Shop Mobile More Submit  Join Login


Submitted on
April 27
Image Size
2.0 MB


58,059 (51 today)
3,218 (who?)
2,004 (3 today)
Nsio explains: Understanding Proportions by Nsio Nsio explains: Understanding Proportions by Nsio
EDIT: I noticed I had one layer off. Activated it

Tenth tutorial already. I've been drawing these quite a lot already.

While the anatomy is important when drawing human characters, it's not as important as the proportions. In fact, you can get quite far without knowing very much about true anatomy.

When I started drawing, I started with the proportions rather than anatomy. I wanted to be able to draw human characters quickly, so studying the proportions was far more faster than studying anatomical details. I tried studying anatomy as well, but I quickly realized that I didn't have the understanding to truly get what was going on in there. I didn't see the big picture so to say. Knowing how to draw details is useless if I can't draw several details together to form a good drawing. Thus I started from the general body proportions instead.

Now that I have got the proportions pretty much in place, I have started to understand the anatomy much better as well. I began to see the connectivity of the individual details. Now it's juts about studying these details one by one and adding them in my drawings.

Symmetry and Scale
What do "proportions" actually mean? I understand proportions as A.) the relativity of the object's dimensions and B.) the relation between group of objects in regard of position, orientation, size, shape, scale etc. Let's say, I draw two cubes, one big and one small. Because they are cubes, the proportions are the same, only the scale is different. On top of that, each side of the cube has exactly the same proportions. The space between the two cubes also have it's proportions depending on the positioning of the cubes (so called negative space). If I stretch or otherwise manipulate one of the cubes, their proportions won't be the same anymore (obviously).

Same things apply with humans and individual body parts.

Before we delve deeper into human proportions, it's good to remember that simply put, we are very symmetric beings. One could probably argue that saying that we are symmetric isn't true. Probably this person is considering word "symmetry" as being perfectly symmetric. This is not what I'm after. There is still certain symmetry that needs to be taken account. For example, drawing a character with differing arm or leg lengths or sizes is unlikely intentional or desirable. If that's the case, then fine, but then it needs to be drawn justified so that there is no question about the intention.

We have (generally) two eyes, two ears, two arms and two legs which are located roughly equally far away from the center line of our body. We also have one nose, one mouth, one neck, one navel and one certain place pretty much along the center line of our body. This is pretty obvious, yet very often ignored in the drawings of beginners. It's unlikely intentional, because actually seeing the relative positioning of these elements, yet alone drawing them correctly isn't that simple.

When I'm drawing human figures, I look for reference points and middle lines/points. If the element isn't positioned on any of these, I start looking for offset points in relation to the points I mentioned. Since I've been drawing so long, I have developed a sense of "area of approximation". That said, I can tell that something ought to be located within certain area. With some elements I can tell the exact position, while with others the area is much larger, thus requiring more efforts to find the correct placement. Anyway, this area of approximation works only when there are something as a reference. For example, I first need to draw the head before I can place one of the eyes in it's approximate place. Once I'm happy with it's position, I look for the area of approximation of the other eye. I know that the eyes are symmetrically positioned, so I can use the first eye and center line as a reference to position the eye in it's place.

This is of course a lot harder when the object isn't seen directly from the front anymore. Even if the object is seen from other viewing angle than directly from the front, it retains it's symmetry. This requires understanding about three dimensional nature of our world.

Basic Body Proportions
Here I tried to draw female and male characters next to each others to illustrate the difference between the two. Note that these probably aren't absolutely right. These are based on my current understanding and I can't say that they are completely devoid of my personal preferences or views about female and male bodies. Anyway, they get the job done for the time being.

I already made a short tutorial about using heads as a measure. It's pretty handy when deciding the intended proportions for the characters. To put it shortly, the number of heads you stack on top of each other determines the proportions of the body. A regular adult human is around 7 heads tall. It's good to note that a "head height" isn't anything specific measure, but the relation of the character's size of the head to the character's height. That said, characters can have different "head height" but still have the same physical height. Here I have drawn both characters 7 heads tall, but the male character is slightly taller, because his head is slightly bigger than that of a female. I wanted to keep the "head height" the same so that the similarities and differences between the genders are easier to see.

In general, female body is more delicate and curvy than male body. The body fat makes the shapes smooth and round. Male bodies are more robust and heavier, and the shapes are more angular and muscles are more visible. The biggest difference between female and male characters is probably the silhouette of the torso. The center of the body mass tend to be around the pelvis with females while males have broader shoulders and have the center of the body mass higher around the chest. You can think that if the bodies were simplified into triangles, the sharp point would point upwards with female body (depicting wide hips) and downwards with male body (depicting wide shoulders).

There are as many body typesas there are humans in the world, so the proportions here are just to give a general idea. It's good to note that if you draw the character with different "head height" than 7 heads, the rules shown here can't be used directly. I usually prefer drawing my characters 5-6 heads tall. Once you get familiar with basic bodies, you can start exaggerating and varying the bodies. By the way, I tried drawing various body types with solid color instead of lines. It turned out pretty fun, so you may give it a try as well. I found that it was easier to see the shapes as solid colors. I really like the alien :D

Where are you looking at?
If you want to get the proportions right, you need to look your drawing a lot. In fact, when you draw a body part, you should be looking around for reference points rather than look at the tip of the pen. As I said before, I'm looking for reference points. For example, if I have already drawn one arm, I look it while I draw the other arm in order to get proportions same. If you want that the arms and legs have proportions that fit the torso, you need to see the torso at any given time.

