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  • Writer's pictureKonstantin

9 Basic Facts About Proportions To Draw People (Must Know)

Updated: May 27, 2020

Nine things about the proportions of the human body that you need to know if you want to draw people.

Are you getting frustrated a lot when you try to draw people? Are you willing to learn very basic theoretical facts about anatomy to improve? This article should be perfect for theory haters. I've put together an overview of 9 simple proportion basics.


I. It Was Always The Arms

II. The Facts

1. Men Are 8 Heads High

2. Remember The Lines

3. About The Head

4. Stretched Arms = Body Height

5. Hands < Head (Slightly)

6. Neck = Hand

7. Legs > Arms (BUT...)

8. The Crotch Is The Middle

9. Foot = 0.5 x Arm

III. Conclusion

I. It Was Always The Arms

Let me today start off with a little traumatic childhood story of mine. Don't worry, it's not gonna be that traumatic as you may think right now.

It's about art at school. I hated it. I really did and I even had a 4 in my last middle school report. In America, this would approximately equal a D+. I actually wasn't that bad but because I hated the subject so much I decided to just don't do anything anymore in art.

When I did draw or make something I wouldn't submit it.

Where did all that hatred come from you're asking now? Well, I couldn't draw. At least that was what I kept telling myself over and over again until I finally stopped taking art education seriously.

Most of this came from the disability to draw people because I never got the proportions right. Can you relate so far? I hope I'm not the only one who felt like this at school...

I was able to draw pretty decent pictures except for whole people, except for a correct proportion figure drawing. No matter what I tried, something was always wrong. Most of all it was the arms, I was drawing. Either they were too long or too short, too wide or too thin.

I was keeping doing it wrong and the amount of patience I had was very poor. The people in my drawings almost always looked terrible and I didn't understand, why. The answer is extremely simple and embarrassing at the same time:

I was too lazy to learn the theoretical stuff about art.

I didn't want to accept the fact that I had to learn the theory someday to get better. To be honest I didn't even know the absolute basics I'm going to present to you know. So don't be ashamed of not knowing the following facts but be proud of yourself.

Be proud of not being as lazy as I was. Be proud of yourself for being serious about drawing. It is a hobby you need to pursue seriously and this is what you are doing.

Great that you're here. Let's get into it.

II. The Facts

Let's begin with the 9 things you came here for in the first place. The 9 human body proportions I consider being the most basic ones. You should know them before getting frustrated when drawing a human body.

1. Men Are 8 Heads High

What on earth does that guy mean by that?

Good question. The answer is simple. A picture says more than 1000 words, at least most of the time. So, let me show you an image that best describes without much Blahblah, what I mean.

I think you understand now, that the height of an average-sized man equals eight times the height of a regular head. I don't know about you but I find this to be really easy to memorize. 8 heads = one male body height.

The female body—as you may have already guessed correctly—is on average a little bit smaller than the one of a man. You can use 7 or 7.5 heads for the height of a woman as I mostly do but of course, you can also use eight.

Exceptions prove the rule, some women are obviously also taller than some men. Don't determine the height of your future women and men drawings on 8 and 7 head lengths but on the individual person, you want to draw.

You better get used to the head thing because we will refer a lot to head dimensions measuring our body proportions.

2. Remember The Lines

The lines are indicating the height of 8 heads that fit in a human shape. They also indicate certain points of the body to easily remember. Let's see what this is about.

Obviously the first line shows the top of the head and the second line the bottom of it or the chin.

The third line is almost exactly representing the nipples. Remember it all depends on the individual subject you're drawing. If you're just starting off and begin with proportion theory, try to follow these basic marks.

One head further below you will most likely find the dot on a human body that is called a belly button. Isn't this really easy to follow so far? I think measuring the human proportions using head sizes is a genius method.

I think it makes it so easy for beginners to get into understanding proportions correctly. At least it definitely did for me.

While we're at it right now... A woman's shape at this point would look a little bit like the middle of an hourglass. At least, you should indicate the shape of an hourglass if you want to draw a healthy woman.

