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Nsio explains: Foreshortening

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By Nsio   |   
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© 2014 - 2020 Nsio
Number 8. tutorial in my "Nsio explains" series. Talking about foreshortening for continuation from perspective.

EDIT2: I thank all those who commented on my rude tone in this tutorial. I have definitely learnt my lesson by now, so I won't be replying back on any future comments regarding this. I have literally written essays as a response and you can find them if you browse trough the comments. Of course, if you find that it's all you have to say about this tutorial, then feel free to do so, but don't expect me to reply.
EDIT1: Few people have been reporting about my rude tone in this tutorial. I'm really sorry if you find it offending and condescending. My point is not to mock your ability to draw or insult you. For that sole reason, all my "bad" examples are always drawn by myself. However, my goal is still to make you feel a bit bad about yourself and wake new thoughts in you. The first step to understanding is to to see what you are doing wrong and accept it. I do this by slapping you straight at the face. While it may sound like I'm saying that you are bad, that's not the case. No one is bad at drawing: some have just had the chance to delve deeper into it. Some may grasp it faster than others, but since drawing isn't something we need for surviving, you don't get to do it very much. You didn't know how to walk or ride a bicycle when you were small, but you have had years to perfect them. Same goes with drawing.

Again, I humbly apologize if you found my tone discouraging and offending. I admit that I could have been more considerate.

Way too common mistakes:

Foreshortening is super hard, I admit with that. But it's hard mostly because of the lack of knowledge of how things really look like. That said, if you intend to foreshorten anything, you really need to know your subject rather well. Advanced stuff require advanced understanding. If you don't how the understanding, you will fail miserably, unfortunately.

Probably the most common mistake I encounter is the arm reaching the beholder. Most of the time, people draw the hand in upright position. Well, that's not necessarily an issue, but if you draw the hand in upright position, you need to draw the arm in a way that it's possible for the character to keep her hand in that position. However, people almost always do these two fatal mistakes:
1.The hand is far away from the face
2. The arm is not coming towards the beholder

People usually can draw the hand larger than normally, to indicate it's closer to the beholder. However, the two mistakes I mentioned before destroy the illusion instantly. Let's talk first about the position of the hand. We all know that our arms can reach quite wide area. However, the hand orientation is directly related to the arm position. That said, if the beholder is in front of you and your point your right arm to the right, you just CAN'T turn your palm towards the beholder while keeping the upright position. It's not physically possible. If you point your arm towards the beholder, then your palm can be seen. And when you turn your arm in a position where beholder can see your palm, the hand is relatively close to the face. From the beholder's point of view, that is. Now we can take a look at my illustration where I attempted to draw things as wrong as they can possibly get. See, the hand position is impossible there. So if you really want to draw the hand in upright position towards the beholder and the arm is straight, know that it needs to be close to the face (the face is just a reference point here, easy to remember).

Now on to the second issue I mentioned. Most of the time people don't even draw the arm coming towards the beholder. This makes it look like the poor girl got her hand dismembered. Take a look at the shirt: the opening of the sleeve is obviously pointing downwards.

I drew some other mistakes here as well, but basically they all are one big mistake. I didn't pay any attention to the beholder, viewing angle, not even to the drawing. I just drew individual elements one by one. If you you know that you are drawing like in my bad example, I'll need to ask you: are you really even trying.

I know I know, foreshortening is hard as I already said. But seriously, are you really even trying to understand it and what you are doing? Are you putting any serious effort in drawing at all? And are you reading this tutorial in hopes of getting easy way of drawing foreshortening?

Unfortunately, I have no magic tricks to offer. There are no shortcuts to experience and understanding. While this tutorial may help you to give some insight about the matter, you won't learn foreshortening unless you really give it all you got. And in order to draw foreshortening, you will need to learn seeing things the way they are, not the way you think they are. You must acknowledge that it's you that need to see the effort, do the studies, do the practice, learn from references and stuff.

Now, I wouldn't say that I'm perfect with foreshortening. I had plenty of problems to compile this tutorial, but at least I can say that I gave it all I got. And in fact, I think I learned a bit more about drawing foreshortening. This was valuable practice for me.

What is it really?
Foreshortening is a term for procedure, where the subject is drawn in perspective and coming towards the beholder. The subject is literally "shortened" to gain the illusion of depth. Usually perspective guides don't work very well with foreshortening, so it's mostly about trusting one's perception and doing decent guesses. And that's often enough, because it doesn't have to be perfect in order to look right. To draw anything foreshortened, you will need to have rather good understanding about shapes and proportions in three dimensional space.

I usually draw section planes and draw "middle lines" on top of the shape surface to analyse it's orientation and form. For example, if you draw a cylinder in any angle, you will need to be able to tell it's height in any given time. Even when the object is foreshortened, you need to know that the height of the objects remains the same.

How much smaller it should be?
As we already know, things look smaller the farther the are. The same principle apply with the foreshortening. However, you will need to know how far the object actually can reach and deduce how much smaller it really gets. If the object is very close or it's really large, it may look distorted. This distortion happens because of our vision (fish-eye). The more complex the subject of drawing is, the harder it gets to draw it foreshortened. Basically it means that you will need to study references and live models to gain understanding and knowledge about how things really look and then base your guesses on that.

Applying the cylinder example
The cylinder example seen on the tutorial can be applied on anything. The arm is probably the most straightforward subject to apply the example. All you need to do is to imagine that the arm is made of a pair of cylinders connected with spheres as joints. Then you will just need to draw the cylinders in a manner that they look like they were foreshortened. This sounds much easier than it really is, but using cylinders makes it a tad easier. Of course, if you don't know how to draw cylinders in the first place, then you can probably consider a bit easier matters to practice for the time being.

I drew some more complicated shapes than simple cylinders. To do this I had to draw few projections first in order to have the necessary references to draw the foreshortening. That said, I really recommend drawing projections of things that you are attempting to draw in perspective so that you know how they really look and you have references to look at while you draw the perspective. I must say, I hardly ever draw such demanding foreshortened drawings, so these really got me to the edge. I'm rather satisfied with the results though and this was super useful practice for me, as I mentioned before.

Some practice to try
I usually draw this kind of practice when I feel bored or I have gotten rusty. Anyway, the point is that you draw few circles, gradually changing their size from large to small (large ones are close, smaller ones farther). Then you will connect these circles with two lines in the same order you drew the circles. Now you will need to erase the circles partially to give it three dimensional look and make it look like a cable or a worm. If you have a lot of patience, you can draw quite complex thread of these cables.


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Comments270
anonymous's avatar
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CIRING's avatar
CIRINGHobbyist Digital Artist
you're the best ' ___ '  b
Octopusmonkey's avatar
So very helpful! Thanks for taking the time to make this!
jagreton's avatar
jagretonStudent Traditional Artist
Thank you for helping us artist, It's hard to find tutorials this helpful.
YagiMatsu's avatar
YagiMatsuHobbyist Digital Artist
This is so helpful!! :D I've been having trouble trying to get perspective right on my drawings, so this is is a lifesaver.
sqv2r6's avatar
sqv2r6Student Digital Artist
Dont mind them for their comments, I really find your tutorials really useful thank you very much NSIO
LittleMissDevil21's avatar
LittleMissDevil21 General Artist
SUPER HELPFUL! THANK YOU! 💕
xbi's avatar
xbiHobbyist Digital Artist
I had learned how to copy proportions from life and from photos, and I somewhat can draw rotated cube in ortho projection. What study or exercise or irl objects drawing do you recommend to feel perspective and space in drawing most effectively?
Naughty-b-Nature's avatar
Naughty-b-NatureHobbyist Traditional Artist
Ayay, you totally get it. It will take some time and lots of practice before I can even near that level.

I´m playing with a wooden puppet now, but find it not so helpful because to my opinion it´s arms are too long. But yes, I´m thinking in body parts already.
I used to draw technical stuff but switched to anatomy instead.

