Measuring Proportions

I’ve been drawing for a long time. After all these years, looking at a subject and figuring out how to draw it is second nature to me. It’s all very easy for me to say “draw what you see.” But I know that if you’re just starting out, it can be hard to know exactly what you see. A great way to understand your subject better is to measure it. Not with a ruler, but with your pencil.

measure proportions

Pretend you’re sitting with me in front of this antique store in Montana. I’ve decided I want to draw the end of the building. I like the sign, the old wagon wheels and the cottonwood tree leaning off to the right. What will help me understand the right proportions of the building? I hold up a pencil in front of the building. Closing one eye, I put the point of the pencil on the left side of the signed section, and my thumb at the right side of that same section.


This is my basic measurement. I take that measurement and compare it to other dimensions. I see that the entrance end is about half the measured distance, and that the roof is about two thirds. Interestingly, the portion of the roof ridge of the main building that I can see is about the same length. I wouldn’t have thought that. Important tip: Be sure not to move your thumb from the initial measurement as your check other dimensions.

Although this is a simple method, it can be tricky to explain with a few words and pictures. If you have any questions, please ask!

The next time you’re in the city doing some urban sketching, give it a try. It’s a huge help drawing buildings.

post alley-.jpg

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