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Drawing the Human Figure: Perspective & Foreshortening

Updated on October 28, 2014

Perspective Drawing

When viewing the human figure in perspective certain parts of the body may be going in different directions such as a leg directed away from the viewer or an arm directed towards the viewer. When drawing in perspective, you have what’s called a ‘point of interest’. A point of interest is where the vanishing point is going to be. You can also have more than one point of interest. The further away your lines are from the POI, the more they vanish and vice versa. Below are three boxes drawn in perspective with one point of interest:

Now we will examine a perspective drawing with a horizon line and two points of interest:

The angle of the body is descending towards the POI on the right side, in other words, the portion of the body on the right side appears to be smaller than the left side. The red arrows indicate the angles.

Here are a few more perspective drawings for you to look at:


Another element of perspective drawing is foreshortening. When an object is directed toward you, it creates an optical illusion making the object appear shorter than what it actually is. Below are a few examples of foreshortening.

1a. This example shows an arm leaning on a surface. The upper arm looks shorter in proportion to forearm. That is because the arm is lifted from the shoulder.

1b. A stick figure version of the image is represented. Notice how the stick is drawn from the circle that is the shoulder to the elbow.

2a. This example displays a male lifting dumb-bells. The arm is even more foreshortened than the previous example. Although the forearm is barely visible, you can see portions of the shoulder and forearm.

2b. You can barely see the stick portion of the forearm. It’s indicated by a small line. The circle that is the elbow overlaps the shoulder circle.

1a. This example shows a person’s legs in a sitting position. When a person sits, the thigh is not elliptical, but more of a rounded triangle shape when foreshortened.

1b. In this example, a manikin view is presented. Although the thigh is triangular in foreshortened view, the basic 3D shape is a cylinder.

2a. Human Figure; 2b. Stick Figure; 2c. Manikin Figure
2a. Human Figure; 2b. Stick Figure; 2c. Manikin Figure

The last example shows a person in motion (walking). Notice the hips are a bit tilted and the lower leg on the left side is slightly foreshortened because it is bent.

This lesson was one of the more challenging lessons. It is recommended that you study and practice as much as you need to before you begin drawing in perspective. In the final lesson, we will have the opportunity to do just that.

♦Key Points to Remember

-Perspectives have a point of interest where images become larger as they lengthen from the point & smaller or vanish towards the point.

-Foreshortening is when an object appears smaller than what is actually is.

-The more the arm or leg is foreshortened, the greater the illusion and it will appear shorter in proportion to the rest of the body.

-Have patience

-Don’t be hard on yourself & have fun!!

-Keep practicing!


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