Yes, You Too Can Draw – Ch 12 – Fake It With Foreshortening


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Today’s lesson covers an issue or concept that practically every artist (who is not going out of his way to work abstractly) works with, foreshortening. Most readers will have a pretty good grasp on this topic. But for those of you who have never read a how-to-draw book, foreshortening won’t be so hard. Before we start, let’s review what we learned last time:

What We Learned From Last Time

What is Foreshortening?

For those of you who didn’t know, foreshortening is an optical illusion or visual effect. It compresses or makes objects or spaces look shorter than they really are because of the angle that it’s being view at. Usually this effect occurs slightly off eye level. Foreshortening often occurs in two-point perspective drawings, but can also occurs in three-point perspective. Allow me to demonstrate:

Cylinder being foreshortened step-by-step

In the examples above, Example #1 is an eye level shot of a cylinder in Blender 3D. Nothing particularly special about it other than the fact that it looks a little fat. But we know that there’s some height to it. In Example #2, I tilted the cylinder towards the viewer. The cylinder visually looks as if it’s shrinking slightly. Example #3 has the cylinder titled to the point where the height of the cylinder is not so obvious. It looks more compressed than the previous two examples to the left. If we were to solely focus on Example #3, it would be difficult to tell how tall the cylinder actually is.

A screen shot of two cylinders in Blender 3D. One showing its height and the other rotated 90 degrees.

Now if I rotate the cylinder to the point where we have a direct over head view (as shown above), it would flatten into a circle. The height you originally see in the cylinder to the left (in the example above) is now visually nonexistent in the cylinder to the right.


Foreshortening And The Figure

Artists commonly use foreshortening (often times without thinking) while drawing the figure. The reason for this is due to the fact a figure’s limbs, torso, fingers, and head are oblong or a collection of oblong shapes. (Or like a collection of blobs.) The layers of bone, muscle, fat, and skin don’t lend themselves so easily to perspective drawing. As each body part moves, so does the tissue beneath the skin. Muscles stretch and contract, modifying the shape of the body part it serves or even a neighboring limb.

Anime girl demonstrating foreshortening

I don’t want to go too deep into figure drawing, but I want you to understand the challenge that drawing the figure brings when it come to perspective drawing. This is where foreshortening plays an important role. For example, if you looked at the top half of the leg (where the thigh is located) dead-on from the knee, that part of the leg flattens out into a rounded shape. if you shift the leg to the left or right, the leg starts to show some more volume and length. David Chelsea in his book “[amazon text=Perspective! For Comic Book Artists&chan=amazon default&asin=0823005674]”, he compares limbs to drawing sausages. Head-on or in a side profile, a sausage looks pretty skinny. When rotated, just like a limb, a sausage starts to look more rounded as it becomes foreshortened.

A comparison showing a woman's right leg shifting from a straight-on view to an angled view demonstrating foreshortening.
To the left, a straight on view of a female’s leg, looking flatten out. When she shifts her leg slightly, we can get an idea of its length.

Often times, body parts will often overlap each other, making them hidden from the viewer. This can happen with even the most simple poses. For a lot of newbies, this can make figure drawing a struggle. The easiest solution for most artists is to start with a stick figure and build it up using basic shapes.  This technique allows you to focus on one aspect of the figure at a time instead of getting bogged down with everything all at once. If you can get one step done correctly, than you’re more likely to do the next step correctly. The analogy I often use is that it’s like building a house. You start with a foundation, then the frame, the walls, the roof, and finally you dress it up with paint, carpet, etc.

step-by-step how I draw a mouse.
Here are the basic steps for drawing a figure. You can also apply this to drawing humans as well. (Click to enlarge.): 1.) Rough out a stick figure. 2.) Flesh it out by drawing in basic shapes. 3.) Draw in all of your details.

Your Homework Assignment

This honestly went by quicker than expected. But there’s not a whole to foreshortening. If you want extra credit this chapter, then I suggest that you practice a little foreshortening. Grab a magazine, a statue, et cetera. Sketch a person or object that looks foreshortened. Then sketch something else that’s foreshortened. If you want, tweet me or post your image on my Facebook page. Use the hashtag #ImForeshortening. If it’s really good, I’ll print it out and post it on my fridge.

Class dismissed!