Drawing a Head In Proportion to the Body

It's a very common problem—your hand was flying during that gesture drawing session as you raced against the clock to capture the model before you. You thought everything looked good. But now, stepping back from your work, you notice a big problem (or shall we say a "little" problem)—A full-grown adult was modeling, but a little child ended up on your drawing paper. What happened?

In the rush of things, you didn't notice that you had drawn the head much too big for the body (or perhaps the body too small for the head).

For me,
the greatest help in overcoming this problem was memorizing a diagram of standard head-height proportions like the one below (drawn by me after Andrew Loomis). Notice the figures have been divided into 8 "head-heights":

Note: If an 8-head figure looks too tall to you,
do a Google image search for a 7.5-head figure
by Andrew Loomis, Paul Richer or George Bridgman.
Exactly which diagram you memorize is less important
than just memorizing one of them (as long as it's from
a trusted source like one of the above artists).

I used to disregard diagrams like this for 2 reasons:

  1. I thought, "I don't need this—When am I ever going to draw a figure just standing up straight like that?"

  2. "This is useless—How often am I going to draw someone with the exact same proportions as these?"

But I've changed my mind about this. I've found that memorizing standard proportions is invaluable to me when I'm drawing a figure. Here's why:

  • You'll be able to accomplish tough poses with confidence, even when the model isn't standing up straight like in the diagram. For example, let's say the model has her arm stretched way out to the side. Just using your eye, it can be tough to know exactly how long to draw her arm. But if you remember that the length of the arm is about 2 head heights from armpit to wrist, you can make a quick measurement and draw that arm the perfect length.
  • You'll know what to expect. When you don't know what to expect, you have to solve the same proportion problems afresh every time you draw a figure. Having prior knowledge about proportions will aid you in achieving an accurate drawing much more quickly and efficiently.
In addition, You'll be able to accurately compensate when the model has different proportions that the ones you memorized. When my model is shorter than the 8-head figure I've memorized, I can compensate by drawing each division of the body a bit shorter. But if I hadn't memorized the head-height diagram, I wouldn't know what the divisions of the body are to begin with.

I recommend memorizing the head-height diagram in this email by drawing copies of it until you can make an accurate copy without looking at the original. You'll find it a great help next time you draw a figure from life.

Now, you might be thinking, "You say that memorizing head-heights can help me draw figures in proportion, but what about tough situations like foreshortened limbs?" Well, I'm glad you asked, because that's exactly what I'll talk about next time in "3 Ways to Conquer Foreshortening."

Did you find this lesson valuable? You can have lessons like this one delivered directly to your inbox when you sign up for our Email Newsletter below (Be sure to check "Free art lessons"). 

Until next time,

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