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Models from the Toybox

Drawing - Toys as Reference Sources

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figure sketches

5-inch figures drawn from various 'birdseye' views.

H South

Finding a real model to draw can be tricky - models get bored, the bird flies away or the horse keeps moving. You want to practice drawing 'from life'. No problem. The answer may be closer than you think - right in junior's toy chest. Using toys as subjects for drawing has other advantages: you can sit small objects right on your page, and effectively draw 'sight size', that is, the drawing is the same size as the object. Removing 'change of scale' makes it easier to draw accurately. You can draw multiple views of the same pose, developing a strong sense of three-dimensional space. Plus, action figures never get tired of holding their arm in the air, and come with heroic proportions built-in: ideal for cartoonists!

Drawing Figures:
Action figures and dolls are terrific references for drawing the human figure, especially tricky foreshortened poses, birds-eye views and action poses. Jointed figures are the best, but unposeable figures are helpful too.. Scaled accessories and clothes are useful for organising a scene or comic panel.

  • Use a doll stand (or bent wire coathanger) to hold the doll for standing poses.
  • Sit the doll at least a couple of feet away on the table, using a box to raise its head to eye-level if you want a 'realistic' viewpoint.
  • Be aware of exaggerated proportions or musculature, and oversized details.
  • Use several dolls to help work out group arrangements and fight scenes. Make your own accessories (swords, sheilds) from cardboard.

Drawing Animals:
Good quality plastic wild and domestic animals are available from most toyshops, and even inexpensive ones are sometimes well made. Dinosaurs are great references for dragons, too!

  • Compare the model to a photograph to check anatomical accuracy.
  • If drawing a group of different animals, make sure they are the same scale.
  • Note that poseable horses are often limited in construction, so you will need to modify the pose to correct unbendable fetlock (ankle) joints, for example.

Other Toys: Trucks and cars, aeroplanes, buildings, military vehicles, and baby dolls can all be useful, depending on your area of interest. Some will only be useful for practice sketches, rather than for finished art, while for military buffs a well-produced model might be as close as you can get to 'the real thing'. Very small scale models, such as those used for wargaming, may be a bit too small for use as a single subject, but can be helpful in designing scenes and arranging groups, especially if scenery is available.

Go raid the Toybox!
Source toys from the kids, your attic, toyshops, yard sales or friends. Ask your local wargames club or model rail enthusiasts for permission to take photographs. Of course, you can get serious about it and purchase artist's mannequins (mannikins) from art shops, but often cheap plastic toys are surprisingly well molded. You can use photographs to check fine details if you wish to develop your drawing further.

    Useful Tips:
  • Because of the close proximity of the model, keep your position as still as possible to avoid change of view. Try closing the non-master eye for an exact view.
  • To improve the tonal range, use a lamp (preferably directed from above left) and turn off overhead bulbs or close curtains to reduce other light sources.
  • Take care not to breach copyright (particularly with likenesses of certain dolls and action hero figures) should you wish to display your work.
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