Proportions in Practice

If you struggle with proportions for your figures, this video’s going to be useful for you. If you’d prefer to read it as an article, it is written out below the video.


We’ve described before some techniques for getting things in the right place when you doing life drawing – alignment and negative space and measurement and stuff like that.

Today we’ll talk about how to use these in practice – you combine the different methods to help get things in the right place. What we’re going to look at today is much more analytical than we’d normally suggest you draw, so after we describe some of the methods, we’ll talk about how to develop these skills that they become automatic, so you can do lovely loose drawings and the proportions work without having to worry about them too much.


The arm example

First is an example which is a little bit unusual because here we have a drawing where the figure is in place except for the arm. Normally, you wouldn’t draw like this because you would lay down a simple initial layer which would probably include the arm, and then start to build on and improve that. But this is just a good way to explain how the various methods can come together. This arm and hand is a little way off from the rest of the figure. Let’s try to imagine where it should be on the drawing. 


First, we could try to follow the path of the arm to the hand. I think this is how a lot of people would place the hand in a drawing, and it works but by itself it can go wrong pretty easily. If you get one of the angles a little wrong, then the hand will end up in the wrong place. So we can put done some very light lines following the path of the arm, they don’t look right, but that’s ok. The first attempt is just there to show you what’s wrong so you can see what’s right. 


Next, we’ll see what lines up with the hand horizontally. It looks like the eyebrow line does. I’m happy with my eyebrow line, so I’m going to use it.


Then we can look for how far from the head the hand is. We are happy with our torso, so we could try to see how far the hand is from the head compared to the distance between highest points on the two shoulders. It’s just a little further than that. 

Ok, so now we know it should be on this line and that it should be about this far from the shoulder. We know roughly where the hand should be, maybe now we can do a better job with that arm. Where should that elbow have gone?

Again we can check the alignment – if I imagine a line across from this nipple, the elbow is a little bit below that.

I don’t feel like I need to measure where on that line the elbow should be, because i can follow the angle of the line from the hand to this line. So we now have some initial proportions for our arm.

Lets have a quick look at the negative space created. It looks about right, an irregular rectangle that’s narrower towards the head, but I can see now I may have the shoulder too low and the arm too thick, so I can correct that. 


These are the initial proportions, but as we build up more layers and add tones and so on, you might realise something is wrong. So we can keep correcting it later too.


Go beyond these methods

Now, this is an overly analytical process, much more analytical that we want to be for our figure drawings. But when you’re more experienced, your eye will be making these calculations rapidly in the background without you needing to worry about it too much. For now, we’ll do it consciously.

So working on this is a bit like Daniel-san in karate kid waxing the cars – wax on wax off. He did those motions so many times that eventually, when Mr Miyagi throws punches at him, he can block them all without even realising what he’s doing. As you gain experience and when you’ve done a lot of aligning and measuring and so on, your proportions start to get better even when you don’t use those methods, and you’ll only need them for fixing really difficult areas.

When you are experienced enough that you can get the proportions automatically, you can become looser and more expressive with the drawings. Other methods, like the grid method you may have seen, I think you’d always need to do that manually.

Applying this to a figure

This was made easier because we already had a lot of things in place and we were just adding the arm. When you’re faced with a blank piece of paper though, it can be intimidating. Check out our Life of Drawing programme for 10 weeks of training to build those skills.


How to Draw Any Pose from IMAGINATION During your journey of learning to draw the figure, you’ll probably have pivotal, memorable moments. Maybe it’s a drawing that felt like a turning