Comparative Measuring for observational drawing

201805 Notes on measuring for personal use. Everything on this page comes from youtube, you can find the links in the footnotes on the bottom of this post.


  • Sit up straight. Shoulders square
  • Hold your arm straight out, without bending your elbow.
  • Tilt your head to bring your eyes closer to the shoulder.

Close one eye, Don't move. If you move your perspective changes too. Keep the distance from your pencil to your eye the same (you know, like in those Durer engravings where he is measuring with some kind of tabletop pyramid steadying device (Four Books on Measurement))

Sit 6-8ft from what you are drawing, so that your drawing board does not interfere with your line of sight

mark your chair on the floor, and tape off your position so that you will be able to reposition yourself (? watts atelier podcast)

Initial drawing

Sketch lightly, Start by eye and guess. // (charcoal) Wipe off your initial drawing. it's not disappeared - Pentimenti (correction) - a visual trace of earlier painting beneath a layer or layers of paint on a canvas. Correct her initial impressions using the more mechanical measuring techniques. 1

1 Measuring

The measurement you take is from your thumb to the tip of your pencil. How large is one thing compared to another? Compare one unit to another. how many heads is the figure tall?

Relate individual parts to the whole, not to other things near them / tunnelvision.

( Bradwynn Jones - example using comparative measuring in drawing

Proko's Drawing Measuring Techniques Visual Measuring - Proportion( )

Practice keeping your pencil vertical even as you move your arm up, like a plumb line.

Keep your lines thin and light

place your drawing on the paper

Mark the highest point and the lowest point of the object that you are drawing.

Connect these two measurements and draw a center line.

Do the same for the width. Find the furthest points.

With width and height established, draw a square or L shaped box around your subject. You can use this box to Subdivide / mark out the proportions on the side of this square Main Channel: The Art & Science of Drawing / MEASURING & PROPORTION : Introduction

// To divide a line in Half, compare two halves to see if they are equal. divide one half again. use the smaller measurement to create the width. height is 3 1/3rd - divide height in threes and divide the top one in three also, adding one third on top.

2 General to specific

These first measurements are the most important. whenever you start a still life, pick the largest shape first make sure you get that right. the rest of your measurements will relate to that

Use the Envelope to find large shapes, this is the same technique used in the Bargue course. // Connect the outside points of the whole pose. Draw the big shapes within this outer perimeter, use large angles, Then draw large shapes inside the envelope. Use simple lines, get the gesture.

// Measure from common points, across the shoulders or hips, elbow to elbow, knee to knee.

// Do not draw details in the contours. Get the placement and Major relationships.

( olly04/26/2018 i made a free PDF for friends covering a great academic exercise to level up your accuracy! its on gumroad but is free! I hope you can learn a lot like I did with it! ) 3 Check

Always measure from different sides. You want to know the Height? measure from the bottom and then double check from the top.

check your shapes with:

Plumb lines

Exact vertical lines to see alignments within the pose Horizontal / vertical lines - easier to get right.


measure angles from x to y to get the width of z angles variations make a big difference. too large / small more room for error.

// You can check angles with proportional divider, place one of the legs on a vertical

// Hold out a ruler to judge curves SketchingNow Buildlings Preview: Sighting & Measuring Angles Liz Steel


Find angles from three points instead of two Look at the triangle shape made by these 3 points and compare.

negative shape

Find accurate shapes easier to judge

Golden line

Drawmixpaint, youtube has some thoughts on using strings as perfect horizontals / verticals in a still life. measure distances from these fixed points.


Trust your eyes. if it looks wrong it is

develop your eye to see relationships without a ruler

Measuring with a pencils is never perfect. You use fractions like 2 2/3rds and every time you move you a possibility for error


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