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The GSL Method for Figure Drawing: How to Draw Any Pose

Figure drawing of Zendaya on blue purple gradient background

An Overview of the GSL Method

The GSL method is a ​​unique figure drawing method coined by artist Fei Lu. Each letter in GSL stands for a different stage in the drawing process:

G - Gesture: Action of the Pose

Without gestures, figures feel stiff instead of dynamic. Gestures map movement, alignments, and balance.

S - Shape: Structure of the Body

Shapes build the figure's silhouette and add mass. if you're more advanced you can draw forms instead.

L - Line: Details of the Anatomy

Leave the line art, outlines, and shading for last. The best lines are ones that breathe and have rhythm!

GIF showing each stage of GSL method

In the GIF above, you can see each stage of the GSL method drawn in a different colour: gestures (orange), shapes (green), and lines (black).

Not a reader? No worries! We have a 15-minute step-by-step YouTube video tutorial on how to draw a full-body female figure using the GSL method.

Using the GSL Method to do a Female Figure Drawing

Figure drawing of Zendaya and Zendaya

In this tutorial, we’ll be using the GSL method to make a figure drawing of the actress Zendaya.

Part One: The Gesture Drawing

In this first part, we’ll map out the movement, alignments, and balance. Remember, the goal of a gesture drawing is to capture the action of the pose and make your drawing feel dynamic.

GESTURE - Step 1: Sketching the Line of Action

Line of action drawn on a sketchbook

Start with drawing the line of action by lightly sketching the overall gesture of the figure's pose, usually curved.

GESTURE - Step 2: Adding the Shoulders and Hips

Two lines drawn intersecting the line of action

Locate the angles of the shoulders and hips, drawing a line for each. In this example, Zendaya’s shoulders and hips are positioned at opposing angles.

GESTURE - Step 3: Sketching the Legs

Two more lines drawn for the legs

Next, add lines for the legs with one crossing over and the other following the gesture line.

GESTURE - Step 4: Adding the Arms

Two parallel guidelines for drawing arms

Using the location of the foot, eyeball where the arm should be and connect that to the shoulder line. Then, find the tilt in the shoulder to figure out where the other arm should be.

💡 Tip: Look for parallel alignments when drawing your gesture!

Did you know?: The GSL method guides us to draw as a sculptor would from the inside out, focusing on the structure.

GESTURE - Step 5: Marking Action Lines in the Details

Gesture drawing with head

Mark the chest line; here it’s curving upwards. If you want to add more to your gesture drawing, you can mark a few more details including the flowy clothing, the bottom of the feet, and the head.

Don’t forget to make sure your figure is about 7 heads tall.

💡 Tip: Use a ruler to check that the head is balanced between both feet or else it will look like your figure is falling over.

Part Two: Drawing Body Anatomy Using Shapes

Let’s build the structure of the body using shapes and forms. Shapes include positive shapes as well as negative shapes.

SHAPE - Step 1: Drawing the Head and Neck

Head and neck drawn in green pencil

Draw the head by starting with a circle and then adding a shield shape to construct the jaw. Sketch in a horizontal and vertical line to map out the middle of the face, and then add the ears and neck. At the base of the neck, draw a cylinder to represent the bottom which we’ll connect to the top of the rib cage in the next step.

SHAPE - Step 2: Drawing the Ribcage

Egg-shaped circle drawn for the ribs

Draw an egg shape for the ribcage and add a vertical centre line. The centre line may not necessarily be in the same place as your gesture, and will usually appear slightly curved

💡 Tip: Adult female rib cages are about 1.5x the size of the head. Adult male rib cages are about 2x the size of the head.

SHAPE - Step 3: Constructing the Pelvis

3D box drawn for pelvis

Draw the pelvis as a 3D box where you can see the top and left side. You can also draw a 2D shape instead if that’s easier. The belly button should be right in the middle of the ribcage and pelvis forms.

SHAPE - Step 4: Attaching Legs to the Pelvis

Two curved lines drawn onto the box

Then, turn the box into an underwear shape by adding two curved lines for the top of the legs.

SHAPE - Step 5: Blocking in the Shoulders

Two circles drawn in the shoulder area

Draw two circles on each side of the ribcage as spacers for the shoulders. These should be roughly the size of your subject’s fist.