The next head step leads you to the crotch. At first, before you want to draw a very detailed corpus cavernosum down there you might just want to indicate it with very simplistic lines.

Line six means the end for your arms. This line or a little bit above is where the fingertips are located usually. If you're wondering where the arms actually start, by the way, the answer is somewhere between the second and the third line.

One half of a head further you want to draw the top of the knees. Line seven, however, indicates the bottom of your knees. Comprising you can say that knees are approximately half a head high and also half a head in width.

The eighth line is the signal for you that you have now reached the middle of the shin, which means that between lines eight and nine there is merely the second half of the shins and the feet left for you to draw.

The ninth line is representing the floor if you're drawing a man. When it comes to women you need to adjust the floor line accordingly. Depending on what height you want your woman's sketch to have, you reach the floor either after seven or seven and a half heads.

What I also want to add in terms of drawing a slightly smaller woman is that you have to pay attention to where specific proportions end or prominent points are located.

Unfortunately, they don't line up as awesome as they do with an eight heads tall shape. Some of them are located slightly above the lines and the distance between these points and the belonging line increases the closer you get to the floor line.

This is why I highly recommend using the 8 heads or 9 lines structure disregarding the gender of your subject. It is just way easier to memorize and more simple to train with.

3. About The Head

Your brain tells you there is no perfect head size and heads are very specific and difficult to draw and so on. You maybe think that the head is the most important thing to draw on a person because the face is what makes a person at first.

The face is so specific and individually different that our eyes detect the tiniest irregularities in a drawing instantly. When you draw a face knowing your proportions and getting them right is essential.

I'm going to tell you one very important thing now. Since this article is directed at utter drawing beginners and I know I've made that mistake a lot I have to tell you:

Forget about the face and the head for now!

Drawing faces is a mission you can tackle when you're already a little bit more advanced in the field of drawing. Drawing a portrait is not today's mission.

The task for today is about drawing human figures in their entirety with the right proportions.

Draw a very simple circle or whatever comes out when you try to draw one. Use the height of this egg now to measure the body to get your proportion drawing right. The proportions of a head should be approximately 1.5 units long and 1 unit wide. Don't get lost in drawing the perfect head.

It's really unimportant at first. Especially since you can always add more details to a sketch later on. Start with a vague shape and unprecise very soft lines to be able to get them more detailed in the end.

4. Stretched Arms = Body Height

The very solution to my arm problem in middle school. I have often underestimated who long arms actually are.

If you stretched your arms and would have someone measure the length from the tip of one middle finger to the tip of the other middle finger you will see almost the exact number you see when you measure your body height.

Never underestimate the arms in your human proportion drawing! Be aware of that fact and it will keep you from drawing the arms too short in the future. Not to mention drawing too long ones as I also did in art education classes.

I learned all of this information and how to put it into action in an online course. Actually the first one I've ever bought. It's all about how to draw people and drawing figures in proportion. Check it out in case you want to really learn how to draw human beings with a pencil:

5. Hands < Head (Slightly)

If you're also struggling with drawing hands appropriately you might find this tip rather useful. Hands are approximately as big as your head but not quite.

I can almost see you holding your hand in front of your face right now checking if I talk complete non-sense or not.

You always have to consider the angle you're drawing handy from but generally speaking, you can say that hands are almost as big as the head. Another extra tip for you so you can memorize it in a superior way:

Hands are slightly larger than the distance from the eyes to the chin.

Pay attention to these two facts and you are most likely to draw proper hands. Hands themselves could and will fill another whole article on Mac H. - Creative but for your first and also advanced figure drawings this tip is essential.

6. Neck = Hand

This is also a really easy-to-remember tip. When you've roughly sketched a circle or egg that portrays a head, you want to start the two lines of the neck only slightly away from the side borders of the head.

In other words, the neck is almost as wide as the head just as the hands are. This is how you could remember this lesson. The hands and the neck are almost as wide as the head of your human shape.

