Despite the great physical differences between us, the proportions of all people are calculated in the same way. Just as we discussed in facial proportions, there is a universal system of measurements to drawing the figure. Learning these proportions and how to measure the human form is an integral step in understanding how to draw people.
The unit of measurement for the figure is the head. The length of the head from top to bottom is repeated to determine the size of the figure and the placement of many of the features. The human figure is 7 ½ heads tall.
Once you’ve determined the size of the head and the overall height of the body, you can locate several additional features. For example, the naval is three heads down and the bottoms of the knees are six heads down.
Though the legs may appear to be exactly half of the body, they are actually slightly less. The precise half way point between top and bottom is actually the top of the femur.
The best way to figure out the length of the legs is to know exactly where the groin is. The groin is located half way between the eyes and the heels (as shown on the right). This means that the legs are equal to the distance between the eyes and groin. Also, when the arms are extended straight downward, the wrists will line up with the groin.
The head can also be used to measure the width of the shoulders and hips. When turned sideways, two head lengths will equal the width of a man’s shoulders. His hips will be 1 ½ heads wide. It is just the opposite for a woman. Her shoulders are 1 ½ heads wide and her hips are 2 heads wide.
Some artists use different measurements when drawing the human form. The ideal proportions call for a figure which is eight heads tall. This extends the figure slightly for a more impressive or heroic look. Fashion illustrators will usually use a nine or even ten head tall figure. This makes the figure very long and slender and accentuates the elegance of the form.
Though the same proportions apply for all people, we are all slightly different. When drawing individuals, it is important to take note of these differences. However, what our minds often perceive as great disparities in proportions (head size for example) are usually very minute differences from the average. It’s also important to know that these proportions do not apply to children.
Artists since the Renaissance have been measuring and subdividing the human figure. From the overall size of the body to the precise measurements of the fingers, everything has been calculated. The proportions here are only the beginning. With this knowledge you are able to understand and recreate the overall human form, but there is much more to be said on this topic.