Drawing the Proportions of the Human Body

A 7½-head figure, in which the length of the head serves as a basic unit of measurement, is the standard of proportions used in most realist schools and the one I taught my students in Florence. It’s important to keep in mind that the bodies of 99 percent of the world’s population don’t follow these rules; we all come somewhere close. Most adults are approximately 7 to 7½ heads high. In comparison, a toddler is approximately 4 heads high.

Sign up for The Artist’s Magazine email newsletter & get great drawing tutorials & tips in your inbox. Subscribe today & get a free digital issue of The Artist’s Magazine.

Drawing the Proportions of the Human Body

Measuring by a Head
(These are approximate measurements.)

• The length of the trunk and head together measures 4 heads.

• The first measure falls at the chin.

• The second head-measure is just below the nipples or the bottom of the fifth rib.

• The third lines up with the navel. (At the back, this measurement also roughly relates to the very top of the gluteal muscles and defines the top of the pelvis.)

• The fourth division lines up just below the groin and just above the bottom of the gluteal fold (the prominent fold on the back of the upper thigh) when looking at the figure from behind.

• The leg measures 4 heads from the sole of the foot to the great trochanter or top of the outside of the femur (upper leg bone).

Note: The bottom of the knee cap is the center of this measurement or in other words; the point of articulation between the femur and the tibia. This point also lines up with the popliteal fold found at the back of the knee.

• The distance from the bottom of the gluteal fold to the bottom of the kneecap equals 1½ heads.

• From the bottom of the kneecap to the bottom of the foot measures 2 heads.

• The hand, from the tip of the middle finger to just above the wrist, measures roughly ¾ of a head or from chin to hairline.

• From the tip of the middle finger to the armpit (outstretched arm) measures 3 heads.

Note: The anatomical center of the body is a horizontal line that passes through the middle of the great trochanters and the top of the pubis or more accurately, right through the pubic tubercles. When looking at the back of the model, this line will pass through the bottom of the coccyx or just below the top of the gluteal furrow. This measurement taken from the top of the head or the bottom of the feet measures roughly 3¾ heads in length.

• The width from shoulder to shoulder measures 2 heads.

• The width of the clavicles (from one end to the other) is 1½ heads.

• The distance between the depressions (infraclavicular fossa) found underneath the clavicles is 1 head.

• The point of articulation between the lower and upper arm lines up roughly with the bottom of the ribcage (the tenth rib).

• The wrists will roughly line up with the great trochanters.

To read more about drawing proportions of the human body in the January/February 2011 issue of The Artist’s Magazine, click here and order your print or digital copy.


Watch art workshops on demand at ArtistsNetwork.TV

Online seminars for fine artists

Instantly download fine art magazines, books, videos & more

Sign up for your Artist’s Network email newsletter & receive a FREE ebook

You may also like these articles: