How to Draw a Pinup Girl

By braniac
Pinup Girl drawing

Ever like those cute pin-up girls from the forties and fifties? Whether they were calendar nudes or sweeties in bathing suits, they were cool! Here's how to develop, sketch and draw your own pin-up girl in a classic pose.

Gesture sketch for pin-up girl.

Start with a gesture sketch, to figure out the pose you want your pinup girl to have. She could be standing or seated, but we're not worrying about clothes and hair yet. Just trying to decide on general pose. Do more than one of these sketches in more than one pose, and choose the one that has the best proportions and pose for what you want to draw or paint her on.

You can use an artist's manikin or a little girl's fashion doll for the proportions for your gesture sketch. The manikin has more joints and may be easier to get into a natural pose.

Drawing pin-up girls can be great for model-painting too, if you do historic aircraft models you may need a cutie like this to paint in miniature on the side of the plane. Just get the drawing right and then scale it down with your scanner, trace the reduction onto the model and paint if you want to use the project for model-painting.

Second stage sketch with some details, pose changed.

In your second round of sketches, feel free to change the pose to make it a little more voluptuous or plausible. Add a little more detail like hair and facial features, go ahead and use cartoonlike techniques on these sketches. They'll help you place everything right and give her some character.

I gave mine a very 1940s exaggerated hairdo and high heels to keep the traditions, but you can style her any way you want. The more often you draw pinup girls, the better your proportions and details will come out. I put her head thrown back showing the curve of her neck because that's very sexy, and definitely paid attention to indenting her waist and rounding her hips.

Fashion models have very lean bony figures but for a pinup girl it's more important to show her as voluptuous, with narrow waist, wide hips and large bust. She's not about showing off her clothes but about being cute and sexy.

More detailed pinup girl with bathing suit and some shading.

Look at all your previous sketches while doing each stage. It helps to take them out of the sketchbook or do multiple drawings on the same page to see how they're coming. You may get one thing right in one sketch and something else just right in the next.

I'm using a very soft dark 9B pencil in order to make these sketches scannable, but if you use a lighter pencil like an HB pencil, you can erase more easily. On loose sketches don't bother removing extraneous lines or darks, just add the right line. They're there to guide you anyway, not to be perfect. We'll trace her when she's perfect and then ink her so the lines are very smooth.

Here's another variation on the pose, this time with a bit more detail and some shading. I added a bathing suit to her with an old-fashioned style, a strap that just goes around her neck. Experiment with different styles in each successive drawing. As you get closer and closer to what you want, you'll be able to repeat your successes and combine them to make a great pinup girl!

She might look a bit better pouting like Betty Boop than smiling wide, with that dark lipstick, so on the next stage I'll try a different expression. Feel free to experiment with many different artistic decisions like that. Each time you do her, you'll get her a little better till you get the one you want to keep.

Be sure to block in the shape of her hands and feet realistically. It can help really studying the shape of the feet on a girl's fashion doll to get the shape of women's feet in high heels just right, the doll's feet are three dimensional and the shading will show the way it should. With hands, make sure you at least get the thumb placed right and loosely sketch in the shape. It's not important to draw every finger, her hands aren't the focus of interest. But get a good dynamic gesture and be sure to hint that they're long and delicate. Look at the hands on fashion drawings for examples of "less is more" and hand shapes implied rather than detailed.

Final sketch with both the right lines and the wrong ones left in.

I left in the lines I changed on this one so you can see how many changes go into doing a good figure sketch, especially from imagination. I didn't have a photo reference for this pinup girl, I'm just making her up. But the more I sketch her, the easier it is to fix something that's a little off. Is her leg too long? Too short? Is the pose unreal? Is her head too big?

I've brought this drawing to the point where I'll trace it in the next step, and in the tracing you'll see what the final lines look like.

Tracing of the final sketch

Once you decide on which sketch to use, trace the lines carefully, leaving out any lines you don't want to keep. If you moved her limbs or made a proportion mistake, the tracing is another chance to fix it. I think her head's a little small so I can fix that in the tracing.

Transferred tracing, reversed in position. She still looks good!

Now to transfer the tracing (which could be scaled up or down easily with your scanner and Gimp or Photoshop, or using a copier), I'm going to do it the easy way and just flip her around facing the other way. She should still look good, if she doesn't, then something is seriously wrong and you should back up and fool around some more with your sketches. When in doubt about things like foot shape, keep experimenting and study drawings by professionals, especially commercial art like illustrations in ads.

Using a sharp pencil, draw over the main lines of your tracing from the back to transfer it onto a fresh sheet of paper. It will probably be lighter than your original drawing, but that's okay. It's meant to be erased after you ink her.

Finished pinup girl!

Ink the main lines first, then add features and details. I decided her shoes should have ankle straps too, to make them cuter and her more classic. I could have added stockings with garters, but this is a swimsuit pose. I added some crinkly texture to the bodice of her swimsuit and curved it off around her hip to accentuate the shape of her hips. After many successive sketches, this sweetie is ready to decorate anything I want to put her on. By keeping the lines clean and simple, I could scale her down to an icon or enlarge her and paint her in color with body shading.

Have fun designing your own pinup girls! The more often you do them, the easier it'll be to get them sexy and appealing and classic. Remember, you can fix mistakes at any stage.

If you mess up at the inking stage, just use the tracing again and try another time. If you want to make changes after inking, trace the inked version and make your changes. Let each version build on the last until you've finally got her exactly the way you wanted her.

Even though I did not add a background of a couch or sheet or anything for her to sit on, she looks realistic because I paid attention to where she's leaning, kept the volume of her shape accurate. You can do this easier by drawing from a manikin or doll or even get a model, but if you practice enough you can even draw from imagination like this and have her come out right.

To make her black hair shine, I left strong white highlights. Light hair I would only shade in a little to show the direction of the locks, but black hair is easier in a black and white drawing.

Tip

Try many different poses before settling on a sketch to develop. If something doesn't look right, it probably isn't. Try doing different things with it and look at a professional example for how it's done.

Warning

Don't draw nude pinups in front of people easily offended by nudes, you might get into trouble.