Measuring Drawing Angles and Proportions - Drawing Skills for Beginners
Learn how to easily measure drawing angles and proportions to help develop your drawing skills.
In our first drawing lesson, we looked for simple shapes in our drawing to get us started. This is a fantastic drawing technique that you can use when you’re drawing absolutely anything…
But not everything we want to draw is as simple as a single leaf and sometimes we need to use additional techniques to help us draw more complex things.
We’ll start looking at these here…
Have you ever seen artists holding a pen or pencil up at arm’s length when they’re drawing something?
What they’re doing is measuring the relative sizes of the parts of what they’re drawing so that they get it looking right…
This is called getting something in proportion or getting the proportions right.
We’ve all seen artworks where the proportions and angles are all wrong (and we’ve all created our own drawing disasters too!)…
So we understand why it’s important to try to get our sizes, proportions and angles all looking the way we want them to!
I’ll show you how to measure angles and proportions for your drawing with your outstretched pencil, here…
When we think about proportions and our drawings, we need to find a way to easily divide up what we’re drawing into separate parts, but also to relate them to the whole of our subject matter… so that each leg of a dog, for example, is the right size for his body, and his head is also the right size and sits on his body at the right angle.
We can do this by holding out our pencil and using it as a very simple measuring tool to give us a rough guide to the relative sizes of each part and also the angles we need to make in our drawing.
Measuring your drawing proportions with a pencil
When you hold out your pencil against your subject matter you can measure each part of what you are drawing against your pencil.
Hold the top of your pencil level with the top of the section that you’re drawing and move your thumb or finger down the pencil to mark the point where the bit you’re looking at ends. Hold your thumb or finger there. Then transfer this onto your drawing by marking your page with the size (Hint: it’s often easier to do this with a second pencil so that you can keep your thumb or finger in place).
You can hold your pencil horizontally, vertically, or at an angle according to what you want to measure.
You must hold your pencil at arm’s length and make sure you’re stood or sat in exactly the same spot to do this, so that you can be sure that your measurements are taken from the same distance every time
Close one eye (the same every time)
You then transfer that pencil’s length onto your page – either to the same size/scale - simply transferring the pencil length you’ve marked directly onto your page (the easiest option)… or to another scale you’ve chosen, double the size or half the size, for example (‘guesstimates’ are just fine in most cases!)
Let’s look at a simple example
Follow along with me as I make a small drawing of a pinecone next to a physalis seed head.
I’m using a very light pencil (a 3H) and pressing only very lightly to make these rough sketchy outlines to my drawing
I transfer my rough measurements onto my paper by making small marks with my pencil. For this drawing, the size I transfer onto my paper is twice as big as the size I measure on my pencil… so I double up each measurement as I transfer it.
I make my measurement of my smaller physalis seedhead by holding out my pencil again - and I also check this against the size of the pinecone by moving across my pencil with my thumb held in place and judging this roughly against the pinecone…
Making a measurement with our thumb and pencil and also comparing it against the first measurement that we took helps us to make the sizes accurate. We can make our mark on the paper using the measurement we took, or simply make a guess at a mark roughly half the size of the first… or a combination of both to check and double check…
Next, I’ll think about what are the rough shapes that I can see in what I’m drawing - these two objects are both pretty well circular
When I’m happy with my very light outlines I can make firmer marks to make my drawing…
Measuring drawing angles
We can also use the same pencil technique when measuring drawing angles for our artwork. There’s two main ways of doing this (plus my own extra personal favourite technique)…
Here’s how it works:
When we want to try and show angles in our drawing accurately, our pencil measuring technique can really help us, too.
Estimating angles in our drawings does get easier with practice, but we can give ourselves a little head start by these quick techniques for measuring angles.
Compare your angle against a horizontal or vertical straight line created by your pencil so that you can roughly judge how the angle looks against the vertical or horizontal, and draw a line at a similar angle on our page – no numbers or calculations needed. This works because it just narrows down our focus and makes it easier to judge small deviations from the vertical or horizontal line.
How does the angle look against the vertical/perpendicular?
How does it look against the horizontal?
Where do you think it falls?
Take care to try to hold your pencil very straight - you can position it against something straight (a wall or table) to help you.
2. We can also hold our pencil at the angle we see and transfer this angle across into our drawing
3. My personal favourite method is to follow the angle I want to draw in the air with my pencil a couple of times (as if I’m tracing it mid air) then copy this same movement straight onto my paper.
Make it a tool that works for you
Please, don’t get too caught up in thinking of this drawing technique has to be a precise science – it doesn’t. It’s most helpful if you consider it as a rough guide to help you – a tool that you can choose to use, or not, when and if you feel like it’s helpful – just like all of these drawing tips and techniques I’m going to share. Some you will resonate with, others you won’t - and it’s okay just to use the ones you feel help you.
Please don’t feel like you ‘should’ use the pencil method. Lots of artists do swear by it and it can be very useful, but personally, I only use it quite rarely, myself, so please don’t think it’s compulsory if you’re not feeling the love for it.
Sometimes, I’ll work out sizes just by holding up my fingers and measuring one bit against another – for example, one bit might be “about the same size” as another bit…
“About the same”, “about half”, “about a third”, or even “a little bit bigger/smaller” all work as proportions that are quite easy to ‘guesstimate’ against any size. These actually give you a very useful rough guideline that still lets you to keep your drawing expressive, sketchy and loose without getting really bogged down in precise sizing or complicated scaling up or down (nothing too technical!).
Use the techniques you prefer to sketch your outlines in lightly. Think: does it look right? Does it work with the rest of the drawing? Try again if you need to.
Or consider making your drawing without these techniques, just as comes naturally to you… then, if you want to double check a size, a position, or an angle, you will have this technique at your disposal to help you in a moment of need!
Remember, for most drawings rough ‘guesstimates’ are a-okay for measuring your drawing angles and proportions! If you’d like to be very precise in your drawings, do practice this technique as it can be very useful.
Measuring Drawing Angles and Proportions Exercise
Practice drawing a flower or small stem with leaves and holding your pen or pencil up to get the proportions right. (There are some images below you can practice with if you want but also try practising these techniques by drawing from life as your confidence improves.) Draw lightly to mark the page with the sizes you measured.
Draw rough outlines very lightly and think about what shapes you see that make up your overall leaf shape or scene. There’s no right or wrong answer. Art is about looking and it’s personal – so it’s what you see, what you make out of it.
Think about the angles and lines that your drawing. How do they relate to the vertical/horizontal/right angle?
Draw in your firm lines when you’re ready. Remember to keep these relaxed and confident – they’re your own artistic expression.
How does it look? How do you feel about this drawing technique?
Try drawing one of these images below to practice and see how you get on…
Here are mine - click the images below to see them larger…
Good luck and remember to have fun with your drawing!
If you’d like more help with this, this topic is one of the lessons in my Start Drawing Your Way Essential Drawing Skills online course, where we practice this technique in drawing exercises to get us started drawing accurately, from photos and from life…
Personal help from me, and feedback on your drawings is available, or you might prefer the DIY version of the course - if this sounds like your kind of thing, click here to find out more about the Essential Drawing Skills online course…
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