Angie Hauch of Urban Sketchers Chicago used her skills as an animator to help artists become more comfortable with sketching the bustling people of Chicago. Her tips proved quite valuable…

Lead Image: Angie Hauch’s quick sketches of figures in the rain — a useful resource for a painter who down the line may wish to paint a rainy scene

“It’s really hard to incorporate a figure in real-time observation,” Hauch admits. “You often only have about five seconds to see what they are doing before they leave your view.”

Hauch’s quick sketches of figures
Hauch’s quick sketches of figures

During a recent workshop organized by Urban Sketchers Chicago, Hauch helped her fellow sketchers out with a few pointers. “We sat for an hour and drew hundreds of people walking toward us,” she says. “In the course of doing that, you build up a muscle memory. In animation, we talk about moving images quite a bit, about how from one frame to the next, which things are going to be different and what information needs to be presented to the audience. An animator has to ask, What is about the particular pose that I want to present?”

Participants in the figure-sketching event run by the Urban Sketchers Chicago sit and depict pedestrians as they happen by.
Participants in the figure-sketching event run by the Urban Sketchers Chicago sit and depict pedestrians as they happen by.

The result of the exercise is simple line drawings. “You’re not going to want to show them on your blog to impress people,” says Hauch. “But you will learn what is actually happening when someone shifts their weight from one foot to the other — toes up, toes down, heels up, heels down. An action repeated can be learned. Everybody does this with their feet when they walk. So what makes one person different from another? Maybe it’s how their coat was flying up in the wind.”

Quick sketch by Hauch from the beach, demonstrating the essential lines of a gesture
Quick sketch by Hauch from the beach, demonstrating the essential lines of a gesture

Another tip from the animator is to remember the advice from life-drawing class and internalize the gesture. “In animation, you are trying to draw a line of action first, then fill in around it,” says Hauch. “I have everyone in the workshop start in vine charcoal, draw big, blocky shadowy figures, working as fast as they can. Do it 100 times with 100 different people so that it becomes internalized, so the next time you can concentrate on the details that make it look like the individual. Get a general understanding for what everyone’s hips do when they walk, or how it looks when people sit on a bench.”

Hauch sketch of a series of faces from an Urban Sketchers event
Hauch sketch of a series of faces from an Urban Sketchers event

Many artists know that it’s crucial to make a composite from various people you see, or in the studio from various reference photos. “Build up your sketchbooks; they will help you fill in the gaps,” says Hauch. “You may have needed just 10 more seconds to understand what they were doing with their hands. Don’t worry, you can go back to an old sketch in your journal and borrow from that. Learn the way a dress shirt usually has a fold in the middle of a man’s back. The fabric is pulling this way across the body. That’s all you need, one line. Then go back and see what else happens on a dress shirt. Your drawings end up being a composite of what you observed.”

The various sketchbooks from participants depicting people during the Urban Sketchers Chicago event
The various sketchbooks from participants depicting people during the Urban Sketchers Chicago event

In short, sketching convincing figures is about muscle memory and internalizing the gesture. “You do have to pull a lot from your mind because people are moving,” says Hauch. “So practice!”

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