Study 4 Male Figure Drawing 13 June 2020

Artist: Pieter Lategan
Title: Study 4 Male Figure Drawing 13 June 2020
Medium: Marlin Paper, B Pencil
Dimensions: 210X297mm

Figure Drawing

When you start with figure drawing most artists use the proportional system, using a relative element from the figure and use that form to compare against another to get the size relationship the two.  Throughout the ages, artists have been fascinated by the challenge of depicting accurate proportions of the body.

There have been countless attempts to standardize figure drawings.

So what exactly are proportions?

Proportions are the relationships, or ratios, between the heights, widths, and depths of a subject.

To draw specific subjects you have to draw a believable likeness of it, no matter what or who it is, we must draw the proportional relationships as they appear.

By accidentally altering proportions in the case of figure and portrait drawing it can create very noticeable distortions that detract from the believability of your drawing.  Minor inaccuracies in figure or portrait drawings proportions decrease the likeness of your drawing, while major inaccuracies may disrupt the logic of the body and cause it to look inaccurate.

Let’s go and look at the brief history of the proportional rules, principles, or criterion the artist looked at.

Every system of measuring proportions is a search for a certain ideal.

If you take the example of the celebrated Greek canon created by Polyleitus defined a strong, male athlete. This sculpture is the best know sculpture in the Classical Era.

It is likely that a few bodies fit into the “ideal” body of the “ideal” body of the Doryphoros.

Roman copy of the Doryphoros

In the oldest known text on proportion was done by the Egyptians which used the middle finger to measure the body.  It was thought to be equal to one-nineteenth of the total height.

In the Greek canon of Polycleitus, the palm of the hand was chosen as the unit of measurement.

A first-century BC Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius believed that the height of the figure was eight heads or ten faces.

Leonardo da Vinci demonstrated many of Vitruviuv’s ideas on proportion in the well-known image of the man in two superimposed inscribed in a square and circle: the “Vitruvian Man”.

The most popular proportional system the artist use is the length of the head as measurement.  This is the figure that is generally thought to between 7.5 and 8 heads tall.  To start with the head is a good way to do a figure drawing. Most proportional guides choose one element as the base measurement and use that to compare against all the other forms within the figure.

Pros and Cons of Using Proportional Systems:


Relying heavily on memorized proportions can lead to becoming lazy in observing the model, which can result in generic drawings.

Because there is so much variation in body types, no proportional system can be accepted as a rule.


The proportional system gives you a general reference guide of the relative lengths and widths of the body.

If you use the proportional system it can give you a more accurate and convincing drawing.

Memorizing certain figure drawing proportions can greatly help you draw from memory and imagination.

It can help animators to choose the lengthen a figure to 8 or 8.5 heads tall if their intention is to draw a heroic figure.


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