Proportion and placement are a fundamental of art. They describe the ability to place an object, or part of an object, in the right place and at the right size. This technique focuses on accuracy and measurement, even when exaggerating your subject.
There are multiple ways of studying and applying this subject.
Sometimes you will use multiple techniques at the same time, other times you will just need one of these techniques, it really depends on the subject and the particular illustration that you are creating. Look at each of these as individual techniques to work on and try out, both in your studies and your illustrations, until you find your own method.
There are some fundamental rules that are important to simply memorise to make your life easier and your artwork more consistent. Think of these as your scales in music or times tables in maths (not that I ever learned any of the latter lol!) This often applies to anatomy rules as memorising them allows you to draw the average human perfectly every time.
Example: The eyes are always half way down the face, the ears line up with the top of the eyebrows and base of the nose etc.
After a while of practicing these fundamental rules you won’t need to think about them any more and you’ll just draw them correctly without thinking. I will dive into anatomy in a future post.
References are so important when you are working on any project. Ideally you want more than one. I often make entire mood boards worth of references for each illustration.
You can also create your own references by using 3D programs, using models and mannequins or posing and taking photos of yourself.
You want to use your reference to inform your work. It can be easy to copy, but you don’t need to, instead use it to help you solve problems that you encounter in your work (perhaps you struggle with a certain part of anatomy or a certain angle) and to remind you of things you know (reminding you of where the bumps on the body are or how certain muscles move.)
If you are drawing an imaginary subject you should still have reference to inform your drawing. (If you’re drawing a dragon you could have a lizard and a bat, or a lizard and a bird and be inspired to draw new types of dragons that make your work unique.)
By informing your work and reminding you that the subject needs to be functional then reference helps you follow the rules of nature and understand the constrictions or exaggerations you want to work with. Eg: you understand where to place the root of the wings to make it believable by looking at birds or you understand how big the head should be relatively by looking at lizards.
This is where you draw lines around objects to constrain them so that you don’t go farther than the allotted area in your drawing. It sounds a bit abstract, but it makes sense when actually drawing.
Imagine you are drawing a sea dragon and you want him to have a large elaborate fin on his head. Draw a bounding box that denotes the highest point and the overall shape of the fin. You will never draw past this line. Now draw the fin inside this shape,using it as a guide.
You can draw a bounding box around an entire subject, ensuring it doesn’t fall off the edge of the page or end up too tall. You can also use it on individual features such as hands or feet etc to make sure they match the rest of your proportions before drawing all the internal details.
Negative space is the space between objects. By drawing the negative space you end up drawing the subject or at least the edge of the subject. Imagine that you are drawing the cut out part. This is particularly useful when ensuring a silhouette is drawn correctly or trying to work out how far apart different body parts or objects are from each other. I am constantly switching between looking at positive and negative space when drawing to measure the overall silhouette or adjust limbs. This is particularly helpful when doing studies or using reference as you can match the negative space in the reference with that of your drawing.
This involves using your base knowledge techniques but helps you apply them and ensure you have measured correctly.
Find an object in your illustration to use as a base measurement. If you have a full figure this could be the head, a hand or a foot. In a portrait it could be the head or an eye. In a landscape it could be a tree or a house or a person. Then measure other parts of the image using this base measurement. Eg the forearm is exactly one foot in length, the body is x amount of heads high, the house is n trees high etc. Use this base measurement to check that everything in your image makes sense in relation to one another.
Landmarks are objects or features that you can always look for and use as guidelines or measuring points to place other objects. They also help you spot the rotation of something.
Eg the ASIS and PSIS dots tell you the rotation of the hips, the nose tells you the rotation of the head, the sternum and the collar bones might help you proportion the torso correctly, or the knees and elbows might help you place the limbs. A landmark can be anything that you can rely on to always be the same, so using the skeleton to find landmarks is an effective tool in figure drawing.
Tools as guides
You can use the tools in your hands to help you. Can’t figure out the angle of a line? Hold your pencil against the line to see the angle clearer and then compare it with what you’ve drawn. You can also use the edge of a brush (real or traditional) in the same way.
Ghosting a line is when you draw it in the air before drawing it on the page. This allows you to feel what the line should be like and do a few practices before committing to the page. You can also ghost a line over a reference image and then try to copy the movement on your own drawing to match an angle or curve exactly.
The above techniques can be used when trying to copy something exactly during a master study or when working from imagination and wanting to ensure everything is believable. Play around with them and you will find yourself naturally knowing when to use each of the techniques.
If you have any questions feel free to leave them below.
If you would like to explore this subject further I recommend checking out Proko’s YouTube videos and the book Drawing on the right side of the brain by Betty Edwards