Lesson 7 – Measurements (angles, alignments, lengths and distances)
It’s best to watch the video so you can see the demonstrations, but if you prefer we have also written out the lesson below.
In the last lesson we had given our superstickman a nice ribcage and pelvic area. Things might be a bit out of place or a bit wonky. That’s to be expected – unless you’re an expert it’s hard to get all these initial lines just right. In this lesson, we are going to look at some ways to make adjustments so that the lines get a little bit closer to where they should be.
In the future, we will increasingly be able to get things in the right place and in proportion intuitively, as our eye is trained up more. At this stage though, getting proportions, angles and positioning right will involve more conscious relative measurement and alignment.
Lets talk about angles first. Is each body part at the right angle on our stickman? To measure angles we aren’t sure of, we can use a pencil, or in this case a coffee stirrer. Hold out your pencil against the pose to determine the angle of each element, and then transfer the pencil, retaining the same angle, to your page. How do your angles compare? So we can check the overall angle of the legs, arms, torso centre line, or anything else we’re concerned about.
If something is wrong, don’t start rubbing out immediately. We know that a certain angle needs fixing, but we don’t want to get rid of anything yet. We are going to use the wrong line, recognising what was wrong with it, as a sort of reference point to understand where the right one should be. Once you are happy with your correction, you can then get rid of the older line.
Now how about the angles between different points in the pose? The angle between the two heels, for example. Or here we’re checking the angle from one elbow to the opposite shoulder. Or here, the angle between the elbow to the shoulder on the opposite side.
Lets start by imagining a drop line – just a vertical line running straight down to the ground, from a part of the body like the earlobe. What else falls on that line? Are things falling on that line in your drawing? The ear is often a useful drop line since that line is a line of balance in many standing poses. Here Mayko is checking the drop lines from the armpits.
We can do the same with a horizontal line. Look at the point at the tip of the fingers, for example, and imagine a horizontal line across from it – what else is falling on that line in the pose? How does your drawing compare? The points that you use for your horizontal or vertical lines are up to you and depend on what’s most useful for that pose, or what your drawing needs – what you’re concerned about in it.
Lengths and distances
Next we will measure lengths and distances. Remember that most of this work will be done with your eye’s intuition, rather than your analytical mind. But when you are confused or unsure – something doesn’t look right but you can’t quite figure out what – you can get your analytical mind in to do some work.
You can measure a length or distance by holding out your pencil along the length of the thing you are measuring. Keep one eye closed. Now align the tip of the pencil with one end of the length, and then place your thumbnail on the pencil at the point that lines up with other end of the length. If you are drawing a live model, you’ll want to hold out the pencil at arm’s length, to ensure that the pencil is in the same position relative to your eye between measurements.
Now, the point is not to transfer the length measured on your pencil to the page. The aim here is to measure relative lengths and distances – in other words how long something is relative to another thing from your point of view should be the same in the real figure as it is in your drawing.
To keep things simple, you could always compare everything to the length of the head, as in ‘how many head lengths is the torso?’. This requires that you measure the length of the head and then transfer that length onto the torso to see how many head lengths fit inside it. For example in this drawing, Mayko finds there is one head length to the nipple line, another to the belly button and a third to the crotch. She can then check that this is the same in her drawing.
Some artists like to choose two lengths to measure the pose – a shorter one for measuring small lengths and a longer one for bigger measurements. For example, Mayko used head lengths for smaller distances, but now she is checking the length of the legs against the length of the torso and head combined.
What lengths you use for each drawing depends on the pose and what you think is clear and easy.
We are going to draw a construction for a pose viewed from the front. Next, we will measure lots of different things about the pose and check it on our construction. Usually, we won’t do so much measuring, but just for this exercise we will.
We are going to measure the following on each one:
- Height and width in terms of head lengths
- Distance between chin and nipples, nipples and belly button, length of arms and legs
- Angles of torso centre line, arms, legs and the angle of the line that runs between the heels.
- Alignments – what lies on the vertical line dropping straight down from the ear? How about the horizontal line running across from one elbow?
- You should add alignments, angles and lengths that you think need measuring for each pose.
We have started to practise skills around measuring angles and lengths, and aligning different points in the figure. Practising these methods will train your eye, such that you can start to use these methods less and less and just trust yourself to get things right without consciously measuring everything. Once you hit that stage, you just need to We are going to keep using those skills throughout the drawing.
We are almost ready to start fleshing out our construction with the full figure. First though, we need to learn about the little adjustments to this construction process when you are looking at the pose from the side or back, so that’s the next lesson.
PS: Life Drawing Success is our FREE guide to avoiding the common pitfalls with learning figure drawing. You can download it HERE