How To Draw People In Proportion
By Clayton Barton
Introduction to Proportions
Here you can see a line-up of four Comic Book superheros. At a glance they might look like they’re drawn fairly well. They’re all wearing costumes that look pretty cool. And for the most part, their anatomy is all placed together in the right order. They’re also packed with loads of detail and intricate rendering. And of course on a technical level, they’ve been refined with carefully weighted line work.
As a whole, you could call these characters well drawn. But if you look carefully, you might also see that something’s just a little bit off about them. They don’t quite look right. Why is that?
From the left, character number 1’s arm is way too big for the rest of his body. Combine that with his stumpy lower legs, and he soon starts to look more like a lumbering ape than a superhero. On top of that, his head is slightly too big for his body, giving him a characterized, bobble headed appearance.
Character number two has a large head as well. But in this case it doesn’t pose too much of a problem, other than the fact it unintentionally makes her look a lot younger than she’s supposed to be. What really sticks out here like a saw thumb is her freakishly huge hulk hand.
Character three has the opposite problem. He’d otherwise be drawn quite well, if his head wasn’t so small. He’s also sporting a bulky gorilla arm which is frankly a few sizes larger than it needs to be. And finally, we’ve got character four with her long, elegant legs.
Technically, her legs are indeed way too long in relation to the rest of her body. Longer legs do however give characters an attractive edge. So depending on style, this look might actually be more desirable for getting characters to exude a little more sex appeal.
All 4 of these characters have been drawn noticeably out of proportion. And although in this example I’ve purposefully not sized them up correctly to make a point, there was once a time when this kind of thing popped up in my drawings constantly.From time to time I still struggle with proportions. And maybe you’ve faced a similar dilemma when drawing your characters too, where they just don’t quite seem to fit together in the right way.
Here’s why this is one of the most common dilemmas we all face when we start learning how to draw the human figure.
From head to toe, every part of our body conforms to a standard set of measurements according to its height. For the most part, these measurements are the same from person to person, with a few minor differences in between. That’s why when our characters aren’t drawn in proportion they usually look strange to us; because they simply veer too far away from the human size ratios we’re used to seeing.
If you don’t know what these anatomical measurements are, there’s a good chance your characters might share similar mistakes with the examples in front of you. Scarily, it’s easy to miss too.
You may not even notice how off the sizing of your character is, until the drawing is completely finished and it’s too late. The worst part is, proportions are foundational. That means your ability to size your characters up correctly from the get go will either make or break them. No amount of carefully placed anatomy, intricate detail, shading or rendering can save a disproportionate drawing from looking plane wrong.
In this tutorial you’ll learn exactly what proportions are, how you can use them as a tool to size your characters up correctly and how they can be applied to a variety of unique character types.
What Are Proportions?
Proportions refer to the relative measurements of and within an object. In this case, we’re talking humanoid characters. So the overall height of the idealized figure, as well as its various body parts, such as the torso, arms and legs.
Once you know what these measurements are, you’ll have a better understanding of how each part of the human body relates to itself in terms of size, even when drawing it in perspective. Ultimately, that means you’ll be able to draw each part of your character to the correct size in association to the rest of the body. Of course there’s always going to be exceptions here because no two people are exactly the same.
Once We all come in different shapes and sizes and this is especially true for the fictional characters you’ll create. From dwarfs to giants, there’s a wide spectrum of archetypes that could pop up in the pages of your Comic Book. Even the basic man, woman and child all differ proportionally. And rest assured, we’ll cover some of those differences here a little bit later on. But for now, don’t feel overwhelmed. Learning proportions might seem over-complicated. However they don’t have to be.
As soon as you’ve memorized the basic measurements I’m about to show you, you’ll realize proportions are really there to serve as a guide to be kept in mind as you draw. Not necessarily a strict set of rules you’ll need to abide by every time pencil goes to paper. You can always bend the rules later to get more unique variations. Best of all, when we do notice our drawings don’t quite look correct, the principles of proportion will give us a reference to help us figure out where we’ve gone wrong so that we can fix the drawing.
We’ll talk more later about why proportions are more useful when used this way in dynamic figure drawing. But for now, let’s ease into this by breaking down the proportions of one of the most common characters you’re likely to draw for a Comic Book - the heroic figure.
How Are Proportions Measured?
Before we jump into it, let’s talk about how we’re actually going to determine the proportions of our characters. Because if we want to measure them up to the right size we’re going to need a unit of measurement to work with.
Luckily for us, the human body is already relatively symmetrical. Its measurements, mathematically predictable! So without getting too fancy here –
We’re going to use the head of our character as the measuring stick of choice. That’s right. Just so happens the entire human body, along with all it’s parts, torso and limbs can be drawn out to the correct size using the head to measure it. That means once you’ve practiced your proportions enough and you’re familiar with them, the size of the head alone will basically allow you to predict how big the rest of the character is going to be on the page.
Proportions of The Heroic Figure
In reality, most people average out at about 7 and half heads high give or take.
Surprisingly though, if you draw your characters to this height, that’s kinda how they’re are going to feel visually – average and somewhat dumpy. This is because over time different proportions have become associated with different character stereotypes.An example of this would be our tendency to associate size with the amount of power or strength a character possesses.
