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Fundamental Figure Drawing Proportion
human figure drawing showing skeleton and proportions
Ed Hall, licensed to About.com, Inc.
Correct proportion is one of the really big issues that every artist faces in figure drawing. It's important because it's the first thing we tackle when beginning a drawing and it's often at the root of problems as we progress with a drawing. Unfortunately, many students approach the problem from the wrong direction, trying to impose a set of external rules on the figure that often bear little relation to what they are looking at. In theory a figure might be seven-and-a-half heads tall, but this is really only a general guide. In practice, individual differences and the effect of pose and perspective mean that each figure needs to be approached on its own terms. So where do we begin?

Fundamental Proportions - The Big Three

When working out the proportions of our figure drawings, whether it be for a gesture or the start of a longer rendering, it is important to remember that underneath all of that skin and muscle, there is a super-structure holding the whole thing up - the skeleton. Over the years, I have come to recognize that the skeleton (like most things) can be broken down proportionally into large-medium-and small formal relationships. In the case of the figure, the chest (or rib cage) would be the large form, the hips (or pelvis) would be the medium proportion, and the head (or skull) would represent the smaller element. These ideas are developed from the teachings of classical drawing master George Bridgeman (who calls these three the large movable masses), and modern comic artist Glenn Fabry who calls it the "skull, chest, hips" method. I took their teachings a step farther to incorporate my own "large, medium, small" definition of these masses.

It is important to get these down first, at the correct angles and turning properly in relationship to one another. These are the major masses of the figure and without their correct size relationships, the drawing will look out of proportion. The limbs just kind of hang off of these “big three.”

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