SHAPE - Step 6: Drawing 3D Legs

Cylinders drawn for the legs

Find and mark the top of the ankle and find the midpoint between here and the hip where the leg begins. Then a cylinder for the top half of the leg and another for the bottom half. Repeat to draw the other leg.

💡 Tip: You can add muscles and complex forms after you get the basic structure and alignment down.

SHAPE - Step 7: Drawing Hands and Arms

Cylinders drawn for the arms and diamond shape for hands

If your arm is straight, your hands should reach about mid-thigh. Sketch a simple shape to represent the hands (in this case, a diamond-like shape). Use the same technique as the legs, drawing two tapered cylinders of equal length for each arm.

💡 Tip: Usually hands are about the size of the face.

SHAPE - Step 8: Details

Fei avatar pop up saying "Please keep in mind: celebrities are not an accurate representation of what average people look like!"

Draw a curved line for the hairline and an organic shape for the flowy dress. Draw two roundish oval shapes on the ribcage for the chest. Then draw two lines to connect the ribcage to the hips.

Part Three: Adding Linework

Now that you have a strong foundation, you can refine the drawing by adding detailed or stylized lines. Feel free to follow the steps below or start wherever it feels the most natural for you!

LINE - Step 1: Shading the Hair

Shading added to hair

We started with the face, adding details like ears and the chin. You can use the side of your pencil to shade in the hair. You can create a shiny look by adding more shading towards the bottom and the middle part.

LINE - Step 2: Drawing the Face

Facial features drawn on head

Keep the eyes simple by drawing the eyebrows, the top of the eyelid, and the pupils. Skip the nostrils and simply draw a line for the bottom of the nose. Draw the mouth one-third of the way between the bottom of the nose and the bottom of the chin.

LINE - Step 3: Shoulders and Collarbone

Neck and shoulders drawn in

Draw the shoulders by connecting the neck to the top of the shoulder circles we drew earlier in the SHAPE phase. Add two lines for the collarbone which come out from below the neck to each shoulder.

LINE - Step 4: Drawing Armpits

Hand holding pencil near the armpit of the drawing

Under the left shoulder circle, add a small curved line for the armpit. Then, draw the left arm overlapping the torso. Take your time in this area to figure out where the overlaps happen.

LINE - Step 5: Drawing the Clothing on Top

Dress drawn on top of the figure drawing

Now you can start drawing the clothing following the shapes of the body. The shapes of the outfit should follow the curves that you've already drawn. Use lines to draw in the folds in the clothing.

💡 Tip: Drawing in 3D helps show you where fabric falls.

LINE - Step 6: Defining Leg Muscles

Hand drawing leg muscles

During the LINE phase, you can start drawing in muscles. Draw a curve for the calf muscle and a very straight line for the top of the shin.

LINE - Step 7: Drawing Shoes and Feet

Figure drawing now has feet and heels

When drawing the shoes and feet, think in shapes and don’t overcomplicate them. If you divide the top of the foot into thirds, the big toe takes up one third of that space.

LINE - Step 8: Drawing Clothes in Motion

Finger pointing at the tail of the dress flowing

If your model is in a dynamic pose, the movement should be reflected in their clothing as well. Use swirls and organic linework to show the flowyness of the moving dress.

LINE - Step 9: Adding Arm Muscles and Hand Details

Close up of fingers drawn on hand

Zendaya has toned arms, so add a bit of definition including the shoulder muscle called the deltoid.

Instead of outlining the hands, it’s easier to divide the hand out of the diamond shape you drew earlier.

LINE - Step 10: Shading the Clothing

Dress is shaded in using pencil

For the finishing touch, use the side of your pencil to give the clothing some shading and distinguish it from the rest of the body.

Optional: Before shading, you can use an eraser to remove the gesture and shape guidelines. Fei chose to leave those in because she prefers the aesthetic of seeing parts of the process.

About the Instructor

Fei Lu is an award-winning visual artist and educator who founded Winged Canvas in 2014. She has been practicing and teaching figure drawing for over 20 years. She coined the GSL Method for Figure Drawing, helping thousands of students build their portfolios and get into the art school of their dreams with our proven N.E.R.D. Teaching Method.

Learn Figure Drawing At Your Own Pace!

Variety of gesture drawings and figure drawings

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Winged Canvas has a variety of online art enrichment programs. These virtual art classes offer students a chance to learn from professional artists, no matter where they’re located. If you’re interested in online lessons similar to the content in this blog, take a look at these programs:

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