Im having a bit of a problem with my perception of angles and proportions. While I compare some elements of my drawing to each other, they seem to be fine. In a portrait, say, the browridge seems to be at a proper proportion and angle to the nose. The nose seems to be fine with the lips, and the lips seem to be ok with the chin. But when the wholeness is taken into account, the results are quite off.

I actually have a picture i drew basing on a photo taken from http://lovecastle.org/draw/:

enter image description here

As you can see, the part from nose to chin is too short, so is the hair from mouth to arm. The forehead came up too big, so did the nose. I didnt actually see it until my friend pointed all this out, and now it hits me whenever i see this picture. Its quite painful, to be honest ;)

Im trying to avoid making this mistake again, but it is a lot of work. I measure and compare almost everything against everything when I draw, and still sometimes after a day or two I find the effects to be off in some way.

Also, there is another problem I have with strict measuring. Sticking out my hand with a stylus or a pencil isnt exactly reliable, at least for me. Quite fast im getting tired of squinting, closing one eye, trying to lock my spine, hand and elbow in exactly the same position to take measurements. When working from a photo, its quite enough to shift my weight on my chair or move a bit, to make the proportions go wrong. Id imagine that similar problems would be in effect in drawing from life. The person youre drawing moves a tiny bit, and the relations between your "landmarks" change, the shapes change, and so do your proportions.

So, my question is, what can I do about it? Are there any particular exercises or drills I can do in order to improve in this field faster? I found this:


but how many boxes can you draw? I'd love to get to know some other exercises, to bring in some variety to my drawing "workouts". If such exercises could be done while doing normal drawing, all the better. Ive seen people who just get the proportions and angles right at a glance, and I want to work towards such proficiency.

edit: a new grea video came out on ctrlpaint: http://ctrlpaint.com/blog/measuring-proportion

Really helpful!

  • Pay attention to the screen cap of the cup video in "measuring proportion." The drawing to the left of the photo is not correct: the handle is wrong and some of the ellipses are incorrect. Note also the teacher has chosen to illustrate the measurement without making use of the frame. The original frame of the cup photo is a HUGE measuring resource. Examine the intersections of the subject with the frame in your photo, then do the same with your drawing.
    – horatio
    Commented Mar 15, 2013 at 15:00
  • 1
    You do realize that drawing a likeness of someone is one of the toughest things to do? The subtlety is difficult to master. Boxes and symmetrical circular objects are child's play compared to what you're attempting. Bravo.
    – Stan
    Commented Sep 8, 2013 at 3:08

7 Answers 7


Here's an eye training exercise that has helped me with perspective and proportion.

If you have the luxury of time, leave your sketch for a few days and work on something else. Then come back to it, but instead of picking up a drawing tool, just sit back and compare your sketch to the source material. Take a few minutes to really soak it in. Once you've identified some areas you want to work on, take these steps:

  1. Recall your process when you sketched those areas the first time. What were you thinking about? What techniques did you employ?
  2. Visualize each area you want to work on, and exactly how you'll go about making the changes.
  3. Then pick up your drawing tools and proceed.

This won't immediately teach you to nail the proportions at a glance, but it has helped me find patterns in my work. I'm now faster at getting proportions since I'm conscious of which areas I typically miss.

One more note: to improve your skill rendering human subjects like the example you've shown, you can never spend too much time drawing live subjects. Developing a deep understanding of anatomy and motion will take your work to another level. Here's an anatomy-related thread on GD.SE if you're interested.

  • Thanks for a good answer, will give it a try. Actually, that anatomy qquestion is also mine :D
    – K.L.
    Commented Mar 9, 2013 at 8:08
  • Hehe, just noticed that :)
    – Noah C
    Commented Mar 9, 2013 at 8:29
  • 4
    +1 a good way to get that objective eye faster is to look at it in a way that inhibits recognition - for example, look at a mirror image / flip horizontal or vertical, or run it through a dramatic filter (blurring your vision or stepping back is sometimes enough). It's worked if you're hit by a "woah" moment of 1,000 imperfections jumping off the page at you at once such that you can't believe you didn't notice them before Commented Mar 15, 2013 at 22:00

I think you pretty much nailed the reason: discipline. Fatigue and boredom are essential parts of the human condition. You already have a pretty good handle on what needs to be done, it is a matter of doing it now.

If the result matters to you, you will now need to learn to be willing to totally destroy whole sections of your work in order to make it conform to what you want. At this point, you seem unwilling to do what is needed to fix the problems you have identified in your drawing.

One thing I do see which you may not be totally aware of is that the whole drawing is skewed a little in the same manner that writing on a roadway is skewed. Perhaps you are viewing the drawing at an angle which is not totally perpendicular to your eye plane while you are working on it. This is common in cases such as when one is working on a table and looking up at a subject. If this is the case with the example, most of the problems you have will go away completely if you get the subject and the drawing on the same plane.

As a side note: perspective and proportion are red herrings. If you measure properly and triangulate everything, perspective and proportion follow along for free. No foreknowledge nor understanding needed.

  • 3
    +1 having no fear or reluctance to just casually start again (keeping the earlier version, but to compare and learn from it) is a really important part of the discipline. As is, more generally, bring passionate about a piece of work without becoming attached to any particular version. Commented Mar 15, 2013 at 21:57

If you're having difficultly with perspective and proportion, your problem may be that you're actually not seeing things correctly. Basically, your brain has a whole lot of images of objects that represent real objects (triangles for noses, etc), and you end up drawing those patterns instead of what you're looking at. This is very common with inexperienced artists. Shortened foreheads in your drawing is a common symptom (the eyes should be about half way from the chin to the top of the head).

