for giving the illusion of perspective; if something is further away from us, it would be drawn lighter and if something is closer to us, we would draw it darker. Similarly, you can use line thickness to show weight; if one leg is holding most of the weight, you might want to draw the lines darker to make it feel stronger, and then the leg that's not holding the weight, it might not be as important in the pose so you might draw it a little lighter. You can vary the line with how thick it gets and how dark you draw with it. A thin line can also be good to add details with, and a thick line can be used for blocking. Both can add to your drawing. For a gesture, it would probably be better to work with a thicker edge because you probably won't have time to fiddle with a thin line and add details. You want to block out the rough shapes and then carry on with defining the pose with a smaller edge.
These are things the Sheridan portfolio reviewers are going to be looking for all throughout your portfolio, so don't just think this only applies to your life drawing. That's why life drawing is so important with learning to draw because there is just so much to learn from it. All aspects of  life drawing applies to all forms of drawing and animation.


You're going to want to start off with blocking in things like the shoulders and hips, look for the angles that they're making. The spine is very important because everything's connected to it, it's the core of the body. Mark where the bottoms of the feet are and make some connecting lines for the legs. The head and the angle it's facing is good to show. There isn't necessarily an order of what to draw first, but it's good to start off with the line of action.

The line of action can be summed up as being one loose line that describes the whole pose. When you first observe the pose, what is the model doing? Are they standing up completely straight, or maybe they're crouching down and their back is bent. Doing the line of action is a good way to get started because you block in the main pose the body is in with a single line. It gets you started and make you think of the body as a whole and it keeps you loose.

Here I made an example of how I might draw out a pose. I start with the line of action, then mark down the angles of the hips and continue on to make a finished drawing. (This was drawn on the computer so don't mind if it's not perfect. It's different drawing on the computer rather than on real paper and in front of a real model with a timed pose).
Don't feel that your blocking pass needs to be perfect, it's not going to be. I found that I had blocked in her left arm too close to her head so as I went I changed it because it wasn't going to look right in the end and her pose wouldn't be as balanced, since she's using her arms to balance her pose.

At this point, you shouldn't be worried about making your drawing look like the model. My drawing has more "curviness" and is a bit shorter than the model. But that's ok because I've got the pose down. I can see small things like the model's right arm is lifted higher than in my drawing and her torso is a bit straighter too, and the head is a bit too big in my drawing. But these are things that will come with practice (I haven't been life drawing since being out of school!)

Photography © Marcus Ranum -

There are many different ways to do a blocking pass, but you need to find what works for you. Experiment and see what works and what doesn't. You don't have to commit to doing it only one way, you can approach each drawing completely differently, because each pose can be very unique and one technique might or might not work for a certain pose.
When you're done your drawing, whether it's finished or not, good or bad, you can mark down how long the pose was (which I did with the "5", though I cheated for this) because it'll help you after the drawing session. You'll be able to see at what times are you drawing well at, and when you're struggling. If you never come out with a finished pose from a 5 minute pose, maybe that means you should start speeding up a bit. And sometimes you'll like a drawing and say "Wow, I did that in 1 minute!".
We are told to do this at Sheridan too because when we hand in our life drawing portfolios, the teachers like to see what we can accomplish in a certain time frame.


I've found quite a few very good video examples from industry professionals and life drawing teachers. Here I will share them with you. I suggest you watch them all if you're a beginner with life drawing, they will help show you what you should be doing.

I feel that these are very good examples of how you should aim to be drawing. The way he draws feel very animation friendly. You can see how he starts the drawing with a line of action that describes the pose. He varies his line too.
The first pose in the second video is a great example of an action pose!

These videos have some good tips on life drawing. Notice how the first artist and the second one draw quite differently.

Mark McDonnell has a bunch of great video tutorials online! I really like how loose he works. He's working in pen in this video and usually stylizes his drawings more so than artists in the videos before. To see more go to his youtube channel: Mark McDonnell's YouTube Channel

I would suggest not stylizing your life drawings for your Sheridan Animation portfolio because you're trying to show a solid understanding of the human figure and once you start stylizing your drawings, things start to get distorted and you might change things too much. You will have the opportunity to learn different styles later on in the animation program. But for now, keep it fairly realistic.

Here's two videos of a bunch by Glen Vilppu (really well known life drawing teacher). In these he talks about proportion and mentions things like landmarks which are really important with figure drawing. You can see more of his videos here: Glen Vilppu's YouTube Channel

Here's two videos by Mike Mattesi, known life drawing expert. He has a few books out about the FORCE in poses. I find his drawings very appealing. Unfortunately there's only small snippets of his video tutorials on youtube, so I picked two that might help the most. The first has some pretty loud music so watch out! But it shows a bunch of little bits of his drawings which might give you some ideas. The second video has some good advice about gravity and weight of a pose.

How to draw the human head from any angle.


If you've read this far, I hope this has helped you to understand a little better what is expected of you for your life drawings for the animation portfolio.
You are going to have to work really hard to train yourself to do the best that you can because you are going to be competing for a spot against over a thousand applicants that might have a lot more drawing experience than you.
It will take a lot of practice to see improvements in your drawings, and it's not going to be easy. You need to start life drawing as soon as you possibly can and practice, practice, practice!
Don't expect to be good over the span of a few weeks. Preferably, you should start life drawing several months, or even a year before you're applying to the program.
Even when you're applying don't expect to have life drawings that are of the quality of the artists above. Chances are it's not likely to happen since they've all been drawing for years! But you should always set a goal and aim to be as good as them, or even better!


There are certain things you should be watching out for when life drawing, either things to do, or things to avoid. I'll share as many as I can remember with you.

Shading isn't something you should concern yourself with at this point with your life drawings (and other parts of the portfolio). You can have them, but try to avoid them consuming your drawing. Our first year life drawing teacher would always say that a lot of people try to make a poor drawing good by adding shadows, and while the artist thinks it improves the drawing, people can see right through it where it's lacking. So use it minimally, unless you find that it really needs it.

Hands and Feet
Always, always, always draw the hands and feet in a pose. Hands and feet can be terribly hard, especially for beginners, but do not avoid drawing them! Sheridan wants to see the hands and feet in your poses, so make sure to get in lots of practice. If you don't have them in a life drawing that you hand in for your portfolio, it's going to show that you don't know how to draw them and that's not good. The trick with hands and feet though, is that you don't have to draw them with all their details. You can block them in and find a way to simplify what you see. Feet need to be in there to show the weight of the pose properly. With only a few lines, you can show all that is needed of the feet. Hands often are an extension of the pose, and they can be very expressive, put them in!

Posing with an Object
If the model is holding an object, draw it in! If they're using a box to rest their foot on, or if they're sitting on a stool, draw it in! You don't have to match details exactly but block it in because it's part of the pose. It's not great to see a drawing where the model is sitting but there's no indication of what they're sitting on, so it looks like they're floating! Often times models use long sticks to pose with, these are really important to clock in with the pose because they usually put their weight on it, or they're lifting it in the air which affects their muscles.

Drawing What You See
Don't feel that you need to draw exactly what you see. What I mean by that is you're allowed to take certain liberties with the pose, for example exaggerating the model's pose can be a good idea. Sometimes the model might be in a stiff or boring pose. If you push the pose your drawing might come out better. Same with if a limb is really awkward, or flat, feel free to change it slightly so that your drawing becomes more dynamic or interesting. This isn't going to be something that you're going to do right from the start, but it'll be a good idea to think about when you've got a lot more experience with life drawing.

Drawing Through
Drawing through is an important thing to do when drawing. What it means is that you would continue drawing a certain line even if it's covered by another body part, you'd want to draw that line anyway to make sure everything is connecting properly. A lot of times amateur artists don't draw through and two lines that should be connected, don't work together. This can really bring down the quality of your drawing right away. The drawn through line doesn't have to be the same line quality or darkness of the rest of the line, but there should be some indication to show that those lines connect.

Landmarks was mentioned in one of the above videos, but I'll try to elaborate on them a little. There are parts of the human skeleton that can be seen on the surface of the skin, they give an idea of what shape the bones are and cause bumps or indents to be seen on the skin. They're used as landmarks for drawing because they help you think of what's going on with the skeleton and are consistent from person to person so it's a good way to keep the body in proportion because you can think about the structure underneath and compare the positions of the landmarks to each other. Some of the landmarks are the collar bones, c7 vertebrae at the back of your neck, the scapula,  the belly button (although not from bones, it's a landmark on the body), two indents above the butt (not sure about a name for it, but not everybody's shows up), ankles, knees, elbows, wrists, spine, pelvis bones, the leg joints at the pelvis (right under the hips) and the bottom of the ribcage above the belly button. There's a big muscle in the neck that is also important to draw, it helps give the neck structure and keeps it connected the the rest of the body. These are important to draw, it shows that you know they are important parts of the body. Some people's stick out more than others, so take a close look for some of them.



There are certain exercises that can help you with life drawing. Feel free to do any as they can help your understanding of the human body and improve your drawing skills.

