If you’ve ever been interested in illustrating the fashions that you’ve created, either to sew yourself or to flex your creative and drawing muscles with a drawing exercise that’s a little outside of your comfort zone, it can be tough to know where to start. Fashion illustration is more than just drawing a person and throwing some clothing that you designed on top. If you’ve ever looked at some basic fashion sketches, you know that there’s something just a little bit different about the models and figures, even if you can’t quite put your finger on what it is.
The truth is, there is a specific set of proportions and canons that fashion illustrators stick to when they are working on designing an article or even an entire line of clothing. Yes, it takes some basic knowledge of drawing fundamentals to get started, but once you’ve got that under your belt, knowing how to draw fashion figures just requires a few alterations to the traditional human form. We’ll take you through a step-by-step guide that will teach you how to draw fashion figures that you can then use for your brand new fashion design portfolio. You can even learn to use software to make vector fashion illustrations.
9 Heads: The Fashion Figure
Drawing is made easier by understanding the proportions that make a realistic form. When you are drawing the human form, it’s helpful to use the human head as a starting point. An average human is proportioned at about 7 heads. To get a clear understanding of this, take a look at a picture of a person standing erect. Measure them from chin to the top of their head, and you will get your basis of measurement. Going down the form, using that basis, you will notice that the rest of the body is about 6 “heads” high. So, from top to bottom, your typical, every day average human is 7 “heads” altogether.
When you address the question of how to draw fashion figures, you must take that understanding of human proportions and elongate them. The average fashion figure, in comparison, is about 9 “heads” tall. You will also notice that most fashion figures are incredibly thin, even a little bony. The main reason that fashion figures are so, well, strange looking, is because the focus in a fashion illustration is never a perfectly canonized human form. Instead, the focus is on the clothing. It’s okay for fashion figures to look a little alien, they are essentially just the vehicle for the real star of the show–the garments that you will be designing. Are you ready to get started? Of course you are!
Drawing The Croquis
In fashion, a croquis (pronounced crow-key) is a foundational pose that you can use over and over again as you learn how to draw fashion figures and even after you’ve mastered the skill. They are typically gesture poses, or poses that are in motion. In fashion, this is likely to be a walking pose, as many fashion illustrators prefer to use a body that looks like it is strutting down a runway. Any good fashion illustrator as a collection of tried and true croquis that they can pull from and often trace right over as they draw their garments.
- A few magazine pages with full body figures or pictures of the poses that you would like to try and copy
- Tracing paper
- A sharp pencil
- A straight edge or ruler
- A gum eraser
- A Micron pen or other mechanical pen in varying line widths
- A lightbox or other light source like a window
- Painter’s tape
The point of this exercise is to become used to drawing the elongated fashion figure in various poses, so for now, use broad strokes to make a basis for your drawing. At this juncture, as you’re learning how to draw fashion figures, you shouldn’t worry too much abut details like facial features and detailed hands and feet. Fingers and toes are actually some of the hardest things to draw! Keep in mind that in fashion illustration, the emphasis is on the clothing, not the person. Imagine that you are drawing a mannequin on which to put your designs.
- Using the painter’s tape, secure the magazine page to the window or light box. You may need to tilt the page until the figure is vertical, especially if the picture was taken at an angle.
- Now tape the tracing paper directly over the magazine page. You only want to tape the top, though. This will allow you to flip the page up to look at the source without jostling it too much and losing your place.
- Using your pencil, mark the top of the head and the tip of the chin.
- With your straight edge, make a line on the page horizontally over each of your marks. This now represents one “head”
- You may wish to measure out the exact distance between your lines. Once you have, you can continue to draw horizontal lines down the page until you have marked out nine “heads”. You will probably want to draw a line above the top of the head on the magazine page to make the elongation a little easier.
- Now, using the straight edge, draw your vertical axis. You want it to run through the top of your figure. Pretend that you are demarcating the spine. You may find that your vertical line is not perfectly straight up and down, depending on how your model is posed. This is also called a “balance line”.
- Now we’ll place some place holding hash marks at certain points along the vertical axis. The top “head” can stay as it is–this is where you’ll draw the head. The bottom one will be the feet. It can also stay as is. (Note: as you are learning how to draw fashion figures, you can get a lot of benefit from learning a little about human anatomy. After all, you must first learn the rules so that you know how to break them!
- Here’s where you want to place your hash marks: 1/4 of the way between the 2nd and 3rd head line (bust) one right on the 3rd head line (waist), one 1/2 between the 3rd and 4th head line (high hip), one 1/5 of the way between the 4th and 5th head line (crotch) and one 1/2 way between the 6th and 7th headline (knees).
- Now that you have all of the guide lines in place, it’s going to be much easier to know how to draw the fashion figure. All that you need to do is fill in the human shape, using the lines on your tracing paper to guide you. As you work from the top of the head down to your figure’s feet, simply trace over the source image’s figure, elongating it and thinning it in the places that you have marked in order to give it fashion figure proportions.
- Adding the arms can be a little bit tricky–a good rule of thumb is that the elbows will fall at the third head line, the wrists will fall at the crotch line, and the tips of your croquis’ fingers will fall at the fifth head line. Again, just block out the general shapes. There isn’t a need to make a very detailed drawing at this point.
- At this point, you can use your Micron pen or other mechanical inking tool to outline your croquis. Use the thickest nib width to draw the outline of the figure, and use a thinner nib to add detail on the figure itself.
- Finally, using your gum eraser, clean up your croquis by erasing all of your pencil lines. It is important to ensure that all of your ink lines have dried up before you begin to erase, otherwise you run the risk of smearing your hard work all over the page!
Now you know how to draw fashion figures! By making this first basic croquis, you are well on your way to drawing more detailed and varied poses so that you can continue to progress and add the garments that you’ve designed to your fashion figures.
A few to things to keep in mind as you continue to learn how to draw fashion figures: above all, it is important to practice, practice practice! Try your hand at different poses, keeping in mind that the shoulder and hip tilts should be the most severe, and that everything from the waist up will follow the shoulder tilt and everything from the hips down will follow the tilt of the hips. If you are drawing a walking pose, the leg that is in the foreground must not be bent and must also touch the center balance line.
When learning how to draw fashion figures, remember that practice is your friend. Once you are more comfortable with the basics of fashion illustration, you can branch out and try all kinds of new things, like learning to develop a fashion brand or exploring high fashion makeup application techniques that you can learn to help you polish your fashion illustrations with a couture look.