Drawing the human body is never easy, but shading it and giving it depth as well can be a real headache.

The problem is, we are all familiar with it and can tell instantly when a torso or leg actually looks like a torso or a leg, or just a lumpy looking sausage. In this tutorial I am going to show some quick and easy ways to get your shaded figure drawing looking believable and also setting up the illustration so it can be animated easily in ®Adobe Flash. To make it more appealing I am also going to try and do everything the easiest way possible and with the least amount of effort. I think hard work is over rated these days and a slacker mentality is definitely the way to go.

Before we get into complicated anatomy, lets start by creating a simple head made out of block shapes. This is going to be a 3/4 front view that has a passable amount of shading detail. All the shapes we need for this are: A rectangular block for the head Oval shape for the eye sockets Triangle for the nose. The hair can be whatever you want but I'm going for a quiff as it is easy to draw (slacker!) You can create a sketch and scan into your vector program then draw out the shapes using the pen tool. or, if you are feeling confident create the shapes needed on the fly within the program. Slacker tip: Why not just draw the eyes and ear with the oval shape tool, it'll save you time! Same with the nose, draw a rectangle and delete a corner point. The neck, just a rectangle pasted in back, (nobody will ever know) Use the shape tools whenever you can as it's faster than drawing with the pen tool.

Let's make our body out of just 3 colours. one mid flesh, one slightly darker flesh and some black for the hair. If we create these colours as spot colours we can adjust our finished illustrations later to give our figures White, Hispanic, Asian or black skin and possibly, brown, blonde or green hair.

Shading is basically highlight and shadow. If a facet or shape is not being illuminated by light then it must be in shade. It's a simple on or off principal. Any body parts in the light we will use our first flesh colour, any parts that are in the shade we will use our second colour. If we have a sharp transition in contrast we use a gradient that is close together, if it is a subtle or soft transition we use a wider,softer transition. most body parts work well with a soft gradient. All the gradients shown here are Linear gradients (straight) as opposed to Radial (circular)

So, lets select the head and create a linear gradient with our flesh colours. using the gradient tool drag across the face so the gradient changes softly above the eye brow, use the same gradient for the neck only extending the lighter colour slightly more towards the back of the head, the eye socket can just be a solid fill. Colour the nose in the lighter flesh colour drop in black for the hair and you are done. You can adjust a few lines and points to make the head look a little more realist a slightly rounder chin will help, but the basic model still looks pretty good, try creating a gradient mesh illustration that quickly.

The shading on the head is filling in for a lot of detail that is not really there. We have no mouth or eyes or cheek bones, etc. this is also going to help us when we move onto more complicated shapes.

I find the best way to start an illustration is with a sketch on paper that can be scanned in and traced over. When you work on your drawing try and keep the body parts as separate complete shapes rather than one single line that follows the contour of the body or limb. Later on these separate shapes will give us the option to re-position our figure or create key frames for flash. You will even be able to make your jointed figures walk!


Now we have our new found skills let's try them out on something trickier and see if we can create some believable shading. How about this woman's legs?

Once you have a sketch worked out, it is worth spending a minute or two looking at how you are going to shade it before you dive in. With this one I think we should add shadows just to the tips of the extremities, and as the areas are intricate we can can keep the gradients very small. They will still stand out despite their size.

I keep my leg shapes big and bold, they may look clumsy here but once we put our subtle shading on these blocks will fade into the background. One extra thing I am going to add to the drawing is a section on the right leg which is a fairly straight gradient that will help the thigh join up to the calf muscle. All the other shapes are one body part stacked on top of the other (from the shins up to the thighs).

The red arrows show where the gradients will be placed and what direction they will go. As you can see we don't need many, as long as they are well placed the shapes will appear real. I often squint or blur my eyes when placing and positioning the gradients, they sometimes don't work and seeing them blurred helps you to see the whole picture, good and bad!

I continued using these rules with this finished image. I kept the colours simple. 2 shades of red for the cape/boots, 2 shades of green for the tunic, 2 shades of blue for the skirt. etc. I also used subtle gradients on the hands to give the illusion they had detail.

Now you can see how easy it all is, have fun creating your own shaded bodies and remember less is more!

To help you brush up on your drawing skills, this book will be a big help.

Constructive Anatomy
by George B. Bridgman

Who knows if you get the hang of it you may want to branch out into the world of vector gradient mesh!

© Russell Tate June 2007