Figure Drawing in Sight-Size


It is our belief that figure drawing is the basis of all good draftsmanship and, for this reason, drawing from life is the backbone of LARA’s process. Every student will spend half the day studying the figure using the ‘sight-size’ method. Each pose is sustained for either two or four weeks, under unvarying natural north light conditions, thus allowing the student time to accurately observe and understand the figure. This drawing from a continuous pose is unique in London. Such training and observation also gives the student informed knowledge as to what to choose as useful on quicker poses.

Within this page the artist and tutor Luca Indraccolo demonstrates some of the drawing principles taught at LARA.


  • A selection of Nitram fine art charcoal (H, HB, B) or charcoal pencils in different degrees of hardness (hard, medium, soft)
  • Faber-Castell Pitt white chalk pencil
  • Arches Aquarelle Watercolour Paper Hot Pressed 300g hand toned with awash of Winsor & Newton black indian drawing ink (achieving a warm grey)or Fabriano Roma paper grey.
  • Putty rubber / kneadable eraser
  • Plumb line (a thin string or fishing line with a small weight attached)
  • Medium/fine sand paper for sharpening charcoal sticks
  • Craft knife to sharpen pencils
  • Masking tape

What you will learn:

In the two exercises to follow, you will learn how to approach and capture in a straight forward manner a complicated subject such as the human form. By reducing this difficult puzzle of lines, value shapes and anatomical details into simple straight marks, you will learn to tackle and control any figure or even different subject matters, regardless of how daunting they might appear.We will also explore how to create atmosphere and how to ‘turn form in space’ (how to give the illusion of three-dimensionality in a drawing) by focusing on edge handling and pushing the charcoal value range to approximate a life-like light impression.

How to set up your easel in sight-size:

The main reason to use the sight-size method is to view both the subject (model) and picture next to each other at the same viewing size for ease of comparison. To do this, position your easel at a vantage point, then place yourself at a distance that is roughly equal to three times the paper’s greatest dimension back from it (and paper). Mark this observation point on the floor with masking tape, as you will be constantly returning to it to measure, and to observe using your plumb line before marking your drawing. Make sure both easel and paper are perfectly vertical by holding a plumb line that is perpendicular to your line of vision and parallel to the side of your drawing.

In order to practice the following steps you will need to have access to a model posing for at least two hours (with short intervals), ideally repeated over multiple days.

Exercise one:

The aim of this exercise is to accurately ‘block-in’ gesture, proportions and the particular body type of the model in a simple manner, so that mistakes can easily be corrected.

Step one:

Using a soft piece of charcoal, begin by marking the top and bottom of the figure, making sure that you have about the same amount of blank paper above and below, so that the final drawing is vertically centred on the paper. Next, make a note of the widest horizontal points of the model so you can estimate the placement of the drawing and decide the composition of the final image from the start.

At this point draw an arbitrary vertical (plumb) line parallel to the side of the paper. As a useful tip, try to find the most static point in the figure (in this example I chose the front of the lower standing leg). To complete this stage, indicate on the plumb line where the plane of the shoulders and the pubis bone (anatomical centre of the body) are.

Step two:

Starting with the torso, indicate the tilt of the ribcage and pelvis, keeping in mind their relationship with the imaginary vertical line drawn in step one. Try to keep the drawing as simple as possible, at this time, focusing on the biggest gestural lines you can find. Don’t get distracted by details, but concentrate on drawing the average width of the main body parts. By using such simple lines and constantly returning to your observation point and using your plumb line, any obvious discrepancy between the drawing and the model can easily be corrected. You can employ this simplifying drawing approach to virtually any subject.

Step three:

Once you’re reasonably satisfied with the gesture and proportions of the mainlines, it is time to start breaking down big shapes into smaller ones. Try to introduce obvious anatomical landmarks such as a line to indicate the centre of the breasts, the position of joints like wrists, elbows and knees. Use the new marks to further judge and refine the drawing by taking your time comparing your work with the model in front of you. At this point you can take the drawing in different directions such as pursuing line to a more refined stage, or introducing values to capture the impression of light.

Exercise two

Having tackled how to break down a complicated figure into simple lines, this exercise will take you through the use of value to convey a sense of atmosphere and light in your work.

Step 1

Using the block-in of your previous exercise, introduce a flat value (don’t go too dark at this stage) to represent the main shadow shapes. This sounds like an easier task than it actually is, as the defining line between light and shadow can be quite confusing in parts of the figure. To get around this potential stumbling block, squint when you observe the model to compress values and minimise the distracting influence of some mid-tones. If you still have trouble making a clear distinction between the main value areas, think of a fax or a bad photocopy with just two values and arbitrarily decide whether the mid-tone at hand is closer to light or shadow value. It also helps to position the model under one single light source.

Step 2

By keeping the two tones of the previous step, start adding complexity to your shadow shape design. Pay particular attention to the edge quality of each individual shape and make a note of whether it is sharp or soft. I cannot stress enough how important edges are, as they visually describe how light (and consequently shadow) follow form in nature. At this stage you can also start to introduce a background value to further isolate the light shape. This also helps to evaluate the accuracy of the drawing thus far.

Step 3

Now it is time to establish the full value range (key) by establishing the darkest dark (soft charcoal) and lightest light (white chalk) within the figure. This may expose the limitations of the drawing medium, as it is usually impossible to match the depth of the shadows or the brightness of the light we see on the actual model. A way to try and achieve a similar light impression is to compress shadows, by keeping them as unified as possible and minimise distracting variations. As soon as you have clearly committed to the extremes of the value range in your drawing, the tone of the paper takes its place in the scale as a halftone.

Step 4

At this point the pace seems to drop, though you are getting close to finishing.Here you need to start comparing smaller and smaller sections of your work against the model, judging and adjusting shapes and value by adding or removing small amounts of charcoal and chalk to ‘push and pull’ the three-dimensional impression of form. Use harder grade charcoal sharpened to a fine point to achieve subtle transitions. If you have a view of the model’s portrait in your drawing, now is the time to really concentrate on getting the likeness.

Step 5

In this final stage it is very important to use the background to add atmosphere. Create contrast where a focal point is needed and bring the value of certain parts of the figure and the background closer together to make those areas optically recede in space. I find one of the most telling differences between an average figure drawing and a good one is in the handling of the bony points close to the skin surface. Being able to represent the feel of flesh and bone in your life drawings is one of the most challenging, yet rewarding aspects of it. So make sure you leave plenty of time to work on elbows, wrists, knuckles, knees, ankles… well, you get the idea.

Text: James Napier (Director) Luca Indraccolo (Instructor)

Drawings : Luca Indraccolo (




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