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Drawing Proportions Correctly


Drawing Proportions Correctly


2 methods for drawing the correct proportions : Sight Size and Comparative Measurement


When drawing realistically, one of the most important factors for a believable representation is to get the proportions right. Certain measuring techniques can be very helpful for both beginners and advanced users. There are two main methods: the so-called "sight size" and the "comparative measurement" (also called the "comparative measurement method").


What is that?


“Sight size” is the measurement method in which the subject being viewed is put on paper in the size in which the artist sees it. This is where the name comes from: “Sight size” literally means “sight size”. The drawing is created in comparison to what is seen on a scale of 1:1 .


Sight Size Drawing


How does Sight Size work? Step-by-Step

  1. Position your drawing board as straight as possible (90 degrees).

  2. Make sure you position yourself and your board so that you can see your design in a format that fits on your paper (or other drawing surface). Depending on which hand you are drawing with, you should look along the opposite side of the board when drawing and measuring (eg left side if you are right-handed). You should be at least an arm's length away from your board.

  3. Make sure you are facing your board, with your center of body exactly between your subject and your board. For example, when drawing figures, it can be helpful to just overlap the edge of the board with the outermost point of the figure.

  4. Mark your position with tape.

  5. Find a central vertical line through your subject with one eye closed and draw it on your paper. A plumb line (see under "Measuring instruments") can help you get this straight.

  6. You can now measure the most important heights of your subject as follows: Stand upright in your position, stretch your arms out in front of you (!) so that your "measuring instrument" is exactly horizontal in front of you (if you are using a "measuring instrument" such as a plumbline) and close one eye. Overlay the plumbline with the point whose height you want to transfer and make a mark where the plumbline intersects the vertical line on your paper. You can do this at any height, but it is helpful to start with the highest and lowest points of your subject and then work your way down the heights in order of importance.

  7. Check (even several times) your heights depending on your highest and lowest points.

  8. To measure the most important widths , assume the same position and pose as when measuring heights, close one eye, and measure the distance between the desired point and the imaginary central line on your subject. You can use a "measuring tool" to do this: if you're using a plumbline, use both thumbs to record the exact distance; if you're using a stable object (such as a pencil, ruler, etc.), use one thumb and the end of the object. Transfer the width by holding your measurement above your paper and overlapping one side (either the thumb or the other end) with the vertical line. You can do this with any width, but it's helpful to start with the widest point on your subject and work down the widths in order of importance.

  9. Check your widths (even several times) depending on your widest point.


It is up to you whether you measure all the important heights first and then all the important widths, or whether you measure them alternately, so that you transfer one point (height and width) after the other.

Comparative Measurement, on the other hand, is used when something needs to be transferred that is seen as larger or smaller than it is shown in the drawing. This is the case when the subject is very close or very far away from the person drawing. For example, the spatial environment can influence the choice of measurement method - in a small room, you may not be able to move far enough away from the subject to achieve the appropriate format. In Comparative, the drawing is always created at a scale of 1:X to what is seen (for the mathematicians, with X≠1).


Comparative Drawing

How does “Comparative Measurement” work? Step-by-Step


  1. You can set up your drawing board at a 90 degree angle, but the comparative method can also be used if you have your paper lying flat on the table or are holding a pad on your knees.

  2. Although you may not be able to position yourself and your board to see your subject in a format that fits on your paper, you should still make sure you have a good view of your subject. If you are using an upright board, depending on which hand you are drawing with, you should look along the opposite side of the board when drawing and measuring (for example, left if you are right-handed). You should be about an arm's length away from your board. Having a little space behind you can be helpful when you step back later to make a better comparison of the overall impression.

  3. Make sure you are facing your board, with your center of gravity exactly between your subject and your board.

  4. Mark your position with tape.

  5. Find a central vertical line through your subject with one eye closed and draw it on your paper. A plumbline can help you get this straight.

  6. Normally, you start a drawing in "Comparative Measurement" by determining the highest and lowest point of the motif on the paper. To do this, simply select two points on the paper that match the desired format of your drawing. These points will then serve as the basis for all your further measurements.

  7. Next, you determine the most important heights of your subject: Similar to Sight Size, you have to stand in your position, stretch out your arms with your "measuring instrument" in front of you and close one eye. You then determine the height of the selected point by comparing its distance from the highest and its distance from the lowest point (distances can be recorded using your thumb or thumbs, as with Sight Size). This gives you a length ratio (e.g. 2/3), which you can then transfer to your paper.

  8. Check (even several times) your length ratio and the resulting marking.

  9. To measure the important widths , take the same position you used for the heights and close one eye. Then you need to find a distance that you already determined for the heights (eg for a portrait: the distance from the highest point to the hairline, from the eyebrows to the tip of the nose, from the nose to the mouth, etc.) to use as a unit of measurement. Once you have decided on such a unit, you can measure the distance from the imaginary central line of your subject to the point whose width you want to determine (eg the width of the cheekbone could be 2 eyebrow-to-hairline units). You can then transfer this length ratio to your paper. You can do this with any width, but it is helpful to start with the widest point of your subject and then work your way down the widths in order of importance.

  10. Check (even several times) your length ratio and the resulting marking.


As with the Sight Size, it is basically up to you whether you measure all the important heights first and then all the important widths, or whether you measure them alternately so that you transfer one point (height and width) after the other, but you should start with the highest and lowest point, as well as an additional height, which can then serve as a unit of measurement for the widths.

Plumblines, wooden skewers, knitting needles or similar thin, sturdy objects, and rulers can be used as useful measuring instruments . Using such tools, you can then simply take the exact or comparative measurements with your thumb(s).


What are these measurement methods used for?


Both measuring methods are used - depending on the artist's preference and of course on the local conditions - whenever something needs to be represented to scale and in exact proportion. In classical art, this is the case with drawings that are created directly from a real model, such as nude drawings, portraits or still lifes. They can also be helpful with "master copies" (copies of works by old masters). But these measuring methods can also be used for "newer" directions such as urban sketching (drawings of architecture and environments).


How do I learn these methods?


Since both methods are relatively simple and quick to explain, it is not difficult to teach yourself. There are also numerous tutorials online that explain the processes in detail and clearly. Of course, these cannot give you feedback on whether you are doing everything right, so you should be very careful to follow details. But if you would like this kind of feedback, you should look for a teacher who has mastered these methods and can point out any errors in transfer or give you proper instructions. Such teachers can be found in private lessons or workshops, but of course also at schools such as the Academy of Fine Art Germany, which teach their students these basics right at the beginning of their studies.

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