Drawing – The Dreaded Foreshortening


Foreshortening is a word used to describe the drawing of a person or object in perspective and this where I sometimes get myself into real trouble!

Let’s pretend we were to crouch and look at a person lying down on the beach.  If we were to look at the person from the top of their head view we would hardly see anything of the side of them. So the motto with foreshortened drawings is, “the more we see of the end, the less we see of the sides.”

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When tackling a foreshortened subject, I firstly try to establish whether the figure is lying diagonally and if so, which way is it sloping? To start on my page, I draw a very light diagonal line to guide me.

Finding the midpoint is particularly vital in foreshortened drawings and will appear not where you would guess it to be. I tend to treat the drawing as a jigsaw puzzle of many pieces joined together and return to my starting point with freehand drawing as often as I can. This way, my struggle with proportions becomes a little easier.

It is most important to draw what you see even if it doesn’t make sense. Having said that, this may not feel right as you are drawing because the shapes will be so different from what you know and recognize. In fact, the shapes could almost be described as nonsensical.

This rough charcoal foreshortened drawing below was so difficult to do and I think I must have unsuccessfully had at least six attempts.  The mid-point is very deceiving here and appears just below the girl’s bikini top.  After many attempts, I did the drawing while listening to an interesting topic on the radio.  This is a good tip because it is enough to distract us so we lose concentration and allow the drawing to flow without trying too hard.

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Check out this great site which has fantastic tips on foreshortening.

Edward A Burke’s drawing and painting site is also a great reference.


Drawing – The Secret of Trapped Shapes

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If you make a circle with your thumb and forefinger you will find a “trapped” shape.  A “trapped” shape or space is usually found between limbs and background, between overlapping branches of a tree or even between the rungs of a chair. The whites of your eyes are “trapped” shapes as is the space within the handle of a teapot.  In the sketch above you will see the three “trapped” shapes between the boys’ legs.

If you focus on these shapes, you will see them as just a shape and easier to draw than something you already know.  When you draw the shape, you draw the common boundary between the leg and the foot…. to draw one is to draw the other.

Drawing shapes is much easier than drawing things, so drawing “trapped” shapes whenever you find them will give new life to your drawing.  “Trapped” shapes serve as a marker and proportional check to the shape beside it.  It helps to develop the habit of shifting back and forth between drawing objects and trapped shapes. This will lead you to new ways of observing.

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I have drawn the larger shapes first, then focused on the trapped shapes between the boys’ legs.

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By drawing the dark shape of the dress, you also draw a part of the model’s face.

Can you search for the trapped shapes? Can you shift back and forth between them and other objects?  Are you interested in finding new ways of observing?  Treat this as a challenge for your next drawing.


Next time you’re out, try to look for “trapped shapes” – they are everywhere.  I was driving the freeway yesterday and could see a “trapped shape” between the body of the car in front, its wheels, and the road.  I saw another between an overhead bridge, the pillars supporting it and the road.  It is fun to see in new ways.