Foreshortening is one of the concepts we see a lot in our daily lives, making it easy to observe and learn. It’s one of the concepts that are useful in creating artworks. The kind of artworks that are the reason you started to draw in the first place. It’s one of the concepts where perspective and art meet. Making it very important to learn, despite its simplicity.
If you are interested in drawing the human figure. Understanding foreshortening will allow you to draw a wide variety of poses, as compared to knowing the basic figure proportions alone.
I sincerely hope you find this post useful, and that it made it easier for you to understand Foreshortening. As I personally don’t like it how the web is full of vague definitions of it.
Now let’s get started~
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Foreshortening is the concept that describes how objects appears much shorter when viewed from a sharp angle.
In many cases, when the foreshortened object is close to us. The part that appears close to us appears large, while the part that’s away appears smaller.
Take the following example of a person making a punch toward us. Because of the sharp angle of the arm, it appears much shorter than it really is.
Notice how the fist is so large, even larger than the head. This happens because the fist is close to us, while the head is a bit further away (this is caused by Diminution).
This bizarre distortion gives us a nice illusion of depth, which is one of the main points of learning perspective.
The world is full of examples of foreshortening. We will take a look at some of them shortly. If you like, you can find many other examples in real life if you looked around too.
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One of the most known example of Foreshortening is “The Lamentation over the Dead Christ” painting. Where Jesus is viewed from a sharp angle, making him appear shorter than he really is:-
Remember this building example from the Three-Points-Perspective post? And how its lines converge to the distance? Well, the building also appears much shorter than it actually is. We all have a good idea how tall the building is actually is, but thanks to foreshortening, it appears much shorter than reality:-
Because of the sharp angle we view this arm from, it appears different from the other hands we drew. This is one of the examples you can easily imitate by extending your own hand and observing it:-
It’s not uncommon for new artists to mix between foreshortening and Diminution, as the two concepts appear too similar at first. But in fact, the two concepts are too different than each other.
Diminution has to do with distance, the further away the objects are, the smaller they appear. Like in the lamps example, where the lamps further away appeared smaller:-
On the other hand, foreshortening has more to do with the angle you view the object at. The sharper the angle you look at the object from, the shorter it appears to be. Take a look at the extended hand again, and notice the angle we are viewing it from:-
In certain cases, the two concepts can apply at the same time. Remember the fist example I showed you earlier? The fist appears larger than the head itself. This is caused by diminution, where the fist is much closer to us than the head, while it’s much shorter than it really is, because it was foreshortened by the angle we view the hand from:-
Now we took a good look at Foreshortening, you may be wondering how to draw foreshortened objects. To a great degree, it’s all about practicing and getting the hang of it. You can get yourself used to how approximately objects appear shorter than they are at different angles.
One of the ways to go about it is to use a helping grid, like how we did it with all the perspective concepts we discussed so far. The following grid showcase a human body spread over a grid. The grid is made to take account of foreshortening and diminution. Granted, the drawing is flat the way it appears now, but it can serve as a good guideline on creating an actual drawing:-
In a lot of cases, you don’t always need to foreshorten the whole body. In the following pose, the whole body is drawn using the same ticks we learned in The Female Human Body Proportions post, except only one leg is foreshortened. That’s how foreshortening is used for drawing the human body most of the time.
For the things we draw often like the human body, drawing poses that has foreshortening will give you an idea about how they look like over time. So you won’t need a grid or any helping tools much (For the most part, I advise you to use these guidelines to understand the concept, not to fully depend on them, as that can hinder your growth as an artist).
I plan to talk about foreshortening more as I get to drawing “the human body in perspective” in an upcoming post.
Foreshortening can be very simple concept, but it’s important to understand, as it can help you draw more things with depth. It can also be quite helpful in drawing more intricate human poses, which is one of the benefits in learning perspective for those who don’t plan on just drawing buildings or corridors.
Practice plays a good role in helping you draw foreshortened objects, as there are many common cases you can learn by eyeing them (like the foreshortened leg I showed you). Objects can become very distorted at certain angles, making the use of guidelines to draw these angles not that useful.
There’s much more to drawing the human body in perspective than what I mentioned in this post, which I plan to talk more about that in a separate post.
I really hope my post helped you understand foreshortening more. Please subscribe to my mailing list for more updates & promotions~
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