Saturday, January 22, 2011

Proportions Crash Course

Recently I've been asked about how do I draw my characters in proportion.
...as for drawing, I have a question. How can you get proportions right? I always draw guys off, and girls too..well, short. ^^; And don't even start about arm and leg proportions..--HiddenWings
At first I thought the answer would be simple, but the more I thought about it, the harder it was for me to find one. Really, I've only started getting a real sense for proportions myself. So here's the best advice I've got so far.
My drawings normally start with a basic frame with a horizontal and vertical line through the head to keep things aligned. This is a generic profile that I use for most of male characters starting out.
Normally, I start characters with a basic frame. This
profile is generic for most of my male characters.

Going straight from art class, there is a lot involved in proportions, counting head-lengths and such.
I could write about that, but there are a billion tutorials on that. Just type "Human Proportions" in Google, and there they all are. Although I am aware of the technical side of proportions, I don't sit there and count head-lengths as I'm working. But yet, there was a time (not too long ago) where my sense of proportion wasn't very strong. So it's all a matter of what's changed since then.

And that's where I get stuck, because I'm not quite sure of what has changed. But there are four things that stand out to me when it comes getting proportions right that may be helpful.


1. Know the rules. 
scan 2 redo
Here I've added hair, defined the eyes, and defined
the body. I love the chin, but unfortunately, it doesn't
fit Ian's character. I like for his features to be softer.
And I don't like the body position.
scan 3
I've softened his chin, fixed his hair so it would fit
the shape of his head better, and drew the line that
his shoulders will follow in the new body position.
scan 4
Now everything's just about how I want it. But Ian is
completely naked. Gotta get him some clothes...
Although I don't figure out the proportions, I find the drawings that look the best invariably follow the rules of proportions. The eyes, mouth, nose, ears, etc... all follow the traditional art rules of proportion or come close to it. So look at tutorials on human proportions. But look at them as a guide, because in manga, the characters don't stand around staring straight ahead with arms resting at their sides all the time (If they are, something is VERY wrong.) But do try it, following the tutorials step by step. At first the results may be a little stiff, but there is a remedy for that: See Number Two.


2. Practice
I know that sounds so not fun. But practice is essential to learning how to draw proportions better.
Even if the drawings don't come out very well, don't throw them away. Accept your work for what it is and move on to the next page. Sometimes over-correcting is counter-productive, and no matter how much you erase, it doesn't end up looking better anyways. So just try to do better next time.
Another thing about practicing is that the more you draw characters, you get used to the way the body moves. And the more you draw, awareness develops of when it's done right and when it's not what you want. So eventually you'll just draw until the character looks right.  And when it's not what you want, you will know what to do to correct it.


A tip on correcting characters that don't look right: If something looks misplaced do one of two things. Compare the drawing to the rules of proportions or even better, copy the pose in the mirror. Then take note of what's different between the way you are and the stance of the character. Doing this is very helpful with body positions and hands. Just sticking the thumb in the wrong place can make things awkward.
The proportion guidelines are very useful when the face is looking strange. For example, the rules say that there is an eye's length of space between the eyes. So if for some reason the eyes look like they are too close together or too far apart, that may be the problem.


3. References

References are extremely important.
Actually, I think this is what helped me the most, next to practice. It is hard getting arms and legs in proportion because those are body parts that are always moving. And depending on how the body is placed in space, it gets even harder because foreshortening becomes an issue. The arm that is closer to reader is larger than one that is further away.
So looking at photographs, movies, other people, and even yourself in the mirror will help out a lot. There have been plenty of times when I've posed in the mirror to get an idea of how to get things right. Hands are complex, so I've found that taking pictures of my hands in the positions that I want and referring them makes a huge difference.

However, I try to avoid looking at other mangas for references, because there's the risk of picking up too much of the style of another artist. I've also found that while creating a very long manga, l often end up drawing the same positions over and over. Then over time l've built up a mental library of how these body positions should look, and the references for those specific poses aren't needed anymore.

A note on looking at references:
Sometimes a reference can be used and things still end up out ofwhack. The way to keep everything aligned is to see where the body parts are placed in relation to each other. For example, you want to draw a girl with a hand to her face, so you look at a picture with someone in that pose. Notice where the hand is. Is it closer to the chin or the nose? Does the hand cover the lips? Is the index finger on the upper lip or the lower one? Where is the thumb in relation to the cheek? Where do the other fingers rest? By taking note of where the hand is in relation to other features makes it less likely for things to turn out awkward.
And of course, practice helps.

4. Endurance
Learning to draw proportions properly takes stamina. It is not a skill that comes overnight (It would be great if it could.), but develops over time.
When things are not turning out right, don't give up. In fact, the good part about when things are going wrong is that you know where your weaknesses are. So if you're bad at drawing arms and legs, don't avoid them--draw them more. If hands aren't your thing, don't try to escape by drawing characters with their hands behind their back. Draw a bunch of hands. Draw a page full of them. If you have problems drawing boys or girls, draw them more. Look at photographs, and translate those into your own style, while at the same time checking to see where the features are placed for accuracy.
I credit a lot of my improvement to the fact that I sat there drawing things over and over again that I wasn't even good at drawing.

Scan 5
So that's a super crash course on proportions. I hope that these tips were helpful, at best.

**Thanks HiddenWings for the question!**