Drawing a Moving Figure in my Sketchbook

How to draw a figure in movement


As an artist who is learning, I want to spend time working on different ways to represent the human figure. This never-ending task has taken me to:

I am certainly not the first artist to try to find a diverse range of models and examples in order to draw the human figure. In the past, artists would make studies from life in the studio, copy from old masters exhibited near them, or refer to books of engravings. They would keep these studies in their sketchbooks for future reference. I cannot stress enough how much the invention of photography must have changed things for artists. They now had a new source of reference pictures, one that is taken for granted by today’s artists.

One of the first photographers in France was Nadar (1820–1910). Around 1855, he worked with his brother Adrien to create a suite of more than 15 photographs of the pantomime character Pierrot to publicise their studio. The model was the son of a very famous mime artist, and the exhibition attracted enough attention to win the gold medal at the Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair) of 1855 in Paris.

Pierrot Running, by Nadar and Adrien Tournachon, 1854-55. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New-York, Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menshel, 2005.

The intent of these photographs was to express movement, with Pierrot photographed in an attitude of being pursued. Remember that in this photograph the model was not moving and had to remain very still because the photograph needed a long exposure time. In a way, for me, it is a bit like drawing from a photograph of a sculpture. The Metropolitan Museum's website praises the expressive nature of this work of art:

Despite the immobility required by the relatively long exposure, the simulated movement is wonderfully expressed. A static, splayed demonstration of action in a shallow space, the picture's content is as concise as a dictionary definition, its form as legible as that of a runner on a Greek vase.


Nadar (1820-1910) was a French writer, caricaturist and photographer. He is famous for his photographic portraits. He also invented the aerial photograph (from a balloon), and the photo interview.




For this quick project, I used:

  • a pencil (I used 2B)

  • a sharpener

  • an eraser

  • white paper (my sketchbook)

  • my fountain pen, with black ink

  • a grey brush pen, with water-based ink.



Step 1 – Drawing a moving figure with pencil

I wanted it to be a very quick project. I began with a simple sketch with pencil, not overthinking it. I just paid extra attention to the fact that the figure I was drawing was standing on one leg, so I had to make sure that I was drawing him in a realistic way, so that he didn’t look as though he was losing his balance or flying through the air.

In the short video above, this runs from 0:00 to 01:50. It actually took me 7 minutes.


Step 2 – Drawing a figure in movement with ink

Even more quickly, I drew the outline of the figure in movement with ink. I use my regular fountain pen a lot – it is, at the moment, my favourite tool when it comes to black ink. I prefer a fountain pen with a round tip, though.

I tried to draw just a few lines, only what seemed necessary, without too much detail. You can see in the video that the tip of my fountain pen sometimes just moves over the paper, as if I am rehearsing the gesture or hesitating. That is exactly it! I am trying to be very mindful of not drawing too much or with too small strokes. I want just a few minimal lines.

In the short video above, this runs from 01:50 to 03:06. It actually took me 4 minutes.


Step 3 – Adding details and volume with ink

Lastly, I added some details and shading with a grey brush pen. This ink is water-based, and I used it in two different ways:

  • If I wanted a clearly delimited grey area of colour (e.g. on the right leg), I was extra careful that my brush did not touch the black ink line.

  • If I wanted to smudge the black ink and create a gradient with my grey ink, I brushed over the black lines and blurred them (e.g. in the hat).

In the short video above, this runs from 03:06 to 04:06. It actually took me 4 minutes.


And voilà!

And voilà, a new page for my sketchbook in 15 minutes!

I hope you have enjoyed this post. As always, I do not pretend to be a teacher, a seasoned artist or an expert in anything. I am just a very motivated learner who finds a deep joy in a regular art practice. 


Finished drawing on my sketchbook | Drawing a Moving Figure in my Sketchbook, by The Daily Atelier

This is the course where I share my personal formula for drawing a portrait or a self-portrait with pencil, even if you don’t have a lot of time or haven’t drawn in a long time.

This is the course where I share my personal formula for drawing a portrait or a self-portrait with pencil, even if you don’t have a lot of time or haven’t drawn in a long time.

If you want a step-by-step guide to how I draw a self-portrait, with even more detail, check out this course, a simple guide to creating an elegant portrait or self-portrait, which will be ready to frame or gift in only 7 days.


If you liked this post, you will almost certainly like some of these other figures. Enjoy!