Whether your specialism is photomontage, 3D art or vectors, chances are you’ll still need to wield a pencil and draw something the old-fashioned way from time to time – whether it’s to use as a base sketch or to get an idea of proportions before building a 3D model. Of all the things you’re likely to want to draw, human figures and faces are probably top of the list. 

Putting a person into your image is probably the most direct way to make it connect with your audience. But people are also among the hardest things to draw, whether it’s faces, hands or figures as a whole. And even once you’ve mastered the human form, there’s the pose. 

“It’s all tied up with narrative, as a tool for telling stories,” says fantasy illustrator Jon Hodgson. “Characters are a very flexible tool, if you like, in a way maybe a table or a chair isn’t. It seems pretty obvious, but you can do a lot with a figure.” 

Viewers identify just as readily with faces and figures that are less narrative-driven. As such, they provide powerful resonance for branding messages and more abstract concept pieces. But that connection can have drawbacks for the artist: how do you give the figure or face the necessary emotive pop? There’s no easy answer – it’s a matter of practising and pushing your own boundaries as much as you can. 

“If you’ve got a really tricky thought going on in a character’s mind, it’s [a question of] somehow conveying that to the reader,” says comic and manga artist Emma Vieceli. “I’ve seen comics where things are beautifully drawn but the characters are just standing there stiffly and saying the words.”

“Practise looking,” advises concept illustrator Lucy MacLeod. “It sounds strange but often we don’t really look at people’s features properly. We tend to take the whole thing in at the same time but bypass the detail.”

Your figures can take any number of forms, whether they’re derived from photography, drawn in charcoal or painted digitally, destined for comic panels or branding exercises, or even representative abstracts. Don’t be hemmed in: let your imagination soar.