RESEARCH Foreshortening

The Tate Gallery defines foreshortening as “the technique of depicting an object or human body in a picture so as to produce an illusion of projection or extension in space.” Essentially it is a technique to create the illusion of depth.

We were asked to lounge on a couch with a mirror at the foot end and then attempt to draw the body. This was not an easy exercise. I don’t actually own too many mirrors and none of them were really suitable for the job at hand, being too small to see much. Anyway, I endeavoured and here is a quick sketch:

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foreshortening sketch

The mirror wasn’t big enough to get much more than the feet in so I struggled to get some context in here. The feet are obviously larger than the rest of the body, my left foot in particular seems larger then the other one, that’s because I had to bend my right foot to see into the mirror! It was a bit of a disaster but it illustrates the foreshortening effect created by looking at your feet from a distance so that they are closer and therefore larger than the rest of the body.

Afterwards I watched this short video from the Croquis Cafe website which is quite useful, see this link. This website is also useful to practice drawing models and has tips on foreshortening.

Perhaps the most useful advice I received was to focus on the negative space when drawing the difficult parts, i.e. foreshortened limbs and hands and feet. I am still working on these as they are notoriously difficult. I think these areas are especially challenging because we know what they look like but when looking at them front on they don’t look how we think they should.

Probably a better way to look at foreshortening is to look at well known examples from art history.

The Lamentation over the Dead Christ, Andrea Mantegna, 1490

Believed to be painted around 1490, the is a brilliant use of perspective to create the sensation that we are standing at the foot of the bed, with an incredible view of Christ’s body, so that one of the first things we see is the holes in his feet. It creates a very dramatic effect which serves to emphasise the tragedy. It was an unusual perspective for the time, but a very effective one, it makes us feel cramped as if we are in the tomb with him. Foreshortening creates depth and we can feel the physicality of the body from the feet to the face, we see the suffering and pain and are reminded of Christ’s humanity.

Luca Signorelli, Man on a Ladder, (1504-5)

This is a fragment of a much larger work of the Lamentation of Christ, this is the man who took the nails out of the body. Signorelli was clearly a master of foreshortening and the human body as he perfectly captures the man on a ladder, in a fairly complex pose.

A Supine Male Nude, Turner, The Tate, (c.1799-1805)

Turner made a few studies of foreshortening, probably as pre-sketches for paintings.

Pere Borrell del Caso, Escaping Criticism (1874)

This painter used the device of trome l’oeil to look as if the boy is climbing out of the frame. He tricks the eye to create an optical illusion that blurs the boundary between make believe and reality.

John William Waterhouse, Saint Eulalia , 1885

Eualalia was martyred for refusing to honour the Roman Gods, and her young body lies half-naked in the snow. The foreshortening technique is again used for dramatic effect, the body of Eualalia points directly towards the centre of the painting which is empty, an effect that leads the eye straight back to the stricken Eulalia. She looks pure and serene, surrounded by doves despite a rather cruel death in reality that Waterhouse did not depict.

Andre Dunoyer, Nude with