Compressed charcoal, A2 drawing paper, standing at easel…15 minute sketch.
As you can see this isn’t my body.
I don’t have a spare mirror so I took the opportunity at my life drawing group at Anglia University to draw the foreshortened model. She’s lying down so her whole body is a sort of foreshortened cylinder with a blob on the end.
This was fun to draw and I used the relationship of the different parts of the body to help.
The legs are about the size of the bottom! … And the torso is foreshortened so it’s shorter than the shoulder to elbow.
It seems tone that foreshortening does two basic things:
- It makes things look shorter when angled towards the viewer. Just imagine drawing a shut door horizontally across your paper, then draw the same door when it’s fully open and the edge is facing you.
- Anything nearer the viewer (by the laws of perspective) is bigger than it would be if it was further away. So a plant pot at the end of a two metre stick (roughly the length of a body) is suddenly much bigger if you reverse the stick and put the plant pot in front of your eyes!
So… most of the time we see bodies vertically with everything ‘in proportion’, but if a limb is pointed towards us (like lifting an arm and pointing a finger at our face) the limb would appear shorter and the hand bigger.
However, we often see bodies from unusual angles… like when we’re lying on the beach or someone passes us an ice cream. And we take foreshortening for granted. It’s only when we come to draw someone with foreshortening and impose our knowledge of proportion (instead of drawing what we see) that there’s a problem.
The point then is why would we choose a foreshortened image?
A dead body lying on the ground could be from the head/feet at ground level… or vertically above (which wouldn’t be very natural) the body. So foreshortening is an artistic choice.
Foreshortened figure of Jesus Christ, The Mourning over the Dead Christ, tempera on wood panel by Andrea Mantegna, about 1475; in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, Italy.
Here the feet are bigger (because nearest to us) and the body shorter (pointed towardsus).
In this painting it has the effect of highlighting the wounds in Christ’s feet. It forces us to focus on the manner of his death.
An Ironman poster.
Here we get foreshortening of the fist and arm.
Which emphasises the power and punch of Ironman.
John William Waterhouse
Saint Eulalia exhibited 1885
The opposite to the dead Christ… here the head is closest.
It makes us focus on the crucified woman
To conclude, we take foreshortening in everyday life for granted (we don’t ‘see’ it) but because we so often draw what we know rather than what we see we tend to impose proportion on foreshortened figures and then they don’t look right.
Foreshortening is a tool to help us see!