People use the stick man to guide them along in their sketches way too much. I go to class and many people draw that stick figure guy before any shape of the model is attempted. I've seen portfolios with that stick man peeking through. I’ve even seen commercials with the stick man acting and posing for the audience.
I don’t like him! When he’s used in a gesture sketch he gets in the way of rhythm and clarity. I understand why people draw him - Line of action, forms, volume. That’s been the whole excuse for his existence. I guess he was used in beginning art classes to simplify gesture to the most rudimentary state so we could grasp the idea of anatomy and form - but the problem is he’s never left our brains and a lot of artists still depend on him as a friend, but he’s not!!!
Maybe I’m being a little insensitive to Mr. stickman but maybe a contour approach is worth considering.
In the beginning of a sketch we want to start building the pose out. I like to start with the abstract shape as I build the sketch. Those lines that I put down and commit to are usually contour lines that I will use – and if not use - closely guide me to the final product.
When students watch me sketch some interrupt and say “oh you’re outlining.” But that’s not true, I’m building lines around the shapes in my head. I’m trying to have foresight in my approach. Thus not having extraneous lines that get in the way of lines and shapes that matter. I believe that we all can project the line of action in our heads as we develop the sketch and look for the gesture.
Here’s an example of what I mean. After doing this sketch below I retraced the strokes that it took to complete them. Mr. Stickman took approx, 24 strokes and Ms. Foresight-Contour girl took approx, 28 strokes. It took roughly about the same effort to draw Ms. Foresight as it did drawing Mr. Stickman.
As I finished the sketch on the right I was able to use lines that I started with and counting strokes aside, the lines became more valuable. Mr. Stickman’s lines are always going to be conflicting with his final lines. I also get more for my money by thinking about other principles as I draw, such as acting, straights against curves, squash and stretch, body twists, stability and weight.
In this example the drawing on the left shows where I started using lines that matter. The right one shows the same lines put to good use without any inner lines getting in the way. You can say that I’ve developed a new kind of stick figure using curved and straight rhythm lines that contour the shape of the model to reach my final sketch.
It’s not always easy to grasp and it takes a lot of drawing and sketching time to feel comfortable excluding internal line work. Some artists are naturals but if you’re like me it takes a lot of good practice.
On these last pieces I started with this whole approach and you can see faint lines within the final drawing where I was building shapes. There are no stickman lines at all with in the interior and that makes me very happy.
I’ve talked enough. I’ll leave you with advice that Walt Stanchfield gave me when I asked “how can I improve?” He simply said…