Study the Human Body

It would be a good idea to have some knowledge of the human skeleton and muscle system. The images online won't be as in depth as a book might be, so go to your local library and see if there are any books on human anatomy that you can take out. You can also buy books off of Amazon since they almost always seem to have a huge selection, and they have books that might not be in print anymore. There are a lot of books that are specifically for drawing that have nice clearly drawn illustrations. Once you're pretty comfortable with life drawing, pick a different part of the body to study each time, and focus on understanding how it works and how to draw it. Same with hands and feet; study them in your class, for several poses, try drawing just the hands and feet until you start getting familiar with them.

Here's a list of books that can be of help to you with life drawing:
An Atlas of Anatomy for Artists
Force: Dynamic Life Drawing for Animators
Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist
Constructive Anatomy

Cafe Drawing
Cafe drawing is a good exercise to do to develop your gesture drawing, caricature skills and over all drawing skills. Bring a sketchbook to a food court or a coffee shop, or park or on the bus or subway and just draw! Anywhere where there are people, or animals, just sit for a good few hours and observe the people and draw them. It can be a lot of fun and you'll see a lot of different types of people, body shapes and sizes, expressions and attitudes. If you go to a food court on certain days, you might start noticing the "regulars" which is always fun. Be aware though that some people don't feel comfortable with being drawn, or stared at, so try not to make it obvious that you're drawing them. And be respectful, if someone is giving you dirty looks and it's clear they don't want you looking at them, move on to somebody else.

In Class Exercise
Along with drawing certain body parts to get good at them, there's an exercise you could try out in your class that will help you understand the direction that the body parts are going in. This one might be a bit tricky at first, but it will help with knowing how perspective affects the direction of the body parts. After you're warmed up in class and are on slightly longer poses, draw the figure made up of a bunch of cylinders. The head a cylinder, connected to the neck as a cylinder, connected to the chest as a cylinder, the lower body a cylinder, and so forth with the limbs.

Using the same photograph as before, I've drawn the direction of the body parts with cylinders. As you can see, the parts that are closer to you are wider and the parts further away get smaller.



These are the life drawings that I submitted in my Sheridan Portfolio back in 2006.
I had been attending life drawing classes for maybe a year and a half (with an instructor and without one for additional practice) so I had quite a bit of experience with life drawing when I was applying. Not everyone's life drawings look the same, some people would have spent more time on their drawings and others may have done them faster. At the studio I was learning at I was taught to do longer poses, and so the drawings I had in my portfolio were a little more 'Illustration-y' than animation. But as long as you show that you understand the human form (along with the things I've mentioned above) and you show a good sense of drawing ability, whichever kind of life drawing you send in should be okay.

Also, I think in that year, we had to have 2 life drawings showing motion, and 3 for stillness (since I don't seem to have a 3rd motion drawing and I don't remember having to do 3), so I had 2 still animal drawings, 1 reclining figure and 2 figures showing "motion".

Reclining Pose
I felt this was an interesting drawing because I really took advantage of the perspective and I think it turned out pretty well. I have a lot of little details which I was able to get down because it was an hour long pose. Lots of details on the hands and feet and really getting some good overlapping lines. In animation life drawing, you rarely do poses that are an hour or longer.

Figures in Motion, 5 minutes each
These 2 were not great drawings. They're ok, but with some obvious flaws. I wasn't taught to do faster poses, and the models never really did them, so we had to request for them to do some for our portfolio, and some of them didn't know how to do action poses. The male model is a doing a better pose than the woman, the woman's technically isn't an action pose, but I guess it passed as that since she's standing and seems to be doing something with her arms and legs, and it was a faster drawing than all the rest that I had. 5 minutes should probably be the cut off for an "action pose" I would say. You want to get in a good gesture, which isn't something I did in these drawings.

I added more life drawings to my portfolio, but they were for the Personal Pieces, which I will post in that section.

If I was to redraw these two now, they might look like this:

I would make the figures more solid, draw with a more confident line (I remember being really nervous while drawing the originals because I think it was the last possible life drawing class to get action poses for the portfolio). The woman's shoulders aren't very clear and have some structural problems, so I would make sure those make sense if I was to redraw it. There are a lot of lines that aren't necessary with the originals. I'd definitely simplify what I draw to what is important and what will help the drawing, not make it messy. The lines are also quite wiggly, I think that goes with being confident in the line you're putting down. I was also taught to draw surface lines with detail, but for animation, it's better to have a nice confident line than one that wobbles.
Of course if I was actually life drawing these poses again, I would try to be more gestural with them. I just drew over them on my computer to fix any structural and proportion issues.