Drawing Basics: Another Foreshortening Tip From Dan Gheno

Male turning--drawing by Dan Gheno
Male turning–drawing by Dan Gheno

This is the second excerpt of its kind; in the Spring 2009 issue of Drawing magazine, artist-instructor Dan Gheno discusses figure drawing and the tricky issue of foreshortening, the way the full length of a human limb is not seen when you are viewing it straight on, instead of sideways. Think of how little of the arm's length you see when someone points a finger at you, compared to how long the limb is perceived to be if people hold their arms straight out from their sides. We didn't have room for the below text in our print article, but the content was too good to leave on the cutting-room floor. So here's some advice from Gheno on how to judge the right place to put a joint in human limbs.

No matter how jarringly big or small the individual body parts may look to your eye, they will always have a rhythmic connection to the rest of the body and so you should attempt to draw them that way. As you know from previous articles, all body parts have some sort of reciprocal, arcing relationship with one another. For instance, when you swing your arm at your side, your wrist follows an arc that crosses over your hipbone or great trochanter; and your elbow swings along a curve that passes over the area between your navel and the bottom of your rib cage. Meanwhile, if you bend your leg and swing it upward, it will follow a curving track that would eventually pass through your arm pit. If you raise your ankle, you’ll find that it follows along a curve that if continued would ultimately arc across your great trochanter. And so on.

You can easily see how sketching these radiating, curved tracking lines or drawing the anatomy of these body parts on your image will help you relate one joint to another when drawing a straightforward, mildly foreshortened figure. But although these radiating relationships can seem quite distorted and confusing in a highly foreshortened figure, they’re still very useful. Just remember that you’re looking at these imaginary arcing lines in perspective: Each arc bows out as it approaches your line of sight and tightens as it recedes. Don’t worry if you find it difficult to consciously account for their perspectival distortion at first. Usually it’s just a matter of keeping these radiating guidelines in the back of your mind for them to work. As you consciously measure one body part's length against another's, these conceptual, arcing lines will labor subconsciously, stimulating your mind, eyes, and hands to find and replicate the natural rhythms that run through the human form.

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Bob Bahr

About Bob Bahr

Hi. I'm the managing editor of American Artist, Watercolor, Drawing, and Workshop magazines. Drawing magazine is primarily my responsibility so I spend a lot of time looking at drawings, talking with draftsmen, and drawing ... but I love to paint, too.