Relative Ideal Proportions

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    Relative Ideal Proportions

    Iíve noticed a lot of problems with human anatomy here in the forums so I thought Iíd offer some generalized/ideal measurements for other artists who might need them. These are used to measure against other portions of the body you are drawing, so if you elongate or shorten something you know how much to adjust other areas. It would be great if other pros could add any tips they use to keep figures correct

    Iíll start with some obscure ones like
    Your foot is as long as the inside of the forearm;

    When the arm is hanging straight down the elbow falls between the bottom of the rib cage and the top of the hip bone.

    If you rest your forearm on the crown of your skull your arm should be at a 90 degree bend at your elbow

    From your wrist to the tip of your middle finger is about as long as your face from the chin to the tip of your hairline (if you have hair)

    When you bend your arm at the elbow your wrist comes about level with your shoulder

    If you pull your leg to your chest the knee is level with your shoulder
    if you squat down to the ground your butt rests at your ankles

    Faces are five eyes wide and there is one eye width between the eyes

    Image from Will Pogany's Drawing Lessons

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    I composited some interesting measurements from Jack Hamm book.

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    They're a good guide, but for instance the hand/arm thing doesn't work on me. My lower arm is much longer than my hand.

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    did you try the foot comparison to your lower arm? Allot of people are surprised by that one.

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    Thanks, dpaint, the descriptions especially are helpful. They never seem to all be located in one place. At least, when I look.

    I have a question. I know that gesture drawings can help with body positioning and the relationships between parts, but is there anything similar to help with facial structure and feature positioning? It's a particular problem of mine.

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    Here are a few; there is more than one way to do this, some are based on squares and triangles, this is based on an oval. It is a guide for the ideal only and you have to adjust for the specific in real life.


    The inside corners of the eyes and the outside edge of the nostrils should line up vertically

    The top of the ears and the top of the eyebrows should line up when you draw a horizontal line through the head

    the bottom of the ears and the bottom of the nose should line up when you draw a horizontal line through the head

    in profile from the tip of the nose to the back of the head divided in half is the front of the ear

    If you draw a line from the hair line to the chin and divide it equally in thirds,
    the bottom third would be from the bottom of the chin to the bottom of the nose

    the middle third would be from the bottom of the nose to the middle of the eyebrows

    the top third would be from the middle of the eyebrows to the edge of the hairline on someone with normal hair, not receding hair

    The head is five eye widths wide

    the inside corner of the eyes are one eye width apart

    From the hairline to the chin is ten eyes high

    the width of the head is almost equal to the distance between the brows to the chin

    the outside corners of the mouth are equal vertcally to the middle of the eyes

    Halfway from The top of the head to the bottom of the chin is the bottom of the eyes

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    Thanks so much. I'll have to practice that. Self-portraits, ahoy!

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    I think one might also greatly benefit from a study of Leonardo's Vitruvian man:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitruvian_Man

    When in doubt, learn from the master! ;-)

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    I think Jack Hamm's proptions are either very idealistic or... very skewed.

    Foot = inside of lower arm is quite normal but Hamm says inside of arm = hand length. Those are some huge hands... Or very short arms.

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    Quote Originally Posted by HunterKiller_ View Post
    I think Jack Hamm's proptions are either very idealistic or... very skewed.

    Foot = inside of lower arm is quite normal but Hamm says inside of arm = hand length. Those are some huge hands... Or very short arms.
    hmm, yeah, that one is weird... I know my hand is definitely way shorter than that. I wonder if he's counting long fingernails - you know, the inch-long variety with little palm trees painted on them. That might just fit.

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    my hand just fits the length of my forearm, when my arm is bent. When extended, it's not. I've been told I have long fingers.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TASmith View Post
    my hand just fits the length of my forearm, when my arm is bent. When extended, it's not. I've been told I have long fingers.
    Same with me, and I don't think I have particularly large hands. But that is on the inside of my arm, and only when it is bent.

    Last edited by brianvds; July 22nd, 2010 at 10:42 AM.
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    While its fine to check proportions on yourself remember these are ideal proportions or measurements meant to give you a standard or starting point. Its the variations that give people their individual look but its good to know how they vary from the ideal.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Zazerzs View Post
    While its fine to check proportions on yourself remember these are ideal proportions or measurements meant to give you a standard or starting point. Its the variations that give people their individual look but its good to know how they vary from the ideal.
    Keeping in mind that these "ideals" are apparently subjective, too... At any rate, is it just me, or do "ideal proportions" seem to vary from source to source? Is there some ideal source for ideal proportions? (Or at least, any that are better guides than others?)

    (One thing that bugs me is that the old books always seem to have Mr. Clean-Cut White Guy as the "ideal male" and Ms. Short-n-Pert Pinup-Girl as the "ideal female"... When I walk down my street I don't see anybody who looks like the anatomy books.)

    (Heck, the other day I was wondering if I'd drawn someone's legs too short, so I was looking at legs while I took my walk, and of course the first thing I saw was a couple of short fat guys with stumpy legs right next to a seven-foot-tall runner dude with insanely long legs. Just a tad confusing.)

