How to measure Proportions in different ways? (Both Good & Bad)

Rule-Of-Thumb-Vertical-Proportions

Let’s Learn About The Various Ways We Could Use To Measure Proportions

Now we have learned about the different ways of relationships, and now I gave you some tips about drawing in proportions. Let’s get into the different methods one could use to measure them. I am going to also write a post including multiple exercises on how to do measuring with your eyes, so that you can apply these methods quickly over time.

The methods explained here range from the very technical ones (they feel like math), to the ones where you can approximately draw closely to the dimensions you want.

The technical methods are hard to use for creating original work, particularly from your imagination, but I still included them here to shed some light on them. They can still be used to help you understand the different relationships, so that you could apply them on your art (without resorting to the methods themselves).

You don’t need to apply every method explained here. As long as you have one reliable method for measuring & applying the different relationships I mentioned in my post Introduction to drawing proportions right series , of which this post is part of, you will be alright.

This post is a part of a series on drawing proportions, you can refer to the first post of the series here if you missed it.

Now let’s get started~

The Heads Count Method

This is a very common measuring method, one you probably heard about it many times. You probably came up with it on your own too.

In this method, you simply measure the height of the head, and use it as the measuring tick for the rest of the body.

To study this method, we will take it that the average adult human being is 7.5 heads long, and learn drawing it that way (some drawing books would teach you to draw it as 8 heads tall, both ways are fine).

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Here’s a diagram of the human head with a 7.5 heads:-

Human-Head-7.5-Heads-Tall

As you master drawing the typical human head the right way every time with the right practice, you can make a taller human with 8 heads or more, or a short one with less. Nothing can stop you from drawing a huge human with 12 heads height, as that’s what it means to learn the rules to break them.

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Books you may find useful, check them out:- :)

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You may think that the head count method is only suitable if you draw humans, but it can work on other creatures as well, like dragons.

Dragon-Proportions

You don’t really need to pick the head as the measuring tick, you can pick any part you find the most suitable for your case, the head is just the easiest & most common part to pick, and the one we usually start drawing with. I say this for in case you want to draw an object, like in the fruits drawing example, where you had to pick something to base your measuring on. I picked the orange height as a measuring tip, and then used many other ticks through the tutorial to draw the rest of the fruits.

Alignment-Relationship

This proportion measuring method is my favorite, as it is useful for drawing both original art, as well as copying existing ones.

I made a drawing tutorial on how to draw an Anime character using the head count method before.

I also plan on writing few posts on the different proportions of the human figure in this series.

The Grid Method

Grid-Drawing-Method-1

Remember puzzles books which contained a game where you copy a whole drawing by copying the contents the squares one after the other? This is pretty much the grid method. Since it worked in the past, you can still use it today too.

The cute thing about this method is that you can copy the grid in any order you want.

Grid-Drawing-Method-2

You can easily think of the head count method as a very simplified grid. Where each square is the height of the head, one where you haven’t fully drawn the whole grid.

Human-Proportions-Grid-Proportion-Method

My only issue with this is that it feels a bit too technical. But if you find it hard to measure the proportions and ticks, you can resort to using the grid as a helping tool for learning the proportions, and to use it less & less once you start to get things right.

Tip:- If you use Photoshop, you can have a grid with a push of a button by selecting View -> Show -> Grid from the main menu.

Photoshop-Show-Grid

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The Triangles

Triangles=Method

This method works by measure the distance from a middle point of your reference. It makes it easier to place every line accurately where it’s supposed to be, one part at a time.

As you can see in the picture above, once you know the distance of each edge of the little girl’s head, you can draw it accurately more easily. You won’t need to draw the lines shown above if you can measure the distances with your eye.

While the triangles method sounds good & all. My issue with it is the same as the grids method, it’s not just too technical. I mentioned it here to warn you of it. It’s not a method that you can apply when you draw from imagination. I personally don’t know any artist who draw original stuff who ever used it. It is mostly to copy drawings accurately. If that’s all you aim to do with drawing, then this method is for you.

The Use Of Negative Space.

Negative space is the space where there’s simply nothing that occupies it. It’s the opposite of positive space, which is the space occupied by the object(s) of your drawing.

In the following picture, the positive space is the chair, while the gaps inside of it, as well as the space around it, is the negative space.

Chair-Negative-Space

If the object you’re drawing has negative spaces, you could draw that instead of drawing the actual object. It makes it easier to observe your object accurately that way. Your brain won’t interfere and try to get you to draw what it thinks it sees, not what it actually sees.

