Figure drawing: proportion and alignment

Once again, in the absence of this week’s class, I have analysed and redrawn an existing life drawing (more of a sketch really).  The original was drawn in 15-20 minutes.  As with the previous exercise, this has solved some existing problems and raised some new ones!  The photographs are sludgy: I have tried lightening the background as far as possible. 

The main problems with the drawing below are:

  • the lower torso – it is too short in proportion to the rest of the model and her waist is too high.  It is possible that she is slouching slightly in the chair and the introduction of tone in that region could give the image more depth and possibly correct the problem.  However, that has occurred to me at the end of the process and it would be difficult (for me) to achieve without the model in front of me. 
  • The legs, at least below the knee, are too small in relation to the upper body, especially given that they project towards the viewer. 



The head and upper torso appear to be in proportion. I have lightened this image and sharpened it slightly because cropping has reduced the number of pixels per, producing a slightly fuzzy image.  Mark-making is clearer than in the full figure drawing, now.  The position of her collar bones is odd – they seem to have been drawn as an afterthought  – at least the one on the model’s right, closest to the viewer. Her right breast and right eye are slightly too high.  If she is facing me, they should be level with the left.

220920121379  Version 2


The model appears to be sitting almost full on to the viewer but this creates a problem with her chair.  She is simultaneously leaning back and facing the viewer but her chair is at an angle!  The simplest thing would be to correct the position of the chair seat or situate her on a bench in order to provide more context. 

I printed a photo of the original drawing and made some adjustments to the seat of the chair and to the model’s legs to see what impact that would have on proportions and overall balance.  By widening the chair seat, she looks more correctly positioned in the chair. By darkening outline of the model’s legs and widening the calves slightly, they are brought further forward with respect to her head and upper body. There is a slight improvement to proportions and perspective overall even with these small adjustments but the legs are still too short, even if more substantial. 


Screen Shot 2012 10 19 at 13 54 32


I decided to alter her position as I addressed the proportion problem and so tried to reproduce the leg positions in front of a full-length mirror.  As I was viewing the model / myself from an angle, there was now a vanishing point: hips, waist, elbows, breasts and shoulders now had to be angled away from the viewer, at decreasing angles, respectively, as the eye level (the models own eyes) is approached.  The (model’s) left arm becomes significantly foreshortened at this angle, the position of the hands changes and the model’s right knee protrudes beyond a vertical line dropped from her left shoulder.  I have caught the volume of the thigh but not its true line.  Adding tone would help give form and make it more lifelike but the line itself should be more fluid. 

I left the hands and feet until last: I find feet awkward to draw from any angle other than straight down.  Hands are a little easier through daily familiarity – which is not to say that I don’t need to practise! 

The drawing below is a mid-way, not-quite-there version:

Screen Shot 2012 10 20 at 15 44 39


The feet are in – OK-ish for now – but the hands must be added.  The drawing has been made by using the original as well as altering her position using a mirror which has created a curious composite of a model facing two directions at once!  This was a problem encountered in a previous exercise.  Her head also appears rather wooden, and to be wearing a wig!  The neck is too thin in relation to the shoulders – shouldn’t it also be vertical if it is to support the head properly?  The head and breasts should be more in profile – facial features and nipples need to be shifted towards the right in the image.  The shape of her left breast is odd.  There is an overall unreal, “plastic” feeling to the image – no sense of flesh and blood.

Here is the drawing after these adjustments are made.  There is better alignment and a bit more shape -arm and leg muscle lines are a bit clearer.  Adding colour to the chair has helped emphasise this. The head overall has improved but it seems that I cannot decide what to do with her hair.  She looks pretty miserable!

Screen Shot 2012 10 20 at 15 24 33



Here are the original, the mid-way and the final drawing for comparison.  The lower torso appears slightly longer than in the original because the viewpoint has changed, which has also altered the angle of the thigh, so proportions are better.  The head may also be smaller in relation to overall body size. The head appears slightly too large in the original but slightly too small in the final version. The model is also better aligned with the chair – but doesn’t appear any more comfortable!  

Screen Shot 2012 10 20 at 15 21 09



 What I have learned from this process:

  • I have noticed in this exercise, as well as in the previous one, that re-drawing a drawing creates a doll-like figure compared with the life in both of the originals. Although I have not judged all of the proportions correctly in both of the drawings from life (in this post and the previous one on proportions), I can “see” the person and do get a sense of having drawn from life.  This is at least partly because I tend to add facial features that are no more than “two eyes, a nose and a mouth” when re-drawing.  Even though the original features do not necessarily create a true likeness (I can’t judge this now but they probably don’t!), they retain a sense of a real person.  Also in the re-drawing, the buttocks and thigh lack the fleshy flow of thighs in real life.  In general, the quality of line is different when drawing from a live subject, perhaps because then I am more conscious of nuances in muscle form and of the forces exerted on flesh when it meets another surface, such as a chair seat.
  • Even quite small alterations in the position of a model can quite radically alter the perspective: what can and cannot be seen, as well as the angles at which different parts of the body lie in relation to each other. 
  • Addition of tone can aid perspective, assuming proportions are correct.
  • I need to practise drawing hands, feet and hair! 
  • Once again, re-drawing has addressed problems of proportion but lost some of the presence of the subject.  So, the take-home message is address the problems of proportion carefully when drawing “live”!  


Next life drawing class:

  • Make several small sketches first for longer poses.  Spend 2-3 minutes, sketching in lines and angles and measure proportions. Then sketch in head and check that length and width of body in relation to this will fit onto the page before beginning to draw.  Scale up and add the established lines and angles of the body lightly.  Draw in the main shapes lightly and then created rounded forms from these.  From there, add tone and detail.  It would be better to get only part of the way through but with a sense of “correctness” a few times than to finish with obvious and avoidable errors of proportion. 


Taking it further: I wanted to have some fun after all this and so did a blind contour drawing (below) of the final drawing.  Her legs aren’t bad but her arms are badly drawn.  However, the point of this was to work with whatever emerged from the contour drawing, so… Having been to the Max Ernst Museum this week, I was inspired to use some frottage: I used an onion net to give the lady some fish net stockings.  I had a (sadly, empty) chocolate tin on my desk with a raised inscription on the lid and used this on her arm.  I coloured the chair to bring her forward a bit and to add colour, and the rose in her hair was an impulse – well, I suppose all of it was, really! 







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