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    There are different cannons of proportions sure, whether you want a hero type, a super hero type or normal ect. I don't believe those are subjective, they have set measurements.

    People you see on the streets don't have these proportions because they are not an idealization of the human form.

    The 8 head cannon of proportions, while very commonly used, is not the normal proportions for your average joe. But it is useful to know this proportional breakdown of the human form for inventing your own figures and it at least gives you a starting point to compare and contrast what you see in real life.

    Last edited by Zazerzs; July 22nd, 2010 at 03:20 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by QueenGwenevere View Post
    Keeping in mind that these "ideals" are apparently subjective, too... At any rate, is it just me, or do "ideal proportions" seem to vary from source to source? Is there some ideal source for ideal proportions? (Or at least, any that are better guides than others?)

    (One thing that bugs me is that the old books always seem to have Mr. Clean-Cut White Guy as the "ideal male" and Ms. Short-n-Pert Pinup-Girl as the "ideal female"... When I walk down my street I don't see anybody who looks like the anatomy books.)

    Well, of course they vary. You have Michelangelo's proportions which are different from Da vinci's, which are different from Durer's, etc. It all depends on the culture and what they value. As far as an ideal source for ideal proportions, id go with the ones that studied it the most... which id say would be the greeks, whose ideas were taken by the romans (written down by Vitruvius in our case), whose ideas were taken in the Renaissance. So then u have Da Vinci's Vitruvian man. Sooo id say to find the text of Da Vincis notes, or you could look through the 3rd book from Vitruvius, and find the proportions. Theyre pretty simple, height is about 6 feet, hand is size of the face, etc.

    The old books were written with clean cut white guy because, well, they came from a long tradition of being..... clean cut white guys... Not to mention that the farther back you go, for the most part, the more racially prejudice you find. As for the girls, thats just what they found attractive i suppose. Cant fault someone for which body type they find attractive.

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    Your foot is as long as the inside of the forearm
    shocked that this is true, I thought no way could my foot be this long but wow, mind blown

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    I believe the average human on the street is only 6.5 - 7 heads tall, with the taller ones being 7.5 heads at most. At least that's what I get when I roughly measure their body with my eyes. LOL

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    Quote Originally Posted by Xeon_OND View Post
    I believe the average human on the street is only 6.5 - 7 heads tall, with the taller ones being 7.5 heads at most. At least that's what I get when I roughly measure their body with my eyes. LOL
    Yup: ideal proportions are not necessarily realistic proportions. Loomis mentions this in one of his books. He claims that the realistic figure of seven heads looks "dumpy", but I'm not sure I agree. To me it is the ideal figure which looks a bit too stretched out!

    Thing is, with eight heads it becomes much easier to divide the body neatly into multiples of this basic measurement, so it is probably easier to learn ideal proportions.

    I suspect there is in any event more to the whole thing than just which precise set of proportions you use. E.g. even extremely cartoonish figures with grossly distorted proportions and anatomy can still look more alive than a carefully correct figure by an amateur draftsman.

    "The only way to fail is to quit." - Sheldon Borenstein
    "Always remember, you can't fail if you don't try." - Homer Simpson

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    Eheh, yeah, the seven heads versus eight heads versus whatever business...

    I spent years being terribly confused because I started out believing six heads was "correct" (based on measuring some Classical Greek figures), then someone gave me a basic anatomy book which had seven heads as the standard and I thought "oh no, I've been doing it all wrong, it should be seven!" Then I went to school and some teachers told me eight heads was standard, and some said seven, and I didn't know what to think anymore...

    And then of course lots of life drawing showed all kinds of different proportions, so I was never sure if I should trust what was in front of me or what I'd been told, and got even more confused for quite a while...

    Nice to know I'm not imagining things, anyway.

    Your foot is as long as the inside of the forearm
    Wait, I just realized, if your foot is as long as the inside of the forearm, how can your hand be as long as the inside of the forearm too? I must have misread one of those...

    (I can't seem to get my foot next to my forearm without major contortions, but it looks about that long, yeah... sounds right, anyway.)

    Last edited by QueenGwenevere; July 23rd, 2010 at 12:29 PM.
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    Well here's one that helps with hands. Each finger is the same width.

    Often times because the pinky seems smaller, or fingers look shorter in length people also associate it on the width of the hand, you'll see that in a lot of beginner/intermediate artists' works.

    Toes on the other hand are a different story...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Arshes Nei View Post
    Well here's one that helps with hands. Each finger is the same width.
    No they're not! At least not on MY hands!

    Reading through this thread I'm beginning to wonder whether one should pay any attention at all to "ideal" proportions. Ideal for what? Seems to me that if one can get the proportions more or less right, so that your figures look like some sort of average of what humans actually look like, your drawings will look reasonably decent?

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    Arshes Nei:

    Have to agree with brianvds on this one.

    If all fingers were of equal width the same ring would fit on every finger, and that is certainly not the case.

