Powerful exercises in foreshortening
In this video/article, we are going to look at ways of practising foreshortening so that you can conquer it once and for all.
In our first foreshortening video, we looked at how foreshortening itself isn’t the problem. We draw foreshortening successfully all the time. The problem is more that there are some angles from which we aren’t used to observing and drawing the figure. This means that to overcome the challenge of foreshortening, we need to get used to drawing the figure from foreshortened angles.
One path to confidence
So the main solution is pretty simple – purposefully seek out foreshortened poses and draw them! Sometimes people at life drawing class will move around to avoid foreshortening, because it’s tricky to draw. And it’s even easier to find yourself avoiding those tricky angles if you are drawing from photo references online.
This happens when you are worried about doing drawings that look good rather than drawings that help you learn – two very different approaches to drawing. To transition to learning drawing, you have to swallow some pride and be ready for some ugliness. So, seek out the difficult angles, and persevere through the challenges they present.
Getting in quantity
To make good progress, it could be useful to draw lots of poses with foreshortening in them quickly. You could line up a series of photos and draw each for 2 – 5 minutes. In a short drawing, you get the structure in place, including the foreshortened lengths, so you need to overcome the foreshortening challenges even in a quick drawing.
That means if you do an hour of 3 minute foreshortened poses, your eyes will take in 20 different poses and your arm will create loads of different limbs and torsos and so on. In other words, you can design a practice session that’ll give you a large quantity of practice with a variety of foreshortened poses in a short time.
You may like to start with more extreme foreshortening. That’ll get you into the right mindset, forcing you out of preconceptions and to seeing the reality. As you get more comfortable seeing things as they really are, you can start to move on to more subtle foreshortening.
Use the techniques from part 2
You can use all those tricks from the last video/article – using alignments, seeing the figure as a landscape, seeing the simple geometric shapes, seeing the negative space, measuring and so on. All those techniques help you to stop thinking about the figure, which is what you have preconceptions about.
For the final 20% of the drawing though, you should have the structure in place and the foreshortened lengths are all established. So at that point, start to look at the figure like a figure, so that you can draw those little characteristics we look for in a figure.
Even with all that, I still find it really hard, but the point isn’t so much to get it right as it is to challenge those habits in your head to straighten things out and to get more and more used to these angles. The more you do it, the easier it gets, because your mind gets used to accepting what the eyes are seeing.
Cross Contour Line exercise
To help get your eyes more used to foreshortening, we thought we’d prepare an exercise to help you get started with this practice. Instead of seeing this as an arm at foreshortened angles, which is confusing because our brains are used to something different, lets just see those lines we’ve drawn on the arm. They are just lines spaced evenly apart, and they will come closer together the more foreshortened things get as the arm moves.
So first, I’m just going to remove the arm from the picture so we just have the lines. Lets just try to draw this sequence of lines and forget the arm is there. The final drawing should have all your lines pretty much on top of each other.
When drawing these lines, try to forget that they have anything to do with an arm. They are just weird lines that you are trying to draw, and you want to get the spacing between them and their curvature about right. You can line up each line to the other lines you’ve already drawn. Drawing these is kind of tricky, just because they are quite an odd pattern, but the good thing is that your mind has no preconceptions about these lines.
Next, you can draw the arms using the original photo. For now, we aren’t trying to learn about arm anatomy too much, we’re really just getting used to just how much these distances change as the angle of the arm changes, and get used to drawing things closer together when they are very foreshortened – closer than feels comfortable.
This is an exercise designed to help get your eye more and more used to foreshortened. This probably isn’t the best way to try to draw foreshortened figures, since you normally don’t have the cross contour lines there, but it is a great exercise for getting used to foreshortening.