Many of you aspire to become great comic book artists but struggle to get your characters, action scenes, and environments to look as cool as they do in professionally drawn comics.

While anyone can find their art lacking for a number of reasons, one of the most overlooked mistakes many beginners and even more experienced artists make is not putting mastery of proportions as a priority. If you want to draw impressive comics, this study is unavoidable.

In this tutorial, I’m going to show you why understanding proportions is essential to becoming a great comic artist. I will explain where certain attractive proportions come from, how to study proportions in life and art, and finally how to draw the human figure step by step all while using proportions to guide you.

## Proportions in Modern Comic Books

Proportions are found everywhere and in comic books they are in every panel you read. That cool factor that you see in many of your favorite characters is thanks to the proportions embedded in the anatomy, design and composition.

There are many other layers of awesomeness that get added to these drawings like rendering and color but its these basic forms and patterns that you need to understand if you want to draw amazing and consistent stories. So let us start at the beginning.

## What is a proportion?

The definition I found on google states it as a part, share, or number considered in comparative relation to a whole.

As dry as that sentence is, this definition is very important to soak in before we move forward. It tells us a key aspect of a proportion. Notice its says that its the relationship between 2 things: some arbitrary part compared to its whole.

The easiest way to visualize it is like in math class, with a pie chart. Or just pie, if you’re hungry.

Anyway, with a pie there can be any number of remaining slices compared to the whole pie which creates a relationship; A part and a whole. In other words a fraction or ratio.

This ratio can be applied to anything: shape, color, composition… you name it. However, this ratio is applied quite differently depending on the subject. To explain, lets start with shape.

We recognize visual proportions like with shape because how it applies to characters.

They are centerpieces to story so obviously that will be in the limelight. So in order to draw specific characters from your imagination, first you have to understand how proportions affect the look of the human figure.

Take these arms. They are simplified so you can easily see what I mean. All the same anatomy is represented but they look quite different because of, you guessed it, the proportions.

Objects and figures alike have proportions in regards to how much space they take up, how wide or thin they look, as well as where the anatomy/component parts begins and ends.

Like this. The first arm not only is thicker and shorter but also more evenly divided when you pay attention to the parts of the anatomy.

While the arm on the right has a make-up that is a little more interesting since its divisions are not as evenly split up.

The general rule with arms is that the elbow should always line up with the waist. Outside of that, you can have a ball and play around with different proportional setups.

This leads to the question, how do you find a proportional setup that’s appealing?

Let me introduce what mathematicians call Metallic Ratios.

## Metallic Ratios

The main one that is widely used and is the basis for the ‘Rule of Thirds’ is called the Golden Ratio; you may have heard of it. Metallic ratios like the golden ratio are unique proportions that stunningly repeat themselves mathematically and visually.

As artists this is important because visually these proportions can be found far and wide in art, nature and in life. Not only that, but the relationship it creates tends to be an appealing one. And, there’s a reason for that.

The golden ratio has a relationship that roughly splits one section into a third (1/3) and the remaining part as two thirds (2/3).

Like I said, it’s one of a select set of ratios that can naturally repeat forever because of one fact: The relationship of the big section to the smaller section is the same relationship as the whole thing compared to just the big section.

I know, I know… you didn’t come to this tutorial for a math lesson but understanding this fact explains why this proportion is special; which is fascinating.

Now pay attention, because this next part is very important.

We as humans love patterns. And we love finding them. And because we have an ancestral history of recognizing patterns, these ratios that repeat naturally tickle our fancy more than others.

In other words, even though the Golden Ratio is stated to have beauty to it, there isn’t anything more beautiful about the golden ratio than any other ratio. But, this ancestral history possibly explains why its more appealing to our eyes.

Another metallic proportion is the silver ratio. It can be found quite a lot in nature as well as in man-made designs originating from Asian countries.

It has more of a drastic look to it, resembling something close to quarter length vs three quarters but because of this repeating nature I think its just as useful for your artist’s toolkit. Do a quick internet search to discover what I mean.

Okay. That’s enough of theory…let us look at a 2D example of the golden ratio at work.

First, take a look at this old DC Comics logo. There are two different versions on this page. On instinct, which one looks better to your eye?

Without knowing for sure which you picked, I’d take a guess and presume you may fancy the one on the right.

If you didn’t go with that one, no sweat. There are a lot of subjective variables at play.

The biggest difference between the two, however subtle, is that the one on the right is using the rule of thirds, otherwise known as the golden ratio, while the one on the left is the original and doesn’t follow any particular proportional setup.

To demonstrate some of the golden ratio at work, I’ve modified some of the proportions on the right logo. I’ve only moved a couple things around but I would say it has a more appealing look to the human eye. Again, this is because we are drawn to the patterns in the proportions.