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    Quote Originally Posted by QueenGwenevere View Post
    Wait, I just realized, if your foot is as long as the inside of the forearm, how can your hand be as long as the inside of the forearm too? I must have misread one of those...
    No, you read correct, but those two comparisons exist in different contexts.
    Foot length equalling the inside of the forearm is the commonly accepted measurement, both in realistic and idealistic proportions.

    This Jack Hamm is the only source I've encountered using this 'hand equals forearm' measurement.

    The only thing we can learn from these disparities is that the ideal figure changes over time, and now in the age of the interwebs, everything is game.

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    Quote Originally Posted by brianvds View Post
    No they're not! At least not on MY hands!

    Reading through this thread I'm beginning to wonder whether one should pay any attention at all to "ideal" proportions. Ideal for what? Seems to me that if one can get the proportions more or less right, so that your figures look like some sort of average of what humans actually look like, your drawings will look reasonably decent?
    well of course you dont have to pay attention to them. They are just standards from othe cultures. Heck, come up with your own set of proportions. I will say, though, that it is probably a good idea to start off withpretty schematic proportions when learning, and then changing them to fit your needs. Just think of them as guidelines rather than rules, and steer away from them if you want

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    Quote Originally Posted by brianvds View Post
    Reading through this thread I'm beginning to wonder whether one should pay any attention at all to "ideal" proportions. Ideal for what? Seems to me that if one can get the proportions more or less right, so that your figures look like some sort of average of what humans actually look like, your drawings will look reasonably decent?
    "Ideal" to me seems to mean "measurable", its simplifying a very complex subject that is the varying human anatomies. Imagining the body as being "8 heads high" is better than explaining "well some are 7 1/2, some 7 2/3, others 6 3/5ths," etc etc

    ideal to me also conveys "normality" and "average". Doing something outside of the ideal proportions would make that figure distinctive

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    Quote Originally Posted by zwarrior View Post
    "Ideal" to me seems to mean "measurable", its simplifying a very complex subject that is the varying human anatomies. Imagining the body as being "8 heads high" is better than explaining "well some are 7 1/2, some 7 2/3, others 6 3/5ths," etc etc

    ideal to me also conveys "normality" and "average". Doing something outside of the ideal proportions would make that figure distinctive

    sorry, but i think thats about the opposite of what ideal is... i mean.. the definiteion of the word kinda speaks completely against "normality" and "average".. as far as classical ideals, i can assure you they wouldnt skimp on saying 8 instead of 7 2/3.. i mean look at the proportions of temples.. you have things like 6 1/8... maybe in more modern times they do that idk.. but thats not how it was for classics..

    now maybe the sources youve seen are just talking about generic and average proportions.. in which case i can see where youre coming from... but otherwise not..

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    you misunderstood what I meant. Not "average" in real life, but "average" in the form of figure drawing. For example, if you're illustrating a a group of "common" men, you will most likely go for the ideal proportions, so there's nothing distinctive about any person in that group. They're meant to be average. But then if you're illustrating a distinctive person in that group, Napoleon for instance, you'd change the proportions to fitt his distinctive features

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    exactly, and those are "average" proportions, not "ideal"... the two words are not interchangeable

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    This discussion turned out quite interesting. I am now beginning to think there is much more to this proportion issue, though I can't quite put my finger on it. I'm thinking, for example, of caricatures: despite even very gross distortions of a face, you can still recognize who it is if the caricaturist is any good. Whereas if a beginner artist accidentally introduces even very small distortions, you can no longer work out who the person in the portrait is. It is difficult to quite put one's finger on what it is that makes a caricature a caricature and not just a bad drawing.

    I.e. for a picture to work, you need something other than necessarily precise, "correct" proportions. I suspect the same thing is true of figures as with faces. You can greatly distort the "ideal" proportions, but you have to distort them in some particular way to come up with a figure that still looks believable. I'm not quite sure what that "particular way" is; presumably, many artists who can do it don't actually know either and do it right intuitively. I think it is an issue worth studying.

    Anyway, it is noteworthy that only people who are fairly good at drawing recognizable portraits are capable of drawing good caricatures. I suspect that only people who can draw credible figures will know how to meaningfully distort them into figures that are no longer quite human but somehow still come across as believable.

    For example, here is director Tim Burton's concept sketch of his character Edward Scissorhands:

    http://www.artabase.net/exhibition/1...allery_image_1

    It is somewhat weirdly proportioned, but still looks like a real figure that exists in real space.

    And here's another example:

    http://www.fantasygallery.net/seegmiller/art_7.html

    Once again, lots of distortions, but the body has not been distorted in any old way. The head is way too large, but the proportions of the rest of the body are actually still fairly much the same as with a "real" body.

    Thus my feeling is now that one should not completely ignore "ideal" proportions, but that one should not agonize over which system is the "right" one either, because none of them are right. Pick one and master it. The eight-head body isn't entirely realistic (I think rather few real people have those proportions) but it has the advantage of being easier to learn.

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