For women that could very well translate to a long legged sense of sex appeal, elegance and presence.
This means that although the average height of 7 and a half heads is true to reality , the average Joe and Jane just ain’t gonna cut it in the leading role of a Super Hero epic. We’re talking about idealized characters existing within the realm of comics books and within that context it’s usually more ideal to bump our characters up to about 8 heads high for both men and women.
The idealized measurements of 8 heads has in fact been around since the renaissance and is generally accepted by most artists as the proportional standard. Though few people are actually 8 heads tall in real life, this is still the best model to use because it makes the proportional alignments of the human figure much easier to work out.
Taking on board these heroic proportions let’s begin breaking them down, using our character’s head to measure the rest of their body segment by segment.
1 | Between the top of the head and the bottom of the chin, we get one head unit. Multiply that by eight, and we get the over all height of our characters. Sometimes the female head can appear slightly bigger than a man's, but don’t be tricked. In actual fact, they’re both the same size, it’s just the broader width of a man's shoulders that makes their head look a little smaller in comparison.
2 | Down from the bottom of the chin, about 1 third of a head, we find the collarbone and Shoulders. Now there’s a subtle difference here between men and women. Men typically have much broader shoulders, spanning about 2 head lengths wide. Female characters on the other hand have narrower shoulders, about two and a half head widths across at their widest point. Combine that with smaller neck muscles and this again is what often gives female characters the illusion of having a larger head.
3 | Two heads down we find the nipples. On female characters they might sit slightly lower due to breast mass. But regardless of gender, there’ll inevitably be room for variation here where both pecs and boobs are concerned due muscle mass, body fat and breast size.
4 | The bottom of the ribs sits 2 heads and 2/3rds down. In most other proportional charts, this is usually glossed over and it’s not necessarily important to know. But I think it’s worth mentioning here because this marks the beginning of the upper bodies transition into the lower half, where the two main forms, the rib cage and pelvis combine.
5 | Three heads from the top we’ve reached the elbows, which is also where you’ll find the waist on both characters. In case you’re confused about the difference between the waist and the hips, the waist is actually the narrowest point of the torso, just below the ribs but just above the hips. It’s the squishy malleable cylinder of muscle that makes up for a majority of the torso’s movement. This is the part of the body where you’ll often see the most pinching, twisting and stretching occur as the figure moves into different positions. On our male character, you’ll find his belly button along this division as well.
6 | On women however the navel actually sits a little bit lower, just below the 3 head mark.
7 | Moving onward, I’ve marked out some of the key forms that make up the shape of the males obliques and females hips. Again, these are rarely shown on proportional charts, but I wanted to include them here to give you a more detailed reference to refer to whenever you’re in doubt. It can after all be a little confusing trying to figure out where the top of the legs begin and the pelvis ends,especially when you’re dealing with the overlaying anatomy.
8 | Four heads from the top we’ve arrived at the midway point of our characters. This is a great marker to keep in mind especially when drawing characters to proportion in perspective. There’s a few things you’ll find along this segment; the crotch, hip joints and end of the forearm, where the wrists meet the hands. You might notice that the hips on our Male figure are a slightly smaller than the females, at a width of 1 and a half heads wide.
This is because women have a much broader pelvic bone, designed to help them bear and give birth to children. So as a result the hips are pushed outward to almost the same width as their shoulders.
That’s often why the general shape of the male torso can easily be compared to a light bulb, while the female body has more of an hour glass contour. You can also see how the differences in hip width affects their stance. When both feet are together, the woman appears to have a more inward, tapered stance as opposed to the mans which is only slightly angled.
9 | 4 and a half heads down you’ll find the base of the hand. Measuring from wrist to fingertip, an out- stretched hand should end up resting about midway down the upper leg. While we’re on the topic, it’s also worth noting that the size of the hand will be around the same size as your characters face.
The human body makes proportions easy to learn in that way, where you’re often able to use one part of the body, to size up another.
10 | Dropping down to 5 and a half heads, we’re at the top of the knee. The entire knee is a whole half a head in length, with the base sitting along the 6th segment. A mistake I always used to make, and one you might want to watch out for, was drawing the knees smack bang along this line. It’s important to remember that 6 heads down does not mark the center of the knees, but rather their base.
11 | Nearing the end, the ankles are at 7 heads and 2/3rds of the way down. And finally, eight heads down we’ve arrived at the base of the figure. These are the typical proportions I like to use when it comes to drawing Heroic characters for Comic Books.
Memorizing them will help you confidently draw your characters to the correct size and with enough practice you’ll start to get a natural feel for how each part of the body relates to itself in terms of size.
Of course later on these proportions can be tweaked or modified to your own liking to create the unique variations that your characters will inevitably have. This chart is not the be all and end all cookie cutter solution to sizing up every single character uniformly. Our intention is not to create an army of clones here. It’s a starting point.
And in fact, these proportions may not be ideal for you in the first place. Maybe you find an average head height of 9 instead of 8 works better for the look and feel you want your characters to have. Which is totally fine. Because as artists we’re all going to bring our unique interpretation of the world and the people within it to the table. So begin with these proportions. Memorize and practice them until you understand how the different parts of the body measure up against one another, then go your own way and explore the endless possibilities.
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