Thank you very much for this helpful tutorial! And a watch so I´m able to learn some more.
RoseFromSin's avatar
RoseFromSinStudent Digital Artist
I feel the need to mention that if you are a super newb use this and "drawabox.com" it goes into perspective and shapes and doing those excercises AND looking at this helps. I think this is very harsh, but art, in the end, is meant to be a criticism of what it looks like and not to the person who drew it! but really try draw a box too! 
Keraera's avatar
Hey, thanks for the site, it was fun reading through the entire site. it's definitely a good site for beginners!
RoseFromSin's avatar
RoseFromSinStudent Digital Artist
of course! 
TomoeMichieru's avatar
You've got some pretty great tutorials. When it comes to length in foreshortening I actually put some of that high school trig to use. If you know a few basic relationships and shortcuts you can pretty much draw at any angle.

For example: if you know the longitudinal axis of what you're trying to draw has x length at a 90 degree angle (say, an arm hanging at the side), and want to draw it rotated at the shoulder at a 45-degree angle toward the beholder, you can take the sine of 45 (about 0.707) and multiply it by x as the foreshortened length of the whole arm. I wouldn't necessarily advocate or suggest having a slide rule or scientific calculator at your desk when drawing - this is art, not architecture - but I figure if you have a basic understanding of the underlying math, you can do a lot even without exact measurements.
zeldarena's avatar
Hi there - Thank-you for the information. I didn't find you mean and offensive either. I'll admit, I am not practicing foreshortening enough. I doodle around a lot when listening to the news or music, so I am going to practice doodling around with cylinders and arms reaching out to me. A wonderful tutorial by the way!
RandychKeener's avatar
RandychKeenerHobbyist Digital Artist
Hi Nsio, I've registered here at just very now to tell you how much I've got driven completely sad and lost by your comment about someone who found your approach offensive.
I honestly completely do not understand people that watch such kind of material, which meant to motivate, and be offended by anything.
I am myself learnt many, like, literally to many things to count, just because accepting how I suck at them.
I don't really believe there is someone on this planet who thinks that he can get better without accepting they suck and start doing something from this point.
Welp, this may not have any value to you, but I'd like to say that I greatly appreciate all the colossal effort you put in these tutorials and for your most direct approach.
If tutorial author tells its readers/watchers they suck and need to accept this, they care. And this what differs heartwarming material from pointless flat timewaste.
I hereby came, thanks. I'd be really honored if you read this.

P.S. I don't understand almost anything in a whole tutorial, but no one cares :р
Cocoacchu's avatar
CocoacchuStudent General Artist
This gives me a new perspective on the thing. I've been having trouble with foreshortening, so thank you very much! <33
HeartHadria's avatar
HeartHadriaHobbyist Digital Artist
thank you, finally someone gets how much of a big deal foreshortening is. I pretty much have a blind eye to geometry and depth and that makes this all the more harder. I hate how a lot of art books just skim over foreshortening like it's as basic as simple anatomy.

I'll be looking back at this a lot.
Raqonteur's avatar
RaqonteurHobbyist Traditional Artist
I didn't find this rude, but them I'm not particularly sensitive to things like that.
I did find the whole tone mildly amusing though, so thanks for that.

It's a great article/tutorial.
Thanks for providing some insight into a problematic area of drawing. 
As for those who complained...
How many of them have thought to put in the time and effort to help others learn in this fashion?

So again.  Thanks.
Thehoodedteddy13's avatar
Thehoodedteddy13Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Foreshortening, what separates Good artists from Rob Liefeld
xXVVSOSVVXx's avatar
xXVVSOSVVXxHobbyist Traditional Artist
I tried foreshortening once.. Failed miserably and have not tried again
Sinswolf999's avatar
Sinswolf999Hobbyist General Artist
I honestly don't know how people see you as rude? You stated the blunt truth that it wouldn't be easy to do. Foreshortening is hell. You stated the truth. Jfc grow up people this tutorial is honestly great and explains things in depth for me. Thanks for the tutorial, this really helped!
TehAwesomeFace's avatar
TehAwesomeFaceProfessional Digital Artist
My god this is super helpful but imagining myself applying these techniques makes me feel super uncomfortable because it's a somewhat new concept to me
HerosLegend's avatar
This is great man. Thank you for this.
MoonyMina's avatar
MoonyMinaHobbyist General Artist
really helpful :) thanks for sharing!!
anonymous's avatar
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