But don't make the mistake of drawing the neck too long downwards. Draw the neck outlines and almost directly draw them to the left and the right side. Remember that the shoulders are pretty close to the chin in matters of height.

Shoulders are located between the second line marking the chin and the third line marking the nipples. Usually, the shoulders are located in the upper half of the section between chin and nipples.

7. Legs > Arms (BUT...)

You have to be really cautious when it comes to attaching legs to your figure drawing. At least you have to pay attention to this very tip I'm going to give you now.

Legs are longer than arms BUT only slightly.

I often thought that arms can't possibly be as long as legs. I used to think that legs have to be way longer than arms. I don't know why but I just did and maybe you did, too. At least until right now because your arms actually are almost as long as your legs.

Well, normally of course. By now we all know that there are exceptions to every rule, right? In case you meet the usual human proportion expectations your arms are really as long as your legs.

If you don't believe me, you can check in front of a large mirror or just ask someone around you to measure your leg and arm dimensions. If you trust my information, I'm glad you're still here.

Too short arms in your drawings are very often the result of not knowing this very fact as well as the head unit measurement system from number two. Always keep track of your arms and legs and make sure they are always very similar in terms of length.

8. The Crotch Is The Middle

When you have an even number of head units there is no "middle head" obviously. But what you probably didn't think of by now is that we have an odd number of lines. Of these 9 lines that measure the height of our human being on the paper, number 5 is the middle.

If you've been paying attention to the second proportion fact you remember that line number five is located on the exact same height of the crotch. So here you have it. The crotch represents the middle of your body proportions drawing.

So, the way from the toes to your crotch equals the distance from your hair to the crotch. It is just an easy observation when you follow the steps of fact #2 precisely.

I think I don't really still have to tell you this but just be sure. Of course, there are exceptions of different kinds to this rule as well. Sometimes the crotch is located at the top of the lower half or at the bottom of the upper half. I guess you know what I mean.

9. Foot = 0.5 x Arm

Today's last fact about the proportions of the body.

One foot is as big as half an arm!

Yes, you've read correctly. A foot is as long as one forearm is long. This is a fact many, many drawing beginners underestimate, including me. If you believe it or not your feet are almost as long as the distance between your elbow and your wrist.

If you want to draw a man or a woman standing directed at the viewer and also looking that way, of course, you don't want to draw feet as long as a half arm. This basic proportion fact mostly refers to positions of your subject where the feet are depicted from the side and not from the front.

In case you're drawing a person from the front side as seen in the picture at the top of this article and you're a drawing beginner who does this for the first time, let me tell you this one thing one last time.

Don't pay too much attention to the feet. Always indicate it at first and add detail at the very end of your drawing session. It is even sufficient to draw simple triangles at first that are solely placeholders for the actual feet.

Add more and more precision details to your drawing as you progress. This is a very important thing to remember for every pencil drawing artist. Create a rough sketch of the whole subject at first using only straight lines and then refine it over and over again as shown in the video above. (It starts at minute 3:21)

III. Conclusion

Summarizing this article today you can first of all say that giving up on your drawing skills and being ignorant in middle school is dumb. Learning the basic stuff about human anatomy and proportions, in general, is king.

Being frustrated over your drawing failures is often a result of being ignorant when it comes to learning theoretical things. When you've internalized all the facts in today's article there is nothing more to keep you from taking action.

The most important thing we learned today is probably dividing a person into heads. If you do this every time you're drawing male or female figure proportions you already have lots of assistance.

Simple things such as the similarity between your foot size and your forearm size may have surprised you today. I hope this had a great effect on your memory. Remember facts like these and accelerate your drawing progress.

In case you liked the article and got some value from it I'd be flattered if you shared it with your friends and followers on social media.

If you want to receive more useful tips, tricks, motivation and my three-day online course for drawing beginners you can subscribe to my mailing list here. I'll email you on a daily basis and of course, you can unsubscribe anytime.

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