Mouse holding his pencil at arm's length to measure the size of the elephant's head.

Yes, You Too Can Draw! – Ch 7 — Measure With Your Pencil

Welcome back to another chapter of Yes, You Too Can Draw! We’re going to talk about Measuring with your Pencil. Why is this important? I’ll get into that later. As always, we go a review of the previous chapter on The Line of Direction:

What We Learned From Last Time

Why Measure With Your Pencil?

The simple answer is that most people never carry a ruler around. But I’m not talking about literally measuring your subject. What I’m referring to is using your pencil to measure your subject’s proportions.

Let’s say you’re trying to draw an elephant at the zoo. Sure elephants aren’t hyper-active creatures and can stay still long enough to quickly sketch it. But you’re not going to draw the animal at full-scale on your paper or in your sketchbook. It’s simply way too big. Also, you’ll most likely be at a good distance from the elephant. Given these variables, we’ll try to sketch the elephant in proportion to your page.

How to Measure Proportions in a Drawing

What we see and how we translate a subject to paper often times gets distorted. This is where using our pencil as a measuring tool comes into play. Let’s pretend you are back at the zoo, or if you have a live subject at home, go with that.

Use a Body Part as a Metric

Choose a specific body part to use as your metric, the head for example. Take your pencil, and hold it at arm’s length. Use your thumb on the pencil to mark the measurement of your subject’s head. The metric you’ve just created will be also be applied to your drawing surface.

Keeping your pencil at arm’s length, visually measure the subject using your metric. Now you have the height of your subject. To get the length of your subject, hold your pencil at arm’s length to measure the width of your subject’s head. Using your new metric, you’ll visually plot out the length of your subject’s body.

Mouse holding his pencil at arm's length to measure the size of the elephant's head.
elephant head measured up and down using a pencil
To create a metric to measure an elephant’s height, the artist uses his pencil and thumb to mark the head’s height.
elephant drawing measured left to right
To create a metric to measure the elephant’s length, the artist uses his pencil and thumb to mark the width of the elephant’s head.

Applying Your Measurements to the Page

Using your new metric, plot the width and height across your paper. Roughout basic shapes to construct your subject. If possible, go back to your live subject to check your proportions. Once you are satisfied with the proportions on your drawing surface, clean up your plot marks and start drawing your details.

An elephant drawing measured in heads.
An elephant broke down into heads in both length and height. These measurements are used as guides for the rough.

As you can tell, this technique can be quite effective for living subjects, especially humans. It is generally accepted that humans are eight heads high. In some books, women are 7 1/2 heads high, and superheroes are an extra head taller.

This same technique can also be applied to inanimate objects. Just pick a part that you can use as a metric, for example, a lamp’s lampshade.

Your Home Work Assignment

Today’s assignment is to pick a living subject, animal or person, and draw your subject utilizing the same pencil measurement technique that we’ve learned today. You can post your results either via the comments section below, on Twitter, or on the Facebook fan page. If you are pretty green, you might find yourself struggling a bit. But with a little practice, this will become an invaluable technique.