Life drawing focus: Correct proportions

Because the life class does not neatly allow me to fulfil all of the OCA tasks in the order of the course materials, I have decided focus on a specific difficulty, medium or approach each week and check and log as I fulfil the tasks.  I will keep track of what I have and have not done and then fill in any gaps at the end.  Whatever, the class provides plenty of practice in making careful observations and trying to commit these to paper.

I realised when I went to life class this week that I had not posted the drawings from before the break, so here they are.  The model was an art student and also provided helpful feedback when we intermittently reviewed our work as a class.  The drawings are presented in the order of drawing. My focus was correct proportions.

A particular problem that I have is drawing the head in correct proportion with the body.  I start with an overall shape and position and then use the size of the head to get a sense of overall measurements and to ensure that the drawing will fit on the page. However, I usually end up with a head that is too small.  If I do not add facial and hair detail until the end, it might be possible to correct the head size visually once I have an overall outline and have begun to develop the drawing. Gottfried Bammes’ (1) drawing model (the head fits into the body 8 times) is a great model to work from but it consistently produces, for me, figures with undersized heads.

Some time ago, I attended a weekend seminar on the clothed figure and one of the first exercises was to draw figures from magazines focusing on straight edges and angles, before developing more rounded form. I mention it here because I decided to take this approach with the first drawing.  I began with straight lines to convey the overall shape and position.  This is most evident in the head and arm – the elbow is too pointed! I have not applied this technique consistently, however.  I redrew lines where I had underestimated the width of the figure. I redrew (the model’s) left leg further over to correct the sense of balance. The model’s weight is slightly more on her left leg than her right, hence (her) left hip is lower than her right as it holds more weight. Her head is too small!    15 minutes.  Pencil on A3 paper.


The second drawing was drawn in a small format.  I drew it smaller to be able to focus on tone.  The proportions are better.  The model commented that in this position, her ears should be in line with the inside of her ankle but that once the head is turned away, as it is in this pose, it becomes harder to judge. She thought this drawing to be approximately correct. 20 minutes.  Pencil on A3 paper.

We then drew a series of short poses, each 5-7 minutes.  Once the legs are folded, whether in the position below or sitting, it becomes much harder to judge proportions, due to foreshortening.  In this pose, the model is angled away slightly but legs and upper body are aligned.  Even allowing for slight foreshortening, most evident on the lower legs, which appear furthest from the viewer, they are too short and insubstantial. On the other hand, the arms do appear to be supporting the body and the overall pose is believable.  5 minutes, pencil on paper.  


The portions in the next pose definitely do not work! The head and shoulders do not “belong” to the rest of the body.  The angles made by the back, buttocks and thigh in the supporting leg were redrawn several times but do not quite fit together.  The line of the upper arm as it emerges from the shoulder dips unconvincingly, although the overall line from elbow to shoulder should travel upwards, away from the viewer.


The three poses above were all drawn on a single sheet of A3.

The third quick pose has the best proportions of the three,  although the lower legs should be slightly longer. I began by drawing an outline using straight edges, and a few sharp angles remain.The overall balance of the pose is alright, with the model’s lower legs and feet in line with the centre of her torso.   However, I could not convincingly portray the model’s arms.  I tried to redraw but ran out of time. The angle, as well as the substance / mass of the shoulders and upper arms, is not correct.  I tried to reproduce this pose at home – the arms seem to be in approximately the right position but the shape is not correct.  More muscle definition in the drawing would make it more convincing. There is also foreshortening of upper and lower arm, more noticeable on the lower arm; she has angled her arms out away from her body and then drawn them back in again to her knees.  I have conveyed some of the foreshortening but the lower arm is too weak. She had her hands balled into fists but this could also be clearer in the drawing.


The last three poses were at least 20 minutes.  Each was drawn on A3 paper, in pencil.  Although the drawing below contains a lot of redrawing of the model’s foreshortened left leg, the marks create a sense of energy in the drawing, which I like.  I am pleased with the overall line and form of upper and lower body, foreshortening of the lower leg as it stretches away on the right of the drawing, as well as the overall proportions.


I am also pleased with the overall proportions in this next drawing.  It also captures a sense of the model herself and just a pose. The use of tone is very rough and hurriedly applied after the “two minute warning” and could doubtless be improved.  However, this drawing and the last one give me a sense of satisfaction that I have somewhat achieved my aim for this life drawing session.


The last drawing of the class.  I began this drawing too low on the page (I tend to situate the head first) and not far enough over to the right.  I underestimated the stretch of her arm from her shoulder.   Hence, her feet don’t fit and I also omitted the model’s right hand.  I have tried to address tonal contrast here in order to give a more accurate sense of muscle form.  However, in changing my primary focus from proportion, I have drawn her head too small again! She has tilted her head and it is angled slightly away from the viewer but it is still too small.  There is also a sense that she might be toppling backwards – so (the model’s) left leg is placed a bit too far forward on the paper.  This would work if she were holding on to a support but, from memory (a few weeks ago), this was a free-standing pose. I am pleased with overall upper and lower body proportions and there is a sense of substance missing from some of the earlier poses in this session.



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


2 thoughts on “Life drawing focus: Correct proportions

  1. Hi,
    I have really enjoyed reading some of your blog entries. I think your comment about your life class not fitting into the OCA course outline neatly is really interesting and something I was chatting with my OC A tutor about. In my example it’s the Observation in Nature section I’m referring to. I said that I’ve found something eg hawthorn berries, come home and started to use them for a particular exercise but found this subject not suitable . But as I’ve got the berries, I draw them anyway for evidence of a different part of the section. My tutor is quite happy about this, I guess because the berries are acting as a stimulus for me to draw. For me it’s a bit like cooking with foods that are in season maybe, drawing things that are current … But don’t quite match the OCA exercises, which are I think for guidance only. I may be wrong as its all still pretty new to me.
    Keep up your great life drawing !

    1. Hi Vanessa, thank you for the positive comments. In the end, drawing is the thing, isn’t it? – anything is good practice and it always seems to lead somewhere, even if that isn’t necessarily apparent to others. I take a “warts and all” approach to posting: if I’ve tried it out, on the blog it goes – even when I know it hasn’t worked – and then I try to move on from there. The journey is great fun!

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