Life drawings and proportions, bending the rules?
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    Life drawings and proportions, bending the rules?

    So I am a beginner artist and I mean JUST starting, I haven't done art my entire life and recently got into it so I pretty much suck...
    However I've always had a question about life drawings and proportions. I've read some books here and there saying the body (standing) in a drawing should be maybe 6-7 head lengths and whatnot and other rules I've read.

    But I was wondering, when we do art/concept art and have people in our drawings, sometimes they don't follow the conventional proportion standards or suggest proportions i'd say from the books or what people say
    But what if that's the way the artist wanted it to be? I mean not everyone has a perfectly proportionate body in real life sometimes so when someone judges someone else work they might think hmmm..I think the legs are a bit too long or the head is too large and the proportions don't make sense but they are judging not knowing the intentions of the artist. This is of course excluding cartoony characters and "beasts" and stuff

    Now I'm kinda lost in my own question and its starting to sound stupid but I wanted to create some discussion about it and how people critique drawing about life figures in the painting but the artist wanting it to look that way and basically now knowing the backstory or inspiration behind it

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    When designing work of course some liberties can be taken, but within reason. Proportions can change but anatomical make up must be the same. Everyone is going to have the same set of muscles and bones. and as long as the proportions of bone to bone on the same person remain the same, it won't look too off. For example a character might have an exceptionally long body, but it's not going to look right if his lower arm is half the length of his upper arm or something that simply wouldn't happen in nature. Likewise unless it's a creature or monster (or extremely stylized) no human character is going to have a skull larger than his/her ribcage.

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    If the audience can't guess at what you intended, you did it wrong.

    The anatomy doesn't need to be perfect or even realistic, but it has to serve the purpose of your picture. It's your job to produce some sort of impression in an audience, to give them some sort of message. If the audience is supposed to think "this guy is creepy and deformed", it's your job to arrange everything so the guy looks creepy and deformed. If they are thinking "his head is too big and the legs are too long" then you failed to communicate what you wanted to communicate and you need to do something else.

    The burden of communication is on you, and not the audience. This is why art is hard. It's like learning a new language. Every decision you make is like a word that supports your idea. If you pick bad words, nobody's going to know what the heck you mean.

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    If it LOOKS wrong, it is wrong - even if it's technically "right".

    Like Vineris says, if people look at your picture and think "it looks wrong," then something probably isn't working. The "ideal" proportions don't apply to everybody in real life, of course, but they provide a standard to help you draw people who don't look wildly deformed. If you know what the "ideal" proportions are, you can deviate from them intelligently to draw people of varied body types without getting too exaggerated.

    If you're drawing real people, you'll want to observe and draw their actual proportions, which vary from person to person. But you can still use the "ideal" proportions to check and see if you're way off. For instance, if you're drawing a real person, and then you do a little measuring and see that your drawing shows the model being over ten heads tall, that's a hint that you've made them too tall and you should check the proportions of the model again.

    Also, if you're just beginning, it might be a good idea to stick with "ideal" proportions and real observed proportions for a while until you get a feel for what looks right - you can get into exaggeration later.

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    But what if that's the way the artist wanted it to be? I mean not everyone has a perfectly proportionate body in real life sometimes so when someone judges someone else work they might think hmmm..I think the legs are a bit too long or the head is too large and the proportions don't make sense but they are judging not knowing the intentions of the artist. This is of course excluding cartoony characters and "beasts" and stuff
    You mean like this? Yeah it happens.

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    A lot of directions on figure drawing tend to go with averages, (the 7 heads tall thing specifically) but the fact of the matter is that most human beings don't conform to those averages. For example, if you gathered up every 150lb woman in the world and lined them up, they would all be different heights, different proportions, and different builds. Even if two people were the same height, some might have shorter legs, longer torsos... Like, I'm 5'3", but I have two friends who are almost the exact same height as me and they have longer legs, while I have broader shoulders and wider hips.

    Specific rules like the 7 heads thing are meant to introduce artists to the basic concept of human proportions, but knowing what to change, exaggerate, or scale back only comes from practice drawing real people. Nature still has a way of balancing it out, though. Like others have said, if it looks wrong, it probably is wrong, and something needs to be fixed. Knowledge of what that "something" is only comes with experience.

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    Thanks for all the insight and responses everyone!
    I now have a broader understanding on this concept

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    Also keep in mind "ideal proportions" are thrown right out the window when any foreshortening comes into play.

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    That's a bit misleading Jeff - I'm surprised at you!
    We interpolate the proportions even when things are foreshortened.
    The conventional wisdom is that Michelangelo's 'David' has a large head to compensate for the fact we look up to it from below.
    Seeing it in the flesh proves that idea nonsense. The captivating spell of its curious proportions simultaneously right and wrong in their ugly beauty is overwhelming when it is seen in the flesh.

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    You can bend the rules. The only requirement to doing it successfully is you have to KNOW THE RULES first. Otherwise you'll inevitably produce something that looks broken, rather than bent.

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    It’s to your advantage to memorize the average body part proportions because the deviation (tolerance range differences) of those comparative ratios is small. Most artists will introduce gross exaggerations in ratios through drawing error alone.
    I’ve found, for example, by comparing the proportions of 14 static frontal photos of woman (from the 3dsk website) that the average overall deviation from average to be less than 4%+/– between them. Of course some ratios vary more widely than others, such as the spacing between eyes (25%), crotch height (less than 5%+/–), position of naval to body height (less than 3%+/–) or the ratio with the least variance the position of the inner ends of the clavicles to body height (less than 1%+/–).

