Bring Energy and Life to Your Poses!
Learn how to express balance and force using action lines to bring more life to your poses! Artist Eridey explains with illustrated examples how to create dynamic poses for your characters.
Understanding the figure
To draw a pose correctly, you don’t need to always carry an anatomy book with you. It’s not as difficult as it seems: observation and practice are your best tools. If at any point you get curious about trying something new (which I hope you do), it never hurts to take a look at that anatomy book.
Even if your drawing style is far from realistic, the aspects that make a pose interesting and credible remain the same: strength, rhythm, action lines, construction and perspective.
Your closest reference is yourself. If you look at yourself in front of a mirror and start moving, you will notice that your body works as a single element.
When you raise an arm, the arm is not the only part of your body that moves, unlike how the removable extremities of dolls work. The changes in your body don’t resemble figure A, right? For example, your shoulder also lifts, and many other parts of your body adapt to the movement as in figure B.
This is what observation means: paying attention to the details and characteristics of the body.
Strength and rhythm
Your characters move thanks to their inner strength. They can walk, jump, dance… whatever comes to mind! But unless they are floating in space, it is not the only force that acts on them, as gravity makes their feet stay on land.
When two or more forces interact with each other, a rhythm is set, which provides balance and sense to the movement.
If your character is pushed to the left, his body will fall in that direction (A), unless he puts up resistance to stand (B).
If the character wants to pull something that refuses to move, his body will lean in the opposite direction. Obviously, once the cat gives in to the force, your character will fall, as the cat was what kept him standing.
Strength and rhythm provide a lot of visual information you can work with: the weight of your character (1), the balance of his pose (2) or the lack of it (3).
The action line is the imaginary guide that indicates your character’s movement. It focuses on actions and helps to unify the whole figure.
Below you can see a couple of examples where strength, rhythm and action lines interact together.
The character (1) has a relaxed stance, resting on her right arm. In the figure (2), we can see her action line, which covers her whole body up to the foot. The shape is slightly similar to an S.
We can see it is a relaxed pose because her weight rests on a single point (3) and all she needs is to keep the balance with her left foot, which remains taut while the right one is resting.
The next pose is more dynamic, so there are more things going on in this image.
This time you can see three action lines, but the most important are (1) and (2), the ones that really tell the story. The first one covers the whole figure from head to toe, and the second one goes in the opposite direction, keeping the balance and forming an X. The third one simply provides greater stability to the pose.
In this drawing we can see that there is a force that pushes the character in the opposite direction to her gaze. Elements such as the hair, the clothes and the dust on the floor suggest that the force comes from the right side, and as these elements are light, they are affected by the speed with which this force acts.
However, this girl wants to overcome this force with her own strength. She has no intention of losing the fight.
This time, our character is a baseball player. He’s spinning his body to get enough momentum and counter the ball’s force to hit it far away. Don’t you get the impression that it will be a home run even though you haven’t seen how the scene ends yet? It’s the magic of anticipation. If you know how to properly handle the strength, rhythm, and action lines correctly, you will be able to guide the spectator along the path you have set. This is very important for any comic artist.
It’s important that you don’t overpopulate your drawing with too many action lines, because it could confuse the character’s intention, make the force go in different directions, and take the emphasis away from the most important action.
The body is quite complex and it is difficult to draw correct proportions and move away from the 2D plane. I recommend you shape a base that helps you discern the volume of each element. To do this, we will use geometric figures such as spheres, cubes and cylinders to represent the structure of the body.
These figures can be freely rotated, stretched, flexed, and twisted according to the pose.
These figures represent the direction of the different elements of the body. You must pay special attention to the limits of the joints, since at a certain point you have to turn or twist the body to keep moving in that direction, changing drastically the pose.
With practice, this process gets simpler. The better you understand how the figure works, the fewer guides you will need.
Perspective turns the 2D plane into a 3D one and adds more depth and visual richness to the composition than just looking at it from a frontal plane.
The eye level or horizon line represents the actual height of the viewer’s eyes (1), and the vanishing points are the lines projected from a point on the horizon (2). The following image has a perspective with two vanishing points with which we can appreciate two faces of the figure.
The body is more intricate, but the principle is the same. For example, this figure’s feet and hands are smaller due to the perspective, and even suggest us how we should project the vanishing point lines.
Action poses always look more dramatic when the perspective is exaggerated. Even when the poses are not entirely realistic, the figures seem credible and the scenes look more interesting.
I recommend you to practice and read about perspective as much as possible, as it is not something you can master in a day. Analyze as many references as you can. Eventually, you’ll end up seeing vanishing points everywhere.
You can speed up and improve your observation skills by drawing poses using photos or actual people as a reference and setting a short time limit for it. The aim is to capture the essential information of the figure and, of course, to draw as many poses as possible.
This exercise will also help you to increase your confidence when drawing. Don’t be afraid to draw the first line, and even if you make a mistake, avoid erasing the lines. Try to focus and draw clean, clear lines.
Below you can see some examples of poses that I have drawn within 45 to 60 seconds:
At first, focus on drawing the whole body with smooth lines. Then, if you have more time, detail and build the shape better.
Don’t be afraid to draw what you don’t see or what is hidden, as it will give you a better idea of the figure’s structure.
Try to exaggerate the lines. It makes them softer and more credible, however crazy it sounds.
Unless the model is in a very rigid posture, try to avoid straight lines. The most natural poses are built with curves.
I hope these tips have been helpful!
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Thank you so much for reading this article!