Today during In the Paintbox with Amanda Marks, she had her mom on to demo her amazing doll making skills. As she was creating a face on the doll’s head, she was discussing getting proportions correct and it reminded me of 6th grade art class with Mr. Marshall. He was an artist and was the first teacher to give us "serious" art lessons. Previously our art classes had been mostly creating crafts to give to our parents as gifts but Mr. Marshall taught us about colour theory, proportions for the human figure, how to achieve the appearance of depth and dimension in two dimensional pieces and so on.
In the lesson on proportion, Mr. Marshall would explain one of the "rules" and then have us try it out on our bodies so we could see the accuracy of it and in hopes we would remember it better that way. It was that day that I learned that I’m a freak of nature. You see, he explained that most people make the hands on the figures they draw much too small in proportion to the head. He told us to place our hands over our faces, putting the "heel" of one hand onto our chins and we would see that our fingers would extend up to the tops of our foreheads. (Go ahead. Try it for yourself. I’ll wait.) I remember looking at my best friend, who sat next to me, her long fingers indeed reaching up to her hairline. I looked across at the boys who shared the table with us. Again, their fingers extended right up to the tops of their foreheads. I must have tried placing my hand over my face 5 times before I finally had to accept the fact that mine only go up to my eyebrows.
Then he talked about how most people draw the arms much too short. He said, "See? Look at my arms. When I stand up straight like this with my arms by my side, my fingertips reach the halfway point of the length of my thigh." He had us stand up and try it. (Go on…stand up and try it for yourself.) Again, I looked around at my classmates and sure enough, at least in the area where I was sitting, every one of them followed this rule. The tips of their fingers did hit the halfway point of the length of her thigh. At one point, I caught one of them glancing at me and I casually leaned slightly to one side so that it would appear that the arm she was looking at was the "right length" but in fact, my fingers only reached the 1/4 point, not the halfway mark on my thigh. It just continued on from there – my legs were supposed to be 4 times the length of my head but they were actually 4 1/2 times its length, my height was supposed to be 7 times the length of my head but it’s 7 1/2 times, my eyes are supposed to be placed at the halfway point of the length of my face but mine are higher than that. It turned out that the only measurement on my body that matched Mr. Marshall’s list of rules was the length of my forearm.
At the time, I finally got brave enough to ask Mr. Marshall some questions. "Not everyone has exactly those measurements right? That’s just an average?" I asked. With a sigh of exasperation (I don’t think he liked me. Or it was just his weird personality.), he answered that yes, that’s the rule for everyone. I said, "But Mr. Marshall, look!" as I tried to show him that my hand was too small and my arms were too short. Another sigh from Mr. Marshall. He waved me away with his hand and went back to addressing the class, refusing to even address my questions any further. A few of my classmates snickered and my best friend, in true "say whatever pops into her head" fashion, whispered to me, "Face it. You’re just a freak of nature." Now, lest you might be feeling sorry for me and thinking this is some kind of painful memory, let me tell you that for some reason, this whole incident never bothered me. I think maybe it was because Mr. Marshall was so often wrong that I just dismissed it as another mistake but I never let it phase me. In fact, now that I’ve reached the ripe old age of 50, I actually celebrate all the ways that I am "a freak of nature".
If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
– Henry David Thoreau
Despite Mr. Marshall’s art lessons, I still use the guidelines for human proportion in my artwork – of course I use them as they were intended. They are meant to reflect the average human body – not as hard and fast rules meant to apply to everyone in the world. Leonardo da Vinci used these standard measurements in his work. The drawing Vitruvian Man was based on the a model of ideal human proportions put forth by the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius. Origins of Vitruvian Man: http://www.aiwaz.net/origins-of-vitruvian-man/a7
The measurements for an adult are:
Overall height = 7 to 7 1/2 head lengths tall (often in art they use a height of 8 head lengths tall because it is seen as more visually appealing)
Width measured from shoulder to shoulder = 3 head widths (for men, women generally are narrower here)
Hand size from wrist to finger tips = 1 head length
Measurement from hips to toes = 4 head lengths
Measurement from elbow to finger tips = 2 head lengths
Total arm length from shoulder to finger tips = 3 1/2 to 4 head lengths
Height of the pelvis = height of the head
Width of the hips = 2-3 head widths (generally towards the wider measurement for women and narrower measurement for men)
Eyes = halfway between top of head and chin
Upper lip = halfway between eyes and chin
Corners of mouth line up with centers of eyes
Tops of ears line up with eyebrows
Bottoms of ears line up with bottom of nose
Human body proportion measurements in picture form: http://www.worsleyschool.net/socialarts/body/proportions.html
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