Body Proportions Theory And Practice

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the human form

When drawing the fashion figure, it is important to know the standard proportions of the human form, as well as hearing in mind that people vary greatly in shape and size. Clothing the body is a means of self-expression and an opportunity for creativity, so the impression created by a fashion illustration must be based on careful observations. Fashions change from culture to culture, and from decade to decade. For example, a curvaceous figure and short, wavy hair was desirable in the 1950s, while a decade later a thin figure and poker-straight hair was most admired. The fashion illustrator often aims to express the features that society currently perceives as beautiful, and may choose to highlight these features through exaggerated illustration.

So, while body shapes and proportions may vary from person lo person and the fashionable ideal may change, the artist must keep in mind the essential components outlined in the following diagrams. The easiest way to begin your study The human figure can be divided into 11 .. , , . . . ,, , „.,... . " , . .

basic parts, which assists in seeing the body of the human body1S t0 see !t as a senes of shapes. Fo1" Simplicity, imagine that it is as a series of shapes, made up of 11 basic parts (see below):

Human Figure Proportions DiagramDrawing Wooden Mannequin

hand thigh knee lower leg upper torso lower torso lower arm head neck and shoulders upper arm

These basic parts can be manipulated to create different poses. Practise this bv adjusting the parts of a wooden mannequin and drawing it at different angles (below). Yotir objective is to notice the way the 11 body shapes move in relation to each other. Then, once you understand how all the body parts fit together, focus on remembering their proportionate sizes.

This exercise is an important preparation for fashion illustration, as it will allow you to experiment with poses before you begin to concentrate on the details of the clothing.

Body Proportions Pose Variations Male
Practise drawing poses from a mannequin, observing how the 11 body parts move in relation to each other.
Male Fashion Figure Drawing

These diagrams show how the height of the body can be divided into eight equal parts, each equivalent to the height of the head. This fairly accurate system, invented by the Ancient Greeks, is still used by artists today.

traditional measuring methods

The Ancient Greeks invented an ingenious method of measuring the height of the human body. They used the length of the head as a unit of measure, then counted the number of times it fitted into the body's total height. During Classical Greek and Renaissance times, the ideal number was eight, which was the standard for perfect proportions. This simple way of measuring is still used today. Try it yourself by using a tape measure to find out how many times your head length fits approximately into your body height, from crown to toe.

differences between men and women

Men's and women's body proportions differ greatly, and men are generally taller. Women's shoulders are narrower and slope downwards, whereas men's are broad and fairly straight. Women have proportionately wider hips than men, who have wider necks. The most common exaggerations in fashion illustration are for the female figure to be drawn with longer legs and a smaller waist, and for the male to have broad shoulders and muscular, toned arms. The following diagram demonstrates useful facts for the illustrator to keep in mind when drawing the figure.

The pupil is always p.irtly covered by the upper eyelid

The eyes are set ¿ipproximately one eye-width apart

The hip tilts down on the leg that ¡5 not carrying the body weight

In adults, the legs lor in at least half the total height.

The big toe is ^proximately one-quarter of the whole foot

The eyes are usually in the centre of the face

The eyes are usually in the centre of the face

Hands Covering Ears Drawing

The ears and eyes are In line with each o:her between the eyebrows and the nose

The upper lip often appears in shade as it curves in towards the teeth

Hands are often three-quarters of the head size (that is, capable of covering the face)

When arms are relaxed, the fingertips reach halfway down the thigh

The sole of the foot, not including the toes, is equal to the size of the head


A few useful body-proportion facts that a fashion illustrator should always keep in mind are shown In this diagram, exaggeration for fashion

Although it is important to gain a thorough understanding of how the body is c onstructed, a fashion illustration is not always an accurate representation of reality. I'Xiiggeralingsome aspect of the figure can add interest and character to the work. I ashion designers and illustrators often elongate the figure to give it more elegance and grace. To elongate a fashion figure, use the traditional measuring technique but increase the amount of heads used in the body length, For example, a figure could be stretched to ten or more heads in height. When stylizing a drawing by increasing ilic height of the figure, fashion illustrators usually emphasize the length of the legs. To keep proportions relatively sensible, calculate the legs as making up two thirds, i nther than half, of the total height. The step-by-step exercise on the following page leaches you how to exaggerate leg length and fit the tall figure on a page. Use a figure from one of your life drawings, or from a magazine, for the exercise rather than attempting to draw from imagination,

Today, leg elongation is not as common as it used to be in fashion illustration, which is employing a greater variety of figure shapes and body proportions. (Contemporary illustrators are not afraid to portray reality and challenge fantasy. Illustration is not only about elegance and beauty, but creating a character that complements the clothes. However, given that exaggeration has dominated fashion illustration decade after decade, it may be worth exploring the very technique that lias served illustrators for decades.


Although accuracy is important when understanding the human form, fashion illustration sometimes exaggerates particular features. Here, the neck and hairstyle have been exaggerated to create an appropriate character for the fashion collection,

Fashion Illustration Body Templates

1 Divide the page into three equal sections. Sketch In the waist lightly at the two-thirds line to allow you to elongate the legs of the figure, Then, mark the positions of the head, shoulders and feet, and mark a central line down the length of the figure. By drawing simple guidelines, you make sure that the whole figure fits on the page, It is a common mistake to run out of space for the feet, You can erase the guidelines when your drawing is complete.

Easy How Draw MannequinProportions Fashion

2 Sketch in outlines for the clothes and any decorative details and decide which colours to use.

3 Complete the fashion illustration, using appropriate media for the clothes and other important features,

Fashion Illustration Faces

This fashion illustration combines realistic faces and figures with digital manipulation to show the garments to best advantage. The figures have been drawn in pencil and the clothing added by computer. They are arranged in a montage that contains a range of poses, Front and back views, close-ups and full figures have been placed in a line-up that illustrates the collection from all angles.

deciding on a pose

To best promote the garments in a fashion illustration, consider the stance of your figure. The way a person stands expresses much about their mood or emotions. I 'or example, a figure with head tilted and hands behind the back may be thought coy or demure, while a figure with hands on hips and feet apart may be seen as strong or bold. Think carefully about the type of fashion you are promoting. For example, Is it your own collection, or are you illustrating for a high-street clothing company or designer with a particular client base?This will help you to decide on the most appropriate pose for your figure.

Build a collection of poses from magazines that you can refer to for your work. (iollect images from a range of magazines, including fashion, photography and i iorts magazines—you may be required to draw action poses for a sportswear range. Look back, too, at your own life drawings and photographs for inspiration.

This fashion illustration combines realistic faces and figures with digital manipulation to show the garments to best advantage. The figures have been drawn in pencil and the clothing added by computer. They are arranged in a montage that contains a range of poses, Front and back views, close-ups and full figures have been placed in a line-up that illustrates the collection from all angles.

hot spots—face, hands and feet

Do you leave out the face in an illustration because you are scared of ruining i hi: image by drawing it in? Do you tuck hands into pockets so that you need not illustrate them? Perhaps you draw the figure off the page to avoid tackling the feet? It is true that one small line in the wrong place can spoil an otherwise perfect fashion illustration, but the best illustrators avoid the temptation to hide these difficult features. By practising until you can approach these elements with conviction, your illustrations will gain in diversity and sophistication.

Indicating these hot spots authentically can be a daunting prospect for the novice, but it need not be. It is increasingly acceptable to suggest features imaginatively, rather than always to represent them correctly. On the following pages are tips on combining an accurate rendering with an imaginative approach to create an illustration that you are happy with.

Advice for drawing (he head and face

• A ball, egg or square shape can be used to construct the head

■ The head divides into three masses: the cranium, the facial bones and the jaw

• Draw in guidelines to define the position of the eyes, nose and mouth

• The guidelines can be positioned to represent the planes of the face looking in different directions

• A male figure has thicker eyebrows, a larger mouth and squarer jaw line than the female

• The face provides a focal point for an illustration, but must harmonize with the rest of the body rather than standing out from it

• When drawing profiles, symmetry does not need to be considered

• A badly drawn face can ruin an otherwise good illustration

Facial Proportions Template

1 First, outline the head. This will probably be close to an oval or egg in shape.

Male Eye Outline Human Head

3 Map out the eyes on the top horizontal line, Leave a space of one eye width in between the eyes. Draw In the eyebrows.

Drawing Facial Proportions Egg

2 Divide the head in half vertically and horizontally. Then divide the bottom half in half again in a horizontal direction. These guidelines can be erased later.

Fashion Illustration Nose

4 The base of the nose should fit on the next horizontal line. Draw in the ears; their size is usually the distance between the eyebrow and the bottom of the nose.

How Draw Hands Covering Mouth

5 Divide the bottom half of the face again and use the lowest horizontal line as a guide for the mouth. The top lip usually sits above the line and the bottom lip below.

6 finally, draw in the hair. In fashion illustration it is usually best to attempt to draw the overall shape the hair creates, rather than each Individual hair.

Advice for drawing features

• Suggest the features and, if in doubt, don't draw them in

• Features are usually smaller than you expect. For example, a hand can cover the face easily

• Ears and eyes are in line with each other between the eyebrows and the nose

• Eyes are at the halfway point of the head length—it is a common mistake to draw them higher up

• Most commonly in the centre of the face, eyes are set one eye-width apart

• The iris of the eye is always partly covered by the upper eyelid, creating a shadow on the eyeball

Eyelashes on both lids become progressively thicker toward the outer corners of the eyes, although the bottom lashes are shorter

• The upper lip often appears in shade as it curves in towards the teeth

• The bottom lip is usually fuller than the top one

• Lips stretch horizontally around the curving face, so do not draw them in a straight line

' Rather than draw each individual tooth, suggest teeth by drawing a shadow between them

• The nose starts at the forehead and has an indentation where the bone ends and the cartilage begins

• Made up of planes that form the sides, top and the base, the nose has a ball at the bottom and wings on either side where the nostrils flare

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