Kill Art Block with Foreshortening

Foreshortening is defined “as a way to portray an object as closer than it is or having less depth or distance, as an effect of perspective or angle of vision”. This week we’ll look at techniques to implement foreshortening in our own drawings, to add visual interest. Let’s start with one of the building blocks of volumetric shapes: the cylinder.

There are two different types of cylinders to practice drawing: normal and tapered

Using volumetric shapes provides a better understanding of complex objects. We can represent arms and legs with cylinders. To that effect, it is important to practice drawing cylinders from multiple angles. There are two caps (circles) and two lines that connect the caps together. We’ll look closer at the relationships between cap distance and foreshortening soon.

In the drawing below, we have labeled the front facing cap with the letter F. When the cylinder is tilted to face towards us we can see that the lines that connect both caps are tapering outward and away from each other. When we position the cylinder with its front facing away from us, the lines that connect both caps converge towards each other.

In foreshortening, there are two things I keep in mind. The size of each cap and the angles of the connecting lines. When the size of both caps are radically different (one large, one very small) the angles of both connecting lines appears steeper. If the cylindrical caps are roughly the same size, the angles are not as pronounced.

Let’s concentrate on using our cylinders to form upper and lower arms / legs. The concentric lines around each cylinder indicates the cylinder’s contour. This helps remind us that we are dealing with a rounded shape, and will come in handy when we are adding secondary elements like muscles, clothes etc. The cylinders are essentally hinged and interlock. When the upper cylinder moves, the lower cylinder has to follow.

The upper arm / thigh is shorter than the lower arm / lower leg. This is important to note when drawing your interlocking cylinders.

Let’s apply what we have learned so far by creating foreshortened legs and arms. Notice the direction of tapering. The key here is that the cylinders need to taper. If there is no tapering between both cylindrical caps, you essentially have two parallel lines (which never intersect). Parallel lines tend to contradict perspective since they flatten out the drawing.

Practicing foreshortening will give you more opportunities to push the dynamics of your characters’ pose. It’s also a great way to kill art block!