Moody urban architectural sketches without human or animal figures can be very intriguing, but they express an abandoned, eerie post-apocalyptic feel to me. I like to include figures to express the energy, liveliness, beauty, and sometimes humor, of the people I see. The officer in ‘Felonious Parking’ looked like he was ready to draw his gun on that car…
I was exposed to gestural drawing of quick poses and posed figure drawing in open studios before I tried urban sketching. For inexperienced sketchers, Holmes in his Urban Sketcher recommended public statues and people at rest- sitting in airports, reading in cafes, lying on a lawn- as models. This gives you plenty of time to get a passable figure.
After experimenting with relatively quick drawings of figures, I concluded that if the composition featured a particular figure, careful drawing from a photograph gave the best result. I make an urban sketch of the scene, sans figure, and take an iPhone photo, then complete a final sketch at my leisure in the studio.
When figures are incidental, a less detailed, stylized depiction works well. In the distance, even a circle atop wide shoulders tapering to feet works, provided that the proportion of size of head to size of body is reasonably accurate, about 1:7.5. Adding distinctive hats, such as ball caps, and umbrellas help define the vague figure.
I have not depicted people in motion in my drawings yet, but think that creating ‘movement’ could really bring a street drawing to life. When I undertake this, The Urban Sketching Handbook: People and Motion. by Gabriel Campanario, Quarry Books will be my guide. Various artists have communicated movement with repetitive poses of a figure as it ‘moves’, lines depicting the direction of movement, and blurred figures, as examples.
If you have any tips about drawing figures in motion, please send them to me, along with one of your sketches.