TUTORIAL - Relative Figure Proportions - by dbclemons

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  07 July 2005
Arrow TUTORIAL - Relative Figure Proportions - by dbclemons

Figure Drawing Tutorial:
Relative Proportion

The purpose of this tutorial is to illustrate a technique of using relative points in space as measurements for drawing live models in a grid. The general idea is to block out where everything goes in consistent units of measure that puts everything in the proper proportion. As a source image I've chosen "The Dying Gaul" by Epigonos, one of my favorite ancient Greek sculptures.
(Image source acquired from www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/Arts/Pergamon.htm)

In this image the slightly twisted, elongated pose makes it a bit of a challenge to draw correctly. Measuring points of reference in one direction is relatively easy, like for a standing figure, but it gets more complicated when parts of the figure go out in space in opposite directions and in perspective. Let's try to make that easy too. What Iím going to do here is redraw this photo on my screen as if the sculpture was in front of me.

I like to begin by lightly roughing out the overall pose of the figure, much like a gesture drawing, but the purpose is to block out the overall shape that I will later refine. This will allow me to compose the figure right from the start, and keep the entire figure on the page. All of this is done with only a few marks, usually just in contour, and drawn in a few seconds.

Many artists use the head as the unit of measure, which is a logical choice since it's often easy to separate out its length; although sometimes it too can be in perspective, and you may need another body part as reference. I next want to determine what is half of this head length to use for smaller units. Holding out a ruler instead of a pencil makes that easier. My task here is to spot where major points of the figure lie in space using a simple grid of intersecting lines.

I've already roughly drawn the shape of the head, and I see on the model that the eyes line up roughly with the right thumb, so I lightly draw where I want the eyes to be, and draw a line straight down from there. Looking at the model I can use my head-unit measure and see that the wrist is less than 2 heads from that eyebrow (A to B,) and one head from the wrist to that fold of skin below his chest (B to C.) Using the length of the head I've drawn I make marks on that line that are 1 and 2 heads down from the brow. Next I'll draw lines horizontally from those points, and fill out a grid over my rough outline. I can compare this grid on my page to the model, and I can use this to line up other parts of the body, with all of them in relative proportion to each other, so I know I'm placing things in the right spot.

Now I can continue lining up the rest of the figure on the page by measuring out more head lengths or using a longer section that I'm certain is already measured correctly, like the arm. Itís at this time that I notice I placed the right foreshortened knee to close to the back arm, and the left leg was too long. To get that far left foot in the right spot I line it up to that object (a Celtic trumpet) below the other foot and measure the distance from the right toe to the left ankle, and see that it happens to be one head length. I can determine the proper angle of the left arm by finding out where it starts and ends in this grid. Once I've set the extreme reference points, it's easier to draw in the details, but I don't need to bother with that now. I want to make sure everything's placed first. As long as I keep my lines straight and measurements true, everything should line up correctly.

Be certain to pay attention to the negative shapes that appear in the model to help with accuracy (between his foot and leg or the arms.) Youíll notice that some lines within the model have a slight angle to them and arenít straight. The outer curves of the contour are very subtle, and pay close attention to the width of things like how thin the ankles are here. The more you do this the less youíll come to rely on drawing a grid, and youíll start to get a sense for how things line up just by looking at them.

Thanks for your time,

Last edited by dbclemons : 07 July 2005 at 01:57 PM.
  07 July 2005


This is great!! I am so happy to see more people posting tutorials! I just realized this was here.

Thank you!


Korpus School of Art + Gallery
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Downtown Los Angeles

  07 July 2005
nice job, thanks for posting
  07 July 2005
You're welcome (eew, that Courier font's not pretty.) Hope someone finds it helpful.

  07 July 2005
Thanks DB Clemons

This tutorial is very helpful for working with live models and reference materials. It would be particularly helpful for foreshortening parts of the body more accurately in "difficult" poses. I am so glad you told us about your method. The ruler is a good idea too!

  07 July 2005
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