Artistic Anatomy Lecture: Foreshortening

Get essential tips on how to draw a foreshortened human figure. Learn to identify key points on the figure that will make foreshortening clear and concrete.

Foreshortening is when an object appears to be shorter than it actually physically is, creating a point of view that is dramatic and challenging to portray in drawing. Lecture by Art Prof Clara Lieu.

Anatomy: Figure Drawing, Proportions
Proportions for Figure Drawing

Video Walkthrough

  • Foreshortening is when our point of view on an object makes it appear shorter than it actually is.
  • Foreshortening makes dramatic angles, and is often seen in dynamic action poses, especially in movies.
  • Foreshortening is an effective way to show depth, by depicting what is far away and what is close up.
  • Foreshortening emphasizes the viewer’s point of view.
  • When there is any foreshortening in the human figure, it makes the foreshortened area look weird.
  • Foreshortening is never going to look “normal,” so let it look weird!
  • Proportions go out the window with foreshortening, nothing is ever going to look “correct” when it’s foreshortened.
  • Sometimes foreshortening is much more subtle, you can see it in a finger.
  • Other times it’s the entire body which is foreshortened.
  • A foreshortened head means you are either above the figure, or looking up at the figure.
  • Facial features get squished when foreshortened!
  • With foreshortening, it’s common for body parts to “disappear” with that particular point of view.
  • Look for overlaps in the anatomy to help emphasize the foreshortening.
  • For example, show that the calf muscle is in front of the thigh.
  • Ultimately, foreshortening is simply a series of overlaps.
  • Exaggerate foreshortening when you see it to make it more pronounced.
  • Draw objects in the foreground bigger on purpose.
  • Make the objects in the background appear a bit smaller.

Prof Lieu’s Tips

Clara cartoon

One thing you can do to “cheat” with foreshortening, is I usually make the parts that are closer to the viewer a touch bigger than I think they should be.

Figure Drawing: Premium Workshop

I shrink the parts that are further back in space. That tends to give the foreshortening an extra nudge of drama which can be helpful to portray a sense of depth and space.

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