I want to share with you the one easy trick I do to get the (female) body proportions right, every single time.
The trick to accurately draw body proportions is to first map out the sections of the body without posing it yet. You need to know the standard proportions of the body, which are always measured by the size of the head. Then, you mark the top of the head and the bottom of the feet. Divide this length into 8 sections because they correspond to certain features.
It’s a lot easier than it sounds. With my free printable + digital stamp you’ll be drawing poses in a matter of minutes!
Trick to always get the female body proportions in drawing right
The trick to always get the female body proportions in drawing right is to first draw a line somewhere on the side of your paper. Then you divide this line into 8 sections. Each unit is one head long. This line represents the height of your entire character. This is a guide that you can erase once you’re done with your drawing.
Next, you draw the bounding box of your character. Since most characters assume a pose, you need to mark the perimeters so you can plan exactly where your character sits on your paper.
This way your character isn’t too small or too big. You can draw and roughly position the head first, using your guide as to how big it should be.
After this, you then use the rest of the guide to draw the rest of the body.
It sounds very complicated but it isn’t at all. But first, let’s understand how the female body is proportioned.
How Do You Draw Body Proportions Accurately?
As I mentioned before, a body is always measured in units. The unit we use for bodies is the head.
First, you need to know the proportions of a body in a neutral pose. Once you know those proportions you can draw any pose.
This is how you proportion a body when drawing:
- The first section contains the head. This unit decides how the rest of the body relates to it proportion-wise. It starts with the top of the head and ends with the chin
- I will explain the proportions of the face in an upcoming article
- This section goes from the chin to the beginning of the breasts (still one head unit long). Also, breasts vary A LOT so this is not always the case. What is always the case is that this section is one head unit long.
- If you divide this section onto thirds, the first 1/3 is where the shoulders start
- This section ends on the wast
- The nipples are on the 1/6th line
- The breasts end on the 1/3 line
- The fourth unit ends slightly above the crotch
- The crotch is located on the 1/3rd line
- The fifth unit ends somewhere near the middle of the thighs
- Unit six ends a the bottom of the knees
- Unit 7 lies slightly above where the calf starts
- The last unit ends with the heels
- 3/4th is the ankle
When we turn the body sideways you see that some sections end in notable places. For example,
- The fourth section ends on the bottom of the crotch before it gets covered by the leg.
- The top of the head doesn’t include hair. Often the hair has a lot of volume so the hair will be taller than the top section of the head.
- Breasts wildly differ in size so the ones used in the example could be easily replaced with smaller or larger ones
Slightly vary the proportions to create unique characters
This guide is an example of the ”perfect” body. Perfect as in textbook, not perfect as in the ideal body image.
It’s crazy how people differ. For example, when I and my friend sit next to each other we are the same height. But when we stand next to each other my friend is a lot taller than me! I’m 5’3 and she’s 5’6.
If I were to draw her I would need to lengthen her legs. They should be longer than the ”perfect” guide I just showed you. And if I were to draw myself, I should make my legs shorter than the guide.
Feel free to study and save the guide so that you’ll always have a reference. I printed mine out to keep in my sketchbook.
After using it a number of times you won’t need it anymore!
How to easily proportion the female body
So now that you know the correct measurements it may look a bit overwhelming. But it’s actually very simple:
Once you created 8 sections you simply divide those sections into thirds or 6ths. Each feature lies on one of those fractions, and pretty much never on any other fractions. This means that you can always draw the body correctly.
Everything depends on the size of the head. Once you established that, you can draw the body.
Free body proportions guide
I turned the body proportions guide into a free handy stamp brush for Procreate! Feel free to download it here:
The benefit of sectioning the body
Okay the title of this paragraph sounds a bit creepy, but…
When we divide the body into sections we can divide those sections into other sections and accurately mark where each feature goes. Once we know this, we can rotate the limbs starting from their pivot points: shoulders, elbows, knees, etc., and still be accurate.
I could write another article about foreshortening but it isn’t that hard. The first step is to always have a reference whether it is from the internet or your own pictures. After that instead of drawing lines, you simply draw spirals.