    Average measurements taken from 14 subjects:

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    Last edited by bill618; February 1st, 2013 at 07:10 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Bennett View Post
    That's a bit misleading Jeff - I'm surprised at you!
    We interpolate the proportions even when things are foreshortened.
    Chris, could you elaborate on how that is misleading?

    In this drawing for example, I'm much more concerned with overlap, shape, volume, etc. and "ideal proportions" are the furthest thing from my mind. In foreshortened views any feeling of accuracy in proportion is a by-product of accurate observation (or accuracy in construction), not "interpolation of proportion" (not actually sure what you mean there).
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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffX99 View Post
    Chris, could you elaborate on how that is misleading?

    In this drawing for example, I'm much more concerned with overlap, shape, volume, etc. and "ideal proportions" are the furthest thing from my mind. In foreshortened views any feeling of accuracy in proportion is a by-product of accurate observation (or accuracy in construction), not "interpolation of proportion" (not actually sure what you mean there).
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    I'm also confused by your response, Chris. As to Jeff's initial point about proportion systems and foreshortening, I'm reminded of a valuable lesson in a figure drawing class where the instructor assigned an outside project of a full-figure self-portrait. During a critique of on-going work the instructor praised the foreshortening effect of one bent leg one of my class-mates had achieved. This student replied he hadn't meant that leg to be foreshortened, that it was supposed to be parallel to the picture plane, which is to say he meant the thigh to be its true length, no distortion.
    "Well" replied the instructor," While you have leeway with foreshortening, minus foreshortening the distance from trochanter to patella is far too short on that leg."

    [He required that kind of specificity of us when critiquing things like proportions. "I see some problems with proportions" just wouldn't cut it.]

    As to David, I also learned theories that the head is so out-sized so as to make it readable across "Palazzo Vecchio", where it was planned to stand. But I've never seen it in situ, and I agree you have to see the genuine article in cases like this to make any judgments. what then? Is the big head intended to emphasize David's youth as he awaits Goliath? For that matter, what's with the weirdly long torso and static pose of Moses as seen from directly in front, while turning to view from the left and crouching a bit yields a Titan just rearing up in righteous wrath? At least, according to Frederick Hartt or some art historian like that, and photos I've seen.

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    Jeff and Cory:
    If something is foresortened, we recognise it as such becuase it suggests to our minds the properties of that thing, but in a certain orientation, that is; 'turned towards us'. How else would we know it was foreshortened? Bad foreshortening is precisely when information about its general properties is misleadingly conveyed, that is to say, when graphic clues cause our understanding of the object to be in error, i.e. what is given to us to be 'interpolated' as a gestault of the object's size is wrong.

    So by 'misleading' I mean that saying something is not in proportion because it is foreshortened assumes that everything contained in the drawing is represented in identical orientation, always.

    Last edited by Chris Bennett; February 2nd, 2013 at 03:43 AM.
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    Oh, okay. I see that. Adherence to a system of proportion is required for believable/successful foreshortening? Or at least sensitivity to proportions?

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    When it comes to constructing from imagination, knowing proportions is useful for gauging how something will look when it's foreshortened...

    Proportions + laws of perspective = accurate foreshortening.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Bennett View Post
    Jeff and Cory:
    If something is foresortened, we recognise it as such becuase it suggests to our minds the properties of that thing, but in a certain orientation, that is; 'turned towards us'. How else would we know it was foreshortened? Bad foreshortening is precisely when information about its general properties is misleadingly conveyed, that is to say, when graphic clues cause our understanding of the object to be in error, i.e. what is given to us to be 'interpolated' as a gestault of the object's size is wrong.

    So by 'misleading' I mean that saying something is not in proportion because it is foreshortened assumes that everything contained in the drawing is represented in identical orientation, always.
    OK - I think I get what you're saying. My point was simply that there is no canon of proportion that can be applied to foreshortening. If it looks "correct" and accurate in proportion it is because the artist either observes well or constructs well, of course with an understanding of proportion, but that is not the lead factor. Basically I'm trying to say that there are no proportion guidelines or rules when it comes to foreshortening. At least I'm unaware of such and would love to hear or see a demonstration of how rules of ideal proportion can be applied to foreshortening?

    Edit: Part in bold - actually this isn't really what I was trying to say - of course foreshortened elements either work or they don't but this is a more intuitive awareness as opposed to adherence to a canon.

    Last edited by JeffX99; February 2nd, 2013 at 04:53 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffX99 View Post
    Basically I'm trying to say that there are no proportion guidelines or rules when it comes to foreshortening.
    I getcha Jeff.
    The only 'method' would be that applied to computer medelling, where the vector lengths obeyed a pre-set configuration governed by the ideal proportion inputs in the program.
    But yes, there is no practical way of applying that to forshortening that would not result in a severe headache in us humans...

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    Quote Originally Posted by QueenGwenevere View Post
    Proportions + laws of perspective = accurate foreshortening.
    I’d call that a law.

    A 12 inch ruler still has 12 inches marked off evenly spaced when foreshortened, though now the spacing is affected by perspective diminution, but the brain does a very good job of reading the mark spacing as still being equal--even if you’ve never seen a ruler before. Now of course our ability to discriminate ratios accurately (e.g. a mark or feature change at a 1/3, 1/4/, 1/5 of a length) drops off as the perspective distortion increases in foreshortened views of objects. Then again, you don’t usually have to worry too much about dramatic wide-view perspective distortion when drawing figures from life.
    Also, knowing the proportions of a subject does not imply knowing them from only one view.

    Last edited by bill618; February 2nd, 2013 at 06:59 PM.
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