Proportions in the human figure

The OCA course material states that the human head should fit into the figure seven times.  However, the figure that they use to illustrate this is a study in red chalk by George Stubbs and when I checked “his” proportions, the “head fit factor” was 8, although the head does appear small in  relation to the body (Study of the Human figure, Anterior view, c. 1795-1806, red chalk on paper).  Gottfried Bammes, in his book “Complete Guide to Life Drawing”,  begins discussing proportion from the premise that the adult human head fits into the body eight times (Bammes, p.12).   I have also heard that that the factor is actually 7 1/2 (could not quickly track a ref to this at time of writing).  I assume that there is individual variation.   I am going to work from the factor of eight because it is easier arithmetically to do this, and I shall then check individual drawings carefully to see whether this is realistic, and adjust the head size accordingly. 



At the first life drawing class, we had a male model in his mid to late thirties.  This first week, I didn’t record the times of poses and so had to estimate retrospectively.  I photographed the drawings and then selected two standing poses, one of which I adjusted digitally so that it was the same size as drawings in Bammes’ book (p. 15), and then checked proportions by placing it alongside Bammes’ models in my sketchbook – see below. I concluded that the proportions of the upper body were approximately correct but that the upper leg was a little too long relative to the leg below the knee.  I am unsure about the centre of gravity because, some time after the class, I cannot be certain how the model distributed his weight in this pose (it should be obvious in my drawing but isn’t…).  From the drawing, it appears be a contrapposto pose, in which the weight is unevenly distributed, and one foot bears more of the weight than the other (Bammes, p. 72). The centre of gravity in such a standing pose lies mid-pelvis on a vertical line that flows between the “dip” at the base of the neck and the sole of the weight-bearing foot.  The model’s weight appears to be borne more by the his left foot but it is quite likely – given that this was a 15-20 minute pose –  that he was standing in a balanced position, in which case a plumb line dropped from his centre of gravity would lie between his feet.  



The second pose that I checked in this way was one in which the model was facing me but is posed putting on a dressing gown so his body is partly concealed. Again, the weight appears to be unevenly distributed but I cannot be sure.  The relative proportions of upper and lower leg are better in this drawing.  The head fits into the body eight times but does appear a bit small for the size of the body.  However, the model had a roundish rather than long head.  


Here are the drawings from this session (altogether just over two hours, including time spent reviewing each other’s work), with estimated times for each pose.  The drawings were made in A3 sketchbook using a variety of dry media. 

The first drawings were made with a dark red Inktense pencil. Each pose lasted 15-20 minutes.  The model is not round-shouldered … 



The next drawings were each 5 minute poses.  I used a small piece of brown chalk, mainly on its side in order to block in shapes quickly.  I found this challenging – getting proportions down quickly and judging angles of limbs in relation to torso and so on is not easy.  In the second drawing below, the legs are too small for the upper body, which is too long.  The proportions in the third drawing are reasonable and I am quite pleased with the balance.  The ghostly charcoal figure is an imprint from the drawing that I made subsequently on the opposite page!




The final two drawings of the evening were about 20 minutes each.  The first was done with a hard charcoal pencil.  The second was with an Inktense pencil to which I then applied a wash.  The model wore glasses for the last pose. 



The position of the man’s right leg is not correct.  The foot looks as if it is partly resting on the floor but I think that it may have been hanging in mid-air… 

This drawing seems very odd to me – half man, half seal (although the model didn’t seem to mind it!)… 

What I need to do next time: 

  • Pay attention to the distribution of body weight and sketch the position of the body in relation to the feet – try to visualise the centre of gravity so that the figure appears balanced.
  • Begin by roughly judging proportions in relation to the head.  Focus on getting vertical sections right first.
  • Try to situate the entire figure on the page roughly before developing the drawing. 


OCA Course Material for Drawing 1, p.99.

Bammes, Gottfried  (2011) Complete guide to Life Drawing.  Search Press. 

George Stubbs, Study of the Human figure, Anterior view, from a Comparative Anatomical Exposition of the Structure of the Human Body with that of a Tiger and a Common Fowl”, c. 1795-1806, red chalk on paper.    Image courtesy of Bridgman Education. 


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