Negative space can be useful when accurately copy another picture, because drawing the negative space is easier at times. It’s also great to practice drawing from imagination, since it helps you understand the relationships in the drawing as they are actually are. Anytime you see myself struggling with drawing something, try to find some sort of negative space to copy, instead of the positive space (training yourself to see the negative space often is a good exercise by the way).

Giving the importance of negative space, I have talked about it in its own post here while I was writing this post. It expands on what I says about it here. :)

Using The Rule Of Thumb (No Pun Intended)

Rule-Of-Thumb

You may have often seen artists stretching their arms while holding their pencils in that position. In case you wonder why they do that, they do it to measure the proportions of the object they’re drawing.

It works that way, you hold your pencil with your hand, with the tip of the pencil on the top of the thing you want to measure, and use your thumb to identify where the part ends. Which is the man’s head in this case. Like this:-

Rule-Of-Thumb-Vertical-Proportions

Once you measured the tick with your thumb, you can apply that in your drawing. And draw everything else based on that tick.

This method can be used to measure horizontal proportions as well, like in case of the following horse:-

Rule-Of-Thumb-Horizontal-Proportions

The good thing about this method is that the measurement happen in your head, there’s not grid or any very technical thing to learn. Anything you learn that way can be reused later. It can be applied for drawing from a reference, as well as creating a full drawn drawings from life.

How about horizontal proportions?

You probably noticed I kept making vertical ticks on many of the examples here. The question that may arise is:- Can you create use horizontal ticks alongside them? The answer is yes.

Let’s say you have few ticks right here, and you plan to use them to draw something.

Proportions-Methods-Horizontal-1

By imagining a square whose left (or right) edge is the line between two ticks, you can simply add a tick on the other corners.

Proportions-Methods-Horizontal-2

Of course the square doesn’t really exist, but you it will be the bases for the point we added:-

Proportions-Methods-Horizontal-3

Using a square to find a horizontal tick is one of the exercises I illustrated in my proportions exercises post, which contains many ways to improve your proportions.

Tip:- If drawing a square is hard, then I highly suggest you practice drawing them. Mastering simple stuff like drawing simple 2D shapes, like squares & circles, or even the more complicated ones, like cubes, can help you big time as an artist. I am aware this sounds boring, but trust me, it’s worth it. ;)

How About Getting Proportions Right In Perspective

All the methods mentioned here works perfectly if you’re copying a drawing, or if you’re drawing a creature standing still. But it totally don’t work if you want to draw from an angle, which is going to be the case in majority of any artwork you create.

Explaining how to get proportions in perspective is outside the scope of this post, but one I totally intend on tackling once I get to write about drawing in perspective in more details. To give you an idea about it, the ticks system still works the same way in perspective, but the ticks simply won’t be equal. Some thinking in 3D can make things easier, but that comes with the right time of studying & practicing.

For the time being, if you’re new to perspective. I have wrote a long introductory post about the different kinds of perspective here:-

All About Drawing In Perspective-(Part 1)

And Finally

While there are many methods for getting proportions right. The goal of all these methods is to help you draw proportions accurately & consistently every time. Something that will help you a lot once it becomes a second nature. Training your eye to do measuring to draw accurately, without the use of almost none of the reference taught should be your goal in the long term, but it’s totally okay to do it as long as it allows you to create the artwork you want. Particularly if your aim is to draw what you had in your mind.

You may have noticed that many of the methods I mentioned here overlap, and are mostly about comparing distances using a standard or point of origin or reference, but even there, some methods are better than the other.

There are some methods I didn’t get to cover in this post, like the Paul Richer’s cranium method, as I am not familiar with it, but I will write about it once I know enough about it.

You can practice these methods with simple drawings if you like. Then use them a bit by bit in your own artworks. I will get back to some of these methods, like the head counts one, once I get to talk about the proportions of the human body.

I hope this lesson managed helped you improve your proportions, that it wasn’t boring. That you finished it with at least one or two tips to apply on making your art better.

Next in the proportions series:- 6 Practical Exercises To Help You Draw Proportions Right

See Also

SweetMonia
I am an anime artist, and huge fan of digital art. I love drawing with pencils too. But I rarely do that anymore nowadays. Since some aspects of digital art can be tricky, I try my best to explain the concepts as easily as possible.

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