3 Foreshortening techniques + 2 bonus tips

We are going to go through three powerful techniques, plus two quick bonus ones, to overcome the challenges of foreshortening, and Mayko’s going to demonstrate them.

In the last video, we saw that foreshortening itself isn’t the big problem. In fact, we draw foreshortened objects all the time, and we are happy with all sorts of foreshortening in the figure. The issue is that there are some angles that we are used to seeing the body from and some that we aren’t. When we are presented with an angle that we aren’t used to, our brains want to draw it like we are viewing it from an angle we are used to.

Now as we go through these techniques, I don’t want to be too prescriptive about exactly how you should tackle a foreshortened pose or body part. Your approach doesn’t need to be formulaic, instead as you practise and become familiar with different methods, you’ll use each whenever it’s most useful. Remember that all these techniques are not the ‘correct’ way to do things, you don’t need to put techniques from any tutorials on a pedestal above yourself. These are tools you use to help you, so just grab whichever tool is needed for the job at hand.

1. Alignments and angles

This is a super powerful method. Really, you are seeing alignments and checking angles all the time in drawing. You are constantly checking how each point lines up to the next point you are drawing. But to help make these things clearer, it’s useful to sometimes check alignments by holding up your pencil or something straight and seeing how they align.

One thing Mayko does is to lightly draw big shapes of the figure she can establish more easily, bits that present fewer headaches for her. With this context in place, she can move on the tricky parts using alignments to those established parts.

Notice here that she has actually drawn alignment lines onto the drawing. That helps her to map out her drawing better. If you don’t want to add these light mapping lines, you can just sort of air draw them. Move your hand over the paper as if you were adding these lines, but don’t actually make marks. This way your mind’s eye can see the mapping and the paper is untouched. This is a great thing to do at the start of a drawing too when figuring out the composition. ‘The line of the spine could run along here, the head here, and the legs here, or actually they should be up here etc.’

When drawing a live model rather than a photo, the pose might shift a bit, especially the longer ones. The model’s muscles get tired and naturally things can move and angles can change. If that happens, you have a choice to make – either stick with your structural marks you made at the start or move all your lines as the model moves. Usually, unless it’s actually wrong, we stick with what we drew early in the drawing. You can usually still see all the information you need to add further layers, even if some of the angles have changed.

2. Seeing geometric shapes in the pose

Lets forget the figure and lets see some simple shapes. We aren’t talking about a standard formula. We aren’t saying always draw this part with a circle, and that bit like a cylinder. Those approaches are useful too, but we think it’s a good skill to be flexible. For your initial layers, see the simple 2D shapes that the pose, viewed from the angle you are viewing from, creates.

Here you might notice this triangle shape, and start from there. We are seeing and drawing a triangle, so our brains are not thinking about figures. Keep this layer very light. Try to get the angles and relative sizes roughly right. You can use measurement methods to check the angles and lengths if you like, but ideally you’ll only need to use those when you are really unsure.

As is often the case, it’s best to go for big simple shapes in your initial layers. Shapes that capture big chunks of the pose. You can add smaller elements later on.

When it comes time to add layers with the actual figure, your brain may start to doubt your shapes, because it really wants to straighten the figure out – but you’ll be ready for that.


    The big mistake that led to all my other mistakes

3. Draw the negative space

We have preconceptions about the human figure, but none about the negative space the figure creates. So drawing those shapes is a great way to trick our brains into drawing the reality rather than its preconceptions.

With these legs, there’s all sorts of subtle foreshortening going on. Look at how short this part is becoming compared to that part. Our brains are screaming at us – “but they are supposed to be the same length!” And your eyes can fight back.

Or, you can look at the negative space, and your brain has no opinion on that.

Just this tiny bit of negative space here under the model’s crotch was really helpful in getting this drawing right:

Bonus 1 – Measuring

Ok so here’s some additional useful methods. Yeah it’s a bit boring, but sometimes measuring is a life saver. The old measurement technique that we went through in lesson 7 of our beginner figure drawing series. I won’t explain the process here, since it’s explained in that video already, but basically we can comparing the length of one part of the figure to another by holding out our pencil to these lengths with a fully stretched arm.

I would use this when you are really unsure of something and need help. Sometimes, you can get obsessed with getting everything exactly right, and the whole drawing becomes analytical and overworked. Let your eye do most of the measurements intuitively, and then use this forceful method when you’re in a bind.

Bonus 2 – Circles to cylinders

This method is one I learned from a Croquis Cafe technique video. I’m sure other people teach it too, but I learned it from there, and I really like their technique videos because they are so short and sweet. I’ll link to the video below.

I find this method useful for limbs and fingers, especially from angles where those joints can be thought of as quite spherical. The method essentially involves drawing a circle at the point each joint is and then adding lines to create a 3D cylindrical volume, and then finally with that structure in place drawing the contours and tones of that body part.

Ok guys in the last part of this series, we are going to do this:

Part 3 of the foreshortening series can be found here.

If you haven’t seen our free guide – Life Drawing Success – which is all about the mistake that led to lots of other mistakes for me as a beginner, sign up for it below. Thanks for reading!

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