A couple of good exercises to help break this habit:

  • Turn your reference image up-side down, and draw it. You'll get some distortion, but it'll be a different type of distortion, and you'll probably be surprised at the results.
  • Get something like a wooden chair, and draw the spaces that aren't the chair - the gaps where you can see through the chair. These spaces have shapes that are not associated with any patterns stored in your brain, and so you will be able to see them without any interference. Once you've drawn the spaces, you can fill in the rest of the chair.

Once you understand what's happening in those examples, you can apply it to your real drawings: instead of drawing the nose, draw the shape of thing between the eyes and the mouth. You can also use it to draw the shape specific parts of the face that you don't usually think about, like the area between the eye brow and the eye. You can also use it to begin to see the relationships between key points of the body (shoulders, knees, elbows, etc.).

This concept is the basis of the book "Seeing on the Right Side of the Brain", by Betty Edwards, and which I highly recommend for any aspiring artist.

  • I have the book, and I was hoping my drawings were proof that I'm past the triangle nose phase ;) My problem is that when I measured, everything seemed to be fine. Only when someone told me my drawing is off I noticed it and knew what to measure to see whats wrong. Still, thanks for the answer, someone will probably find it useful!
    – K.L.
    Commented Sep 9, 2013 at 8:15
  • 1
    @K.L.: Certainly, your art is excellent by most standards. But there's not a triangle nose barrier that you can beat and be done with. It's an on-going struggle. For example look at the difference between the folds under the breast in your example. You've drawn a squiggle that's only vaguely similar to the same part in the photo. It looks fine, because it's not a major part of the image, but if you focus on it out of context, it looks nothing like a folded and pinched piece of black cloth. Your brain has made you draw what it thinks it saw, instead of what it actually saw.
    – naught101
    Commented Sep 9, 2013 at 23:27
  • I didnt try to sound like a smart-ass, and i dont think my drawings are that great. Its just that the book you recommended was the first one to actuallly open my eyes for the "drawing symbols" problem and I always think about symbols when I think about the book. When it comes to getting proportions right, i think of different teachers. But maybe you are right, maybe I should get it off the shelf and re-read it! Thanks again for the answer. Any further discussion Id gladly continue in the sites chat ;)
    – K.L.
    Commented Sep 10, 2013 at 8:25
  • 1
    Sure, I wasn't suggesting you re-read the book. Once you've read it (or even just bits of it), the concept is pretty easy to grasp. Just suggesting that even though the concept is easy, putting it into practice takes a lot of ... practice. Conscious practice. Doing what Noah C suggests, while keeping Edwards' teachings in mind is probably the best possible solution. So, my answer probably isn't the best for you, but hopefully it will be useful to others :)
    – naught101
    Commented Sep 10, 2013 at 8:42

The drawing or painting looks off but you don't know what to fix? Something I've found helpful is to say to myself, "Let's assume the drawing's just fine... but if it wasn't, then what might be off?" The timid voice that arises, suggesting the placement of the nose, the size of the right eye, or what-have-you, is always honest and never wrong.

The trick comes from writer Michael Swan, speaking about teaching, but it's good for pretty much everything. "Let's assume my relationship is going well and everything's fine... but if it wasn't, what might need to change?"


Have a peek at the diagram of your two views. Notice that the angles are the same on both. The major difference between the two is the eyes, nose, and mouth taken as a unit are a bit low on the face. There's a bit too much forehead and not enough chin. The circles are the same size on both views.

enter image description here

I think if you adjust the face very slightly higher, you'll be closer to matching the two.

Then, she needs a nose job.

You might enjoy having a look at a human anatomy book such as Grays Anatomy of the Human Body. There's an online copy at Bartleby.com.

  • the green circles throw me off even more, without the green circles the painting looks a lot more distorted to me, it's weird. Commented Jan 28, 2017 at 12:21

Here are some major differences I noticed between the drawing and the original picture: The distance between the bottom lip and the tip of the chin in the drawing is smaller than the original picture, the mouth in the drawing is fuller, looks bigger, has different shape than the mouth in the original picture, the nose is also exaggerated in the drawing, and the tip of the nose also looks different.

My advice is that you draw a sketch first with the right proportions, distances and angles before adding details, if you have trouble with measurement then I suggest this exercise: observe the size of facial features and how big or small they are related to each other, try to guess angles and distances between the facial features with your mind without the help of tools, then measure them with the appropriate measuring tools and see if you guessed right, try it with different faces in different positions.

See if you noticed some common proportions in some specific cases, the next step is to try to draw specific angles and distances without the help of tools and then use tools to see how much you are off, adjust accordingly, and your mind will learn from your mistakes with time and practice.

Practice this with many drawings until you won't need tools anymore, at first it will be a conscious effort, but then your unconscious mind will do it effortlessly, like when u learn driving, also check Proko youtube channel, he has videos on how to draw faces in different positions.


The solution to problem of proportions is the "quick sketching", this may take a lot of time but not more than any other way, it's the best processto resolve that problem. (try to correct mistakes quickly also, everytthing must be quick to let your brain learn) For the problem of angles, draw a lot of shapes with photoshop or illustrator or any 2D program then try to copy them on papers, you have to measure all those different straight tilted lines with your pencil, this will resolve completely the problem but tthis take a time also. The process of learning those basic things in drawing take a lot of time and effort so you have to be patient until you get good results.

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