Observing movements has become very accessible these days; cameras and smartphones can now easily capture footage at high frame rates and can be paused at desired moments that could barely be observed by the naked human eye. Such technology has allowed us to freeze reality frame by frame and trace them to create realistic figures.

Croquis drawing combined with tracing is a great way to start making realistic sketches.

What is Croquis?

Rapid drawing or Croquis (the French word for sketch) is a quick way to capture the overall message of a figure (usually human). It does not require complex techniques, and detailing is kept at a minimum. Sketching and observing nature can be beneficial in learning how to draw figures and objects and the many emotions they can exhibit.

Many creatives have stuck to this 'tracing technique' to save time and money for subjects that require accuracy in the professional world. Tracing an image can help you focus on the physical demands of drawing without worrying about whether you're getting it right.

Tracing a Figure

However, for aspiring artists and painters, tracing figures from still images can sometimes result in losing artistic techniques such as understanding of light, lines, shapes, colours, textures and emotions, etc. Moreover, tracing does not encourage you to analyze your own drawing after completion and does not help much in understanding ideas such as composition, foreshortening and perspectives.

Pencil Grades

There is no such rule as what you must use for rapid sketches in terms of materials, but soft graphite pencils (anything ranging from 4B to 8B) or charcoals are usually recommended for beginners.

Soft pencils can bring out different dynamics of lines: thick to thin, dark to light. Moreover, soft pencils tend to emulate the human skin tone better than hard pencils, and it also runs smoother on paper. Markers and ball tip pens can also be used.

Pencil Grades: Source

Half Closed Eyes

Squinting your eyes blurs your vision and limits it to the light and dark. It is like a depth check used in cameras. Blocking the amount of light reduces details and captures the essential elements of the objects.

Squinting to Highlight Light and Shadow

Squinting helps the human eye separate values such as highlights, mid-tones, shadows, and depth. This technique assists you in the decision-making process of what part of the drawing is dark and light during the initial phase of the sketch.

Line of Action

A line of action can be considered as the frame-work of a figure. It consists of the primary strokes that make up the form of a figure or object. It is not the same as tracing outlines; it is the end result of dynamically capturing the subject's movement and giving it a structure.

Photo by Patricia Palma on Unsplash, Traced Over

In the image above, the sketch lays a foundation of the dancers' actions or intentions – such as spreading of the arm, rotation of the hips, shoulders and head, positioning of the hands, and where the weight is – with a few simple strokes.

You do not have to worry about making mistakes since this is an iterative process. Depending on the number of sketches you have made, the time taken for one gesture drawing can sometimes be less than a minute or less. The decision making of including the crucial elements and eliminating details becomes efficient as you progress throughout the session. The volume of work matters more than the quality of work in this case.

Contrast (Dark and Light)

The nature of how the lines are drawn plays an important role in indicating where the light source is present. Heavier strokes hold more value, suggesting a lack of light and more weight. Thinner lines suggest a presence of light.

Photo Pooja Chaudary on Unsplash, with Highlighted Contrast

The picture above is an example of thick and thin lines creating an illusion of depth and shadow.

Shapes and Volumes

Basic shapes are not merely geometric constructs; shapes can convey messages and emotions like colour. Breaking down a complicated structure into basic shapes can speed up the structuring of your sketches. It also helps to compare varying volumes within the figure to plan a better composition.

Photo by Thao Le Huang on Unsplash, with Shapes Highlighted
Read my previous blogs on drawing hands and drawing human feet to know more about breaking down complex structures into simplified volumes.

The wealth of visual information accessed through 'observation drawing' is incomparable to photographs. Many visual languages cannot be translated via digital media in drawings; our human eyes sometimes capture the most primal essence of what is being observed.

Translating such emotions on paper or canvas takes years of practice. Yet, it is a very important skill to develop as an artist/illustrator, painter or even a photographer.

That's all for now!