Select Page

Few subjects offer artists a greater variety of form for practice than drawing the human body in its myriad shapes, sizes, colors and postures, clothing, and environment. The ability to draw a convincing human form is at the heart of an artist’s work for portrait artists and fashion designers alike. New fashions begin as a designer’s ideas, which are communicated visually through fashion design sketches. Below are just some of the ways that figure drawing can improve your fashion design sketches.

  • Figure sketching provides a body to wear your fashion designs. The most fashionable of clothing is little more than a pile of amorphous cloth without the support of the body it was designed to adorn. This underlying need for form is the reason why every design student needs to know how to draw a human body. It’s why figure drawing classes are such an integral part of each design student’s formal education. Figure drawing is a deceptively simple as well as a progressive skill, easily learned and endlessly enhanced through practice.
  • Enhanced skill in communicating ideas. Figure drawing skills training is essential for serious fashion design students because it provides them the means to communicate their ideas and visions. It is not exaggerating to say that figure drawing undergirds the entire fashion industry. If you, as a fashion designer, seek access and success in this oh-so competitive field, you will want to hone your figure drawing skills to the highest degree possible.
  • Your talents and skillsets interweave. People often speak as if “talent” were innate (or magical), and of “skills” as if they were of lesser value because they are learned behaviors. Talent and skills are not opposites. Instead, see the two as intertwined. Talent is innate in all people. Instruction informs your talent, experience shapes and molds it, and practice maintains and refines it endlessly and forever. Together, these elements comprise skill. People are endlessly discovering new talents and developing new skills. Do not let yourself be intimidated at the thought of figure sketching!
  • You advance your understanding of art. Figure drawing, aka life drawing, is essential training for all artists, much like the way classical musicians view piano lessons as the foundation for all music training. For more than 80 years, The Walt Disney Company has continuously offered its illustrators and artists free drawing classes as well as live models for sketching practice. That a flagship company like Disney considers free drawing so important speaks volumes to the rest of the art world, particularly the world of fashion design. Life drawing creates an outstanding opportunity for artists of every persuasion to advance their understanding and thus their art, and the fashion designer has a more vested interest than most. Today you have access to life drawing online.
  • You get to fill in the gaps in your art education. It is common for individuals who ultimately end up working in the fashion industry as clothing designers to have a few gaps in their artistic education. Because of the Internet, this is less of a problem today than it was in times past. Today, whether you missed out on basic figure drawing instruction entirely, or instead had a poor teacher and would like to begin anew, you can take an online figure drawing class and be confident of the quality of instruction you receive.
  • You get better and better. Although innovation and idea quality are characteristics that separate one designer from another, of equal importance is the artist’s ability to render his ideas in a form (drawings) that others can perceive and appreciate. Those with the best figure drawing skills are usually people who worked hard and long to hone their abilities in the years before they rose to the top. In the fashion world, skill plus the self-discipline to strengthen personal areas of weakness trumps greater but untrained and undisciplined talent every time. Never underestimate the value of setting excellence as your goal and diligently pursuing it. You’ll do nothing but get better.
  • You learn how to “see.” Whether you realize it or not, you are skilled in reading the body language of the people around you. People read the body language of their peers both consciously and subconsciously. Like drawing, body language interpretation is a discernable, teachable skill, one open to exploration and development. Regular drawing practice with a model gives you the opportunity to improve in many areas at once. You will learn to “see” directional light, “see” space, and “see” perspective, and to “see” emotion expressed in the body via the model’s expression, posture, eye direction, gestures and more.
  • You have a foundation. You cheat yourself if you design clothing for a body you don’t know. To achieve success in fashion design it is imperative to know the bodies you will dress. The body beneath the clothing is anything but an abstract concept.
  • You stay fit as an artist. Sometimes, fashion designers grow lazy over time, particularly once they are working in the field and on a secure career path, and they cease their regular figure drawing practice. Guard yourself at all costs from making this mistake! As artists in all fields attest, when you cease essential practice sessions, your drawings suffer. Invest in yourself as an artist and as a designer by drawing for life.
  • Your fashion sketches have vitality. There will come a time when, as a fashion design student, you will have to decide whether you wish to be a 2D or a 3D artist, which is the same thing as asking if you want to work a job or follow a calling. You cannot escape the need for practice and there are no substitutes. That quality of vitality that sets one designer’s drawings apart from another originates in those untold hours upon hours of figure drawing practice. Embrace the practice and gain the fruit. The choice is yours.
  • Move from 2D to 3D. As they exist in space, all drawings are two dimensional. And yet, haven’t we all experienced a particular drawing so real that it seemed to be genuinely three dimensional? Did you felt the need to touch it to make sure? The ability to render a life-like 3D image is due to much more than mere technique. It is the visible end product of the artist’s commitment to excellence. Realism is important to fashion illustration. The sketches of the best designers are so persuasive in their imitation of life that the viewer accepts them unconsciously.
  • You’re drawing from life. There is a truism that says art mimics life, and the saying has endured no doubt, largely because it is true. The more you draw from compositions that are alive and breathing, the more your sketches will vibrate with realism, and with whatever emotions you believe them to feel. When you learn how to draw a human body from living compositions you have learned via a superior form of artistic practice.
  • You gain fluency. Fluency is the measure of a person’s ease, comfort, and familiarity with a given subject, and it applies to drawing as much as to language, perhaps because drawing is a language of sorts. When applied to figure drawing, fluency speaks to the degree of an artist’s competency in capturing the pose and positioning of a given model in such a way that the sketch produced is an accurate representation. The ability to sketch quickly and accurately is indeed a skill to treasure.
  • Opportunities for specific improvement. Many elements combine to contribute to a superior fashion sketch. When you regularly have opportunities to sketch a model you have the freedom to practice specific skills as you desire. One model may afford you the opportunity to work on your tonal values and shading whereas another may give you textural opportunities. Live sketching gives you the opportunity to turn your weaknesses into strengths, and to make your strengths even stronger.
  • Your creativity gets stimulated. Regular opportunity to draw the human form tends to make people grow creatively. Again, it is the fruit of the practice. If you feel stale as a designer, if the joy you used to experience when you picked up a pencil seems elusive, draw from real life for a while. You’ll find your creativity grows to the point that it spills over into other areas of your life.

Perhaps the thing fashion designers seem to like about the regular practice of drawing from life is the way in which it keeps their vision fresh. They don’t get stale. They have fun, draw accurately, and don’t get stuck in ruts. The act of seeing and drawing, of interpreting with your mind’s eye stays fun and joyful.

The human form is the most important subject of not just fashion design, but of all art, and it has been so since the beginning of time. Most fashion designers graduate their programs equipped with a minimal skillset and basic fashion drawing competency. The question of how to draw a live model is no longer of importance. However, someone that wants to make fashion design a career usually desires more. Some of the world’s most successful fashion designers never stop drawing from live models, for the simple reason that they never feel completely satisfied with their work. Perfection, after all, is elusive.

Want to learn how to make your sketches into a moving video? Start learning about Adobe Premiere with helpful beginner tutorials.