This is why I recommend practicing traditionally. When you draw your character on paper, you can see it fully all the time. On PC screen it's often hard to see the whole drawing due to screen limitations. I myself have noticed that I tend to draw really long legs when I draw on tablet. That's because I can't see the upper body while I draw the legs. This is the most common issue I need to fix on my drawings. So, if you still intend to draw on tablet, zoom out every now and then and check that everything is fine.

If you have a tendency to draw the body or parts of it too long or fat, try drawing the total opposite. The way to practice proportions is to try out the extremes: the right proportions are somewhere between. I'm doing this a lot when I practice. If you work digitally, make sure that you are using the native resolution of your screen. Wrong screen ratio can make your drawings look skewed unintentionally.

Drawing a Character

Okay, this is pretty much "draw some circles, then draw the rest of the ****ing owl".

I often drew these kind of practices where I drew the guidelines for 5-6 heads tall character and then I drew her from the front, side and behind. The guidelines helped in checking that each depictions of the character had the same height and proportions. It's really useful practice, so I recommend trying it. It's also good for practicing three dimensional thinking when you need to think how things would look from different directions. If you want more challenge, try drawing your character from above and below by using the front, side and behind views as a reference.

If you don't want to draw the horizontal guidelines, it's fine too. Just mark the heads with short line so that you can see where you are going as you draw. Note that I have marked the point of the crotch. If you like longer legs, position the crotch along the higher point. Note that you need to scale the torso appropriately a bit smaller (this also augments the longer legs). Since I prefer a bit shorter proportions, I tend to draw the legs shorter, thus I use the lower mark.

Once you have drawn the head, draw the torso up to the crotch. Draw one of the arms simplified for now, because you might need to tweak the body proportions. This way you can A).avoid spending too much time on the arm(s), risking losing it while fixing the proportions and B). draw the arm(s) by using fixed torso as a reference. This is just to safe effort, feel to draw the arms first if you want to.

Then draw one of the legs, either one will do. At this point you already have pretty good preview about the body proportions. If you find that the body or parts of it looks too thin/long=>fatten or shorten the corresponding body part. If it looks too fat =>lengthen or narrow the corresponding body part. If you work digitally, you can use the lasso tool to move parts or free transform to scale or skew body parts. Choose the appropriate method according the body proportions to keep the scale of the body parts fitting. If you lengthen a fat body part, you can make it look thin, but it also becomes larger. Similarly, if you shorten a slim body prat, you can make it look fatter, but it also becomes smaller.

Once you are happy, draw the rest of the elements. Now that the body won't likely change as much anymore, it's safer to draw the arms (especially if they go over the torso). Remember to use already drawn elements as your reference points. If you draw your character directly from the front and you work digitally, you may also mirror the body parts, or even whole body. It's good to note though that when you are practicing, it's better to draw everything yourself and leave the efficiency for serious drawings.

When you are done with the sketch, draw the final lineart. Digital artist have it easy with the layers. Remember that your goal isn't to copy your sketch. Refine your drawing when ever you feel it's appropriate.

That's all for now, I hope you enjoy this part of the "Nsio Explains" :)
Add a Comment:
Scootlink Featured By Owner Nov 26, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
thanks! :D
timmyshanti Featured By Owner Nov 22, 2014  Professional Writer
terrific job! thanks a million :D
Roxireart Featured By Owner Oct 28, 2014  Student Digital Artist
Excellent! :)
Suuno Featured By Owner Oct 27, 2014
Just a question, when you draw, do you always measure out heads and things like that? Or after practice, can you just tell whether it's right or not by a glance?
Nsio Featured By Owner Oct 27, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I used to check my drawings with heads earlier, but these days I can usually tell the proportions just by a glance. Basically, I still do check the proportions with heads, I'm just skipping the actual measuring because I can see the proportions in my mind. It has become a second nature because I've been doing it so much. In cases I feel something is terribly off and I can't tell why, I still rely on active measuring. These days I draw more advanced poses from peculiar viewing angles, so active measuring isn't very reliable. I just need to trust my perception and insight.

This is why it's a bit hard to come up with tutorials for people who can't see things the way I do. I simply know that if I want to draw the character, say, 6 heads tall, I need to draw the body in certain way.
Suuno Featured By Owner Oct 28, 2014
Thanks! Your tutorials are very helpful ^^
Creakist Featured By Owner Edited Oct 8, 2014
I'm wondering how I'm supposed to do this in pencil and paper, like with the guidelines and the other stuff that helps with the drawing, I DO have a simple ruler, Staedler graphite pencils, and a sketch book, I have the sketch book not flat on a desk but have a clip board to emulate a drawing board but I'm still wondering are these really detailed and comprehensive tips or could you actually draw from these without it being step-by-step?
Nsio Featured By Owner Oct 8, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
When you draw on paper, you draw the guidelines lightly so that you can erase them as you go or if you want to keep them even when the drawing is finished, ink them. Note that I have stacked heads on top of each other for illustrative purposes, so you don't have to draw the head 6 times. Just draw the head and then measure it with your ruler and make small marks for the heads. These are here just to tell you where you are going. For example, if you are drawing your character 6 heads tall and you have reached the mark of the third head, you know that it's the approximate location of the crotch. If for any reason the crotch doesn't fall here, you have likely made a mistake

The example at the bottom is just an demonstration, one way of thinking how to construct the body.
P-Dizzy8 Featured By Owner Oct 7, 2014  Hobbyist Artist
u have no idea how helpful these tutorials have been for me! I'll definitely recommend these to a few people!
Hybird-Blue Featured By Owner Oct 1, 2014
I had trouble once with proportions and line of action.
Then I discovered you and answered most of my big issues (there are still some kinks I'm ironing out, but I'll get there.).
This really helped me out,
Thank you!
Add a Comment: