The Importance of Proportion in Art
Sizing It All Up
The importance of proportion in art can play a critical role in whether or not your drawings look realistic. Proportion is not the size of an object, but rather it is the size of the object in relation to other objects around it. If you’re drawing an image of a man walking his dog and the man is the same height as the house he is walking in front of, the drawing will not be believable. So how do we work with proportion?
Be aware of details and really seeing things as they are.
Most people see things without seeing as an artist sees. An artist notices all the details and how they relate to the object as a whole and how that object relates to other objects. In the still life painting above, the artist took note of how the gold cup on the left was only about half as tall as the vase next to it. And the terracotta vase next to that was a few inches shorter. He also paid attention to the girth of each vase. The silver platters on either side of the painting are similar, but the bowl part appears to be of different depths and diameters.
If you’re drawing cars and other vehicles for example, a compact car is not nearly going to come close to the size of the semi next to it. Lets say a typical house cat and a tiger were best friends and sitting next to each other, your drawing of them should reflect the drastic difference in size between the two. If you’re drawing three balls lined up in a row, a basketball, a soccer ball, and a baseball, it’s easy to see that they’re all spheres. Reflecting the difference in size, the proportion of one to the other, is where you need to pay attention.
The importance of proportion in art is not specific to objects alone.
It is of utmost importance when drawing people. There are rules of proportion for drawing the human figure and especially the human head.
The head is typically five eye widths across, for example. The eye line is halfway between the crown of the head and the chin. The brow line lines up with the tops of the ears. The center of the eyes lines up with the corners of the mouth. And the bottom half of the face is divided into thirds with the bottom of the nose and the line between the lips each falling on one of the thirds lines.
Once you get a handle on human proportions, you can tweak them to make your drawing more dynamic. For example, the average human body is 8 ½ heads tall, but comic book artists might make a male superhero 9 ½ heads tall or more to make him look and seem more powerful and imposing.
Knowing when to break the rules…
There are averages and then there are people who break those averages. People who are over six feet tall, people who are very overweight, toddlers, little people, etc. Some people have really large heads or long faces. Some have extra large noses, large foreheads, or weak chins. It’s up to you as the artist to capture these proportions accurately. Or…break the rules believably. Caricature artists exaggerate proportions to reflect certain aspects of an individual in a comical way.
If your visual acuity is pretty sharp, you might be able to get away with eyeballing whatever it is you’re drawing. Some people can and others can’t. What if you are one of the ones that have trouble with this?
By holding a stick, brush, or pencil at arm’s length, the artist can measure proportions. For example, in the photo above, I can tell that the distance from the light switch to the bottom of the shelf above it is about two-thirds of the height of the light switch plate. And I can also tell that the light switch plate is not perfectly square. It’s actually not as tall as it is wide.
Learning to notice details like proportion is a skill.
Whether you use a measuring tool to help you or not, it isn’t something to be overlooked. You simply cannot ignore the importance of proportion in art. Take the time to practice seeing and determining how one object relates to other objects next to it. Learning how to do this well will level up your drawings into the realm of realism.