Excellent!

## How To Study Proportions

Next, I’m going to show you how to study something's proportions. This can be applied to anything so follow closely as it will be super valuable for your understanding since you will need to breakdown figures, objects and all sorts of things if you hope to replicate them consistently in your comic book art.

*F22 Photo Source: *__https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_Martin_F-22_Raptor#/media/File:F-22_Raptor_edit1_(cropped).jpg__

So lets breakdown this F-22 Raptor. It’s an aircraft and obviously has 3D volumes that we must contend with if we desire to draw it accurately.

The key to working with a 3D volume is to focus on the orthographic views first; aka. the front, side and top views.

Thankfully Lockheed Martin/Boeing have released these handy orthographic views to make this process easy.

It is still possible to study objects without the front, side or top views, but the closer to those angles, the easier it will be for your studies. When drawing live out in the world, say at a cafe, you’ll have to take mental snapshots of these views when your subject allows for it.

Heads up: Much of this information that I’m sharing, I’ve learned from Peter Han and Scott Robertson’s instruction.

I like to start with studying the angle that shows the most information about the subject or the most commonly viewed side.

For example, when studying the proportions of a vehicle, beginning with a side view can be the most valuable because vehicles tend to be longer rather than wide or tall.

For this aircraft, a side view is also a good place to begin.

An important tool to start with when studying anything is placing the object in a bounding box. It’s simply a box that you draw around the object with 90 degree corners. It should orient to the horizon and touch the outer contour of the subject.

Now, draw an ‘X’ inside the bounding box to find not only the center-point but also the halfway marks on both axes.

Awesome! We have our first guidelines to further understand the proportions of our aircraft, making it way easier to draw it in 3D space. We can compare these center lines to the object and hopefully find landmarks to help us draw it.

So let’t take a look and see what’s lining up for us so far? Well there’s a couple things to note. One, is that the wings are definitely below this half way mark for the height. And two, the cockpit lines up nicely with the height’s halfway mark.

Now we’ll use the golden ratio to find another landmark.

To do that, first take one side of the bounding box and split it into thirds. Then, draw that line across the side-view.

And would you look at that. The top of the cockpit hits that 2/3’s mark perfectly. Because of this study we now know the plane’s cockpit height is between the halfway mark and 2/3’s in regards to it’s height.

Using these guides is great for translating objects like this to 3D. If you want to learn about how to do that head to the How To Draw Comics. Net free tutorial: “__How To Draw Complex Objects in Perspective__”.

Excellent! You may be wondering... Isn’t measuring all the time to find these guidelines a slow process? And you’d be right. So before moving on, let’s do a quick exercise you can repeat to practice locating the golden proportions in an object.

## Eyeballing The Golden Ratio

To do this exercise you first need to draw several rectangular volumes on a page.

You don’t have to draw all the boxes the same like I have but try to make them clean and accurate to perspective.

The goal here is to try and draw a sectional cut that splits the volume at a 2/3’s mark.

Make your sectional cut with each of the volumes trying to nail that rule of thirds proportion. Mix it up and change which side you make your mark. This exercise trains your eye to find the proportion without measuring.

To finish up, we’ll check our work.

Again, we are going to use the ‘X’ system to find the center-point of the planes of the volume.

Then do another ‘X’ with in the half of the plane where your mark lands near.

The spot where the two ‘X’s intersect is the correct place to put your sectional cut. Try a number of these to start training yourself to find the thirds mark without measuring.

Excellent! You’re well on your way to eyeballing proportions!

## Basic Proportions of the Human Figure

On to the last segment of the tutorial; the one you’ve been waiting for. Let’s talk about the human figure as it relates to proportions.

Thankfully, many masters of the past have already done the work for us. That is, they’ve already found the instances of the golden ratio within the ideal proportions of the figure. As you can see… here are two of them.

But let’s start at the full view of the figure to give you a comfy foundation where will build out our proportions.

We are going to start very simple.

I know your instincts may tell you that studying these boxy looking mannequins won’t help you draw well and impress others, but trust me, this is how you put your improvement on the fast track. These simple figures are much easier to visualize and place in your scenes.

If you skip this important step and make obvious mistakes most artists will see right through the sloppy structure and all audiences will know something isn’t right.

I’ve already divided these figures into sections that not only show off the proportions of the figure but also immediately delineates which figure is male and which is female.

One of my pet peeves from art school is that many figure drawing classes will tell you to draw males and females differently but then proceed to start off your studies with identical mannequins. To me, this is starting off on the wrong foot.