This way you are drawing with mass instead of sketching the outlines. This somehow makes your brain register more easily and foreshortening makes sense.
Here’s a very popular foreshortening video that explains it well:
How do you proportion a body when drawing?
Now that you know the proportions of the body, here’s a step-by-step on how to actually use it when drawing.
It doesn’t really matter if you draw your sketch or guide first. In this example I start with the sketch first.
- Mark the perimeters of your drawing (I use the bounding box technique).
- Mark the outside of the head, where the feet end, and any limb that sticks out of the bounding box. Try to be accurate as best as you can
- When drawing the body try to stay within the bounding box. More often than not you draw too big or too little so you’ll have to adjust the sketch, never adjust the bounding box as it’s fixed on your paper
- Draw the head in proportion to your bounding box. It’s still a sketch so we can always go back and adjust the size
- Once you marked the position of the head, draw a line next to your bounding box. Take the top of your head and the bottom of the chin, and use this unit to further divide the line into 8 sections in total
- Now draw a center line that shows the center of your torso.
- Look at your reference and use your guidelines to mark the features from the neck down to the crotch in place. Start from the top to the bottom. Since the torso can be twisted or slightly folded, use your reference.
- Now that you’ve got your torso, you can draw the arms. Use the shoulders and elbows as a pivot to rotate from
- Do the same for the legs. Use the hips and knees as a pivot points.
- Draw the feet
- Now that your proportions are right, try to refine your sketch further
So this is how I typically draw bodies. It seems like a lot of steps to do, but once you get the hang of it, you can draw a body in a matter of seconds.
Trust me, you’ll pick it up sooner than you think!
Where to find body pose references for drawing
Browsing Pinterest to find body poses to draw? Let me tell you, typing in ”pose reference for drawing” on Pinterest always give me the worst results. Instead, I do the following:
- I browse clothing websites
- They always have HD pictures of models in different poses + you can practice drawing clothes!
- If you do want to use Pinterest you can search for ”fitness outfits”.
- These outfits are tight and don’t cover the body as much as regular clothing
- These fitness models often pose in dynamic poses
- Browse websites like line-of-action.com
- Here you can practice drawing figures from pictures
- You can also pick the amount of time, type of models, and more
Body proportions drawing reference
If you search for body proportions drawing references on the internet you’ll see many different options. All of them are roughly the same. It’s all about preference.
Each body is different so the standard references will differ as well. If I were you, you can use a few of them and choose which one you like best.
The one I used is based on Andrew Loomis’ books. Almost every realistic artist/illustrator knows him and uses (a variation) of his human figure guides.
Human anatomy drawing books
I recommend the following human anatomy drawing books:
- Figure drawing for all it’s worth – Andrew Loomis
- This is the book that most artists use and which my guide is based on
- Understanding the Human Figure – Anatomy for Sculptors
- This book covers the anatomy without any gory details you find when browsing images on the web. Everything is a 3D model
- It is very expensive but they usually have a 20-30% discount around Christmas
- The downside is that the shipping costs are extremely high. My boyfriend gifted it to me for Christmas but if he hadn’t done it I probably would’ve bought the e-book to avoid shipping costs
How to proportion a stylized character
When it comes to stylized characters I always use the same approach.
First, you use the same technique: Draw a straight line somewhere on the side of your canvas, and then proportion that line correctly.
Then, I mark everything correctly and sketch the body. After drawing the body I change the size of the head. In my style, I always draw the head larger.
When you use a heavily stylized character you should still use a (realistic) reference, and then play with the proportions.
Most important tip regarding drawing bodies
The most important tip I can give you is always to use a reference picture. All professional artists use referenced pictures all of the time.
When you’ve done dozens of drawing you can easily go without reference pics, but it’s a lot easier and a lot more realistic if you were to use references, even for stylized illustrations.
You can check out my Instagram to see how I draw bodies. I usually draw stylized but I use realistic proportions. The only thing that differs is that in my stylized illustrations I make the head bigger after I properly proportioned the body.
If you practice these steps you’ll be able to draw characters without any reference soon. Also, after the first couple of characters, you won’t be able to stop drawing them!
See you next time,