Learn to Draw - Foreshortening





Some foreshortening images

If an object has three dimensions - Height, Width and Depth - that object can get foreshortened in drawing. Foreshortening occurs when you're representing a three dimensional object on a two dimensional drawing plane and you want to show all three of those dimensions. In order to do this you have to create the illusion of the third dimension by foreshortening the object. When something gets foreshortened proper proportion is nullified. Foreshortening is when an object appears to be receding into the paper or coming straight at you directly out of the plane of the paper. When this happens, the size of the object is distorted or shortened, to make it appear that an object is closer to you than the other objects in the drawing. Foreshortening then, is intentionally skewing proportion in order to get a 3-D look in a drawing.

To show that the elements of drawing all hang together - in the 1 & 2 Point Perspective exercises you were  creating foreshortening already! The sides of the boxes that receded from the front to the back are foreshortened. Those were simple drawings so the foreshortening in them was simple. The more complex an object or a scene becomes, the more complex the foreshortening becomes.

A Pointing finger

Don't do this if
it's not there.

Foreshortening can be difficult for some people because since the proportions get skewed sometimes the object no longer looks like the object that you are drawing. It's at this point that your logical mind kicks in and says to you that what you are drawing doesn't look like what you're drawing. What your logical mind cannot grasp is that it's not supposed to look like what you are drawing because the foreshortening distorts the object. A good example of this is a hand with a pointing finger coming straight at you. The hand looks all right but the pointing finger looks weird. The reason it looks weird to you is because it no longer looks like a finger to your logical mind. Fingers are supposed to be long and skinny things and this looks short and stubby - so your brain says it's not a finger. So if you'd want to draw the hand to the right, you'll have to ignore your logical mind and rely on your artistic mind. (you should be doing that already when you're drawing) So the way many people deal with the pointing finger is to not draw what they see and draw a finger from the side even though the finger is not from the side but straight on. So if you want to draw the finger as you see it, you'll have to ignore your logical mind screaming at you that what you're drawing is incorrect and really draw what you see. Draw the lines, shapes, spaces, shadows and measure what you see and the drawing will be correct. A lot of what makes a foreshortened object look correct is context. On it's own a pointing finger may not look like a finger at all - but once you put the rest of the hand into your drawing then it will look like a pointing finger because your brain will connect the finger to the rest of the hand and then it will understand that it's a pointing finger.

Your finger is like a tube.

Drawing a pointing finger

Your fingers are basically cylinders - like a cardboard bathroom tissue roll. So if you look at the cardboard roll from the side and slowly turn it so that you're looking down through it - you'll begin to understand a pointing finger. Better yet, look at your own finger. First look at it from the side and see your knuckles, down to the first joint, then the second, then the tip of the finger. Now look again at the first joint and slowly turn your hand towards your face still looking at the first joint. Watch how the look of the joint changes as you turn your hand. You'll see what the first joint looks like when you're looking straight down your finger. Now do that same turning idea with the other parts of the finger and see how they change as you turn your hand. This is the best way for your logical mind to understand what a foreshortened object looks like - by showing the brain how it changes as the angle of the object changes. So if you wanted to draw the pointing finger, draw what you see and ignore the fact that it's a finger. Begin by looking at the photo and studying the lines and shapes and spaces that you see.

More foreshortening concepts will be explored elsewhere in the website.

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