For this tutorial, I’m teaching with mannequins that are slightly exaggerated so to keep the sex of our subject in mind. If you want to pull back to replicate life or further exaggerate the anatomy after you start here, that is up to you.

One thing to note is that I have drawn the female in a high heel type pose to equalize the height between the sexes for easier comparison later.

So here’s all the important info!

I’m going to show two different ways to measure up the figure. The first method is a standard one and it’s represented in green. It uses the length of the head to measure up the figure. How many heads high a figure is will define how young/cute or elegant/impressive the character is.

To keep it simple I’ve set up these figures to be 8 heads high. For reference, a powerful superhero can have eight and 1/2 heads or more, while cuter, younger and more stylized characters can go all the way down to between three to five heads tall.

Knowing the head lengths of a figure is a great start, but we’ll need many more measurements so you can draw figures easily and quickly. The height of a figure can be divided in half which will mark the location of the crotch or bottom of the pelvic bone.

This is a a great landmark because all you need is a bounding box with the center-point ‘X’ to find the halfway mark for the figure.

Make note that many artists choose to exaggerate the legs of comic characters to be longer for some dramatic effects. This requires raising the pelvis of the character another half length of a head.

Now onto the second way to measure. The ideal figure’s upper torso can be split up into thirds! I’ve marked it in red. It’s the golden ratio at work. Since we already know that the bottom of the torso starts halfway it’s easy to find the third marks between it and the top of the head.

These three divisions are the same on both sexes. Box 1 is from the top of the head to the collar bone. Box 2 is the collarbone down to the bottom of the rib cage in the front. And Box 3 is from the rib cage to the bottom of the pelvis.

The only difference is that, for the female, I taper from box 2 to box 3 to emphasize the female form.

Now for the appendages. Both males and females have the knees right around the halfway mark between the crotch and the ankles.

The bottom of the knees will also line up with the 6th head from the top. Keeping the difference in hips between males and females in mind, I draw each mannequin’s legs to reflect that.

For females I draw the leg shape that bends its contour from the knee measurement up to right below torso box 2.

The arm’s proportions are easy to remember because they reflect the same proportions of the torso. The upper arm is the length of torso box 2 and the forearm is the length of torso box 3. The size of the hand varies but it's around 1/2 - 2/3’s of the length of the forearm.

And finally the feet. Draw a rough shape down to the ground plane that tapers outward representing the angle of how the toes fan outward. Since the female is in heels positioning, you should draw the feet less tapered but draw the ankle mark higher.

Great work getting through all that! I know that it's a lot already, but there are some more details to explain, so let's dig a little deeper while I get into more of these landmarks.

I’m going to continue to keep these mannequins flat and simple so we can focus on just the proportions.

Let’s take a closer look at the torso a little more closely. The sternum, aka. the breastbone, starts at the neckline and stops right about in the center of torso box 2.

From there, if you draw lines out to the corners of box 2 and 3 we land on the locations of where the ribcage protrudes and forms its arch shape. These marks show the edges of the ribcage contour and also are prominent on the figure.

Moving on, if we divide torso box 3 in half we find where the top of the hips start. Drawing simple lines toward the center-point of the whole figure forms an underwear shape that we will use for a simplified pelvis.

On a male, if you locate the center-point of the upper half of torso box 3 you’ll find the belly button. The belly button is the same on the female, but notice that the waistline on the female is seemingly higher than on the male because of her having a wider pelvis.

This is a good time to talk about the width of the figure. While both figures have varying peaks and valleys to the anatomy. The female has more contrasting elements that can be measured with head lengths.

Let’s go through the important widths to consider when drawing these two figures.

The female's waist is around one head length wide while the widest part is at the halfway mark of the figure and measures one and 1/2 heads.

The most noticeable difference from male and female in terms of width may be the shoulders. Male shoulders can be up to two and 1/2 or 3 vertical heads while a female's shoulders are closer to 2 heads. The proportions can be exaggerated much further without it breaking the figure.

Just look at examples of Bruce Timm’s designs and muscular characters like The Incredible Hulk.

## Figures In Perspective

Great! Now we will go through the few simple steps to place the figures in perspective. I will first be placing the figures in there boxy mannequin forms. This is a great place to start if you’re a beginner.

### Step 1: Draw a Perspective Grid

If you want to follow along I suggest you save this first image or print it out that way you can use the same grid. Otherwise, using any perspective grid, even a more minimalistic one will be fine for this practice session.

### Step 2: Draw a Bounding Box Where The Figure Will be Placed

You don’t have to draw as many as I have. But remember the more you draw the more practice you get.

Be sure to use the ‘X’ method to find the center-point and the halfway marks for the axes. Don’t worry about getting the width or height, just something close to a figures shape will work.

### Step 3: Plot Out The Proportions of The Torso And Body

Great! Now let’s etch in the more refined boxes for the torso and body. Let me explain what you need to do to complete this step.

Draw the halfway line horizontally in perspective. Remember this will represent the bottom of the pelvis.

Draw a line at the top of the bounding box representing the top of the head.

Divide the torso into thirds.

Draw in a head. It should be about as long as 3/4’s of the top box.

Draw two little lines at the bottom of the bounding box representing the feet. Also draw a horizontal line a little higher for the ankles. For men, it will be only slightly higher than the feet marks. If you are drawing a female make that ankle mark slightly higher to compensate for the elevated ankle.

Divide the space between the ankles and the bottom of torso box 3 in half to find the knees landmark.

### Step 4: Block Out The Mannequin Model

Good work! We need to now draw the mannequin flat as if the bounding box was our sheet of paper. All we need to do is pay attention to the perspective guidelines.

**Here’s a few things to keep in mind as you draw in the flat figures:**

Don’t measure your lengths exactly. Try to eyeball it like we did with the volumes earlier in the tutorial.

Female limbs, necks, and hands are more slender so use more slender shapes to represent them.

With your bounding boxes in place, you have everything you need to locate your flat figure landmarks. If you need to, refer back to the previous section.

### Step 5: Give Form to The Mannequin Model

Sweet! Let’s turn these flat figures into simple volumetric ones. This can get complicated be but follow the angles and adjustments to get some good results!

Keep these rough but accurate. Don’t worry if lines pass through other lines or if it doesn’t look too pretty.

I like to use an ellipse at the center of the female figure to help guide the lines and width of the hips.

What you just drew are well proportioned mannequins. So they will feel like 1950’s wooden soldiers or something.

However take a minute to appreciate how solid it feels in your perspective. How you can almost imagine them having a conversation or taking a step forward within your comic.

That’s because even though they have a rough appearance, your mind can already tell that there is something very right with their proportions.

## Extra Credit

Since this tutorial is really about the importance of proportions, I think everything covered so far has been a great start on this journey. Feel free to draw a ton of flat and volumetric blocky mannequins to get comfortable.

However, if you want to move forward with me, I’m going to take the blocky mannequins and refine them to much more organic and presentable figures.

### Step 6: Draw in the Anatomy

First, I’m going to transform the blocky volumes into organic ones that resemble the human anatomy much closer. Here’s some cool insights to read as you look over these figures.

Almost everywhere that there was a straight line I’ve tried to curve it roughly in the direction that the human anatomy dictates to show that its organic.

I’ve added breasts to the females that were not in the mannequins. They can be represented as a dew drop shapes. Feel free to check other figure tutorials for more specifics.

Awesome! I’m going to refine these lines even more now.

### Step 7: Refine The Anatomy of The Figure

When refining anatomy from an under drawing stage, this is where I start to say ‘Less is More’.

Only draw lines where the contours are mandatory.

At this stage I’m somewhat lighting the figure with line weights and choosing where I put detail. The key here is to imagine where the light is coming from and mostly drawing heavy lines when the volume turns away from the light. In this case I’m placing heavier line weights on the underside of our volumes.

### Step 8: Draw In The Shadows and Rendering

This final stage is the shadow and rendering phase. Since I’m choosing to not render with crosshatching or the like, I’m simply spotting my blacks and laying them in with confidence.

Incredible!

We just drew figures in perspective with accurate proportions! I’ve purposely posed them stiff and rigid to highlight that the landmarks are lining up. Once you get comfortable, try posing some mannequins in action poses or more natural standing poses.

## Wrapping Up

If you study the proportions found in this tutorial, you will be well on your way to drawing consistent characters in your comics. Remember that superheroes, villains, and other extraordinary characters should have exaggerated proportions so they can immediately stand out to your readers.

There are a ton of anatomy books out there and most of them will talk of proportions, but I suggest searching for resources that specifically talk about these cool metallic ratios.

If you found this tutorial helpful or have any further questions, let me know on twitter, __https://twitter.com/catapanoart__. I care about if these tutorials are helping people or if they could use something different in the future. Feel free to suggest topics that you want to see me discuss.

If you like my work, check out my successfully crowdfunded cyberpunk comic called STAR CIRCUIT. When a misguided street-racer cybernetically links with his boyhood hero, together they attempt to do the impossible and win in an android dominated futuristic racing league. Read the first chapter for free and find out more at __https://veraviastuidios.com__.

If you’ve read this far I’m sure you know but, __howtodrawcomics.net__ has an active community of fellow aspiring artists that post their work regularly and discuss comics. So get in there and have fun.

Thank you for reading.

-Joe Catapano

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