Charcoal Sketching: Capture People in Motion

Believe it or not, you can compare drawing to physical exercise. Say you’re about to go running. Before you start, it’s best to warm up and get your muscles loose. The same goes for drawing. From experience, I know that the first lines I make aren’t going to be great. It’s only after I let my hand get the feel for the charcoal/pen/pencil that I draw things I am happy with.

Learn a simple charcoal sketching exercise by drawing people in motion.

Person in motion with charcoal

Vine charcoal is the perfect tool for practicing how to draw people in motion. It’s light and easy to smudge and erase. Since it isn’t compressed, the material makes marks effortlessly on the page. So, you can convey the fluidity of movement with just a few strokes of your charcoal stick.

Tools for this exercise

Person in motion with charcoal - tools

This drawing warmup requires very little in the way of tools. Just grab a few sticks of vine charcoal and some drawing paper, and you’re good to go. I’m using a pad of basic sketching paper, but if you have newsprint, I’d recommend that. It’s cheaper a option. Plus, the paper isn’t as nice, which is great — you don’t feel the need to craft a masterpiece on it.

Step 1: Find people in motion.

People in motion with charcoal - drawing

I enjoy drawing moving people because it means that I can’t spend too long on that sketch. Your models (whether they know it or not) are going to move, so this means that you’ll have to start over. When drawing a still life or from a picture, you might feel the need to spend longer on the drawing than necessary.

People in motion  - sketch

So, where do you find people? I happen to live in an urban setting and can see people waiting for the train right outside my building. I’m using them as my subjects. But, if you don’t have that option, here are a few suggestions:

  • Getting someone in your home or studio to pose for you. Even if it’s just 10 quick poses, that’s great!
  • Travel. If the weather is nice and you’re going to draw at the park, why not add in this exercise beforehand?
  • Watching TV or video. This is helpful, especially if you are watching Netflix. Pause the video for a minute, sketch, play and repeat.

Remember, this doesn’t have to be anything too formal. It’s supposed to be fun, easy and not serious.

Step 2: Sketch for one minute

People in motion with charcoal - drawing

This exercise doesn’t require a lot of time or attention to detail — each pose will only last for a minute! Try your best to keep it to that length of time and move on. Don’t worry about how it looks, whether things are in exact proportions, or if you made a small mistake. We’re just warming up our hands and eyes.

People in motion with charcoal - drawing

Do 10 to 20 poses that are all about a minute long and use a timer if you can. It’s amazing how many figures and pages of sketches you can amass during that time!

Tip: Think long, sweeping lines.

Drawing with charcoal

It’s not hard to time yourself for a minute, but it’s often tricky to figure out just how to draw that fast. The key is to make long, sweeping strokes. Don’t focus on the details like hair or clothing — you won’t have time for that. Instead, record their essence. Was the person bending over? How much weight are they putting on one foot? Are their arms stretched?

It always helps me to sketch a line that divides the center of their body. From there, I draw the head, a line for the shoulders, hips and arms. If I have time, I quickly record more details until the time is up!

Tip: Don’t erase (if you can help it)

Drawing with charcoal - demo smudging

This goes back to the time crunch. If you make a mistake, try smearing your drawing rather than spending time erasing it. Be prepared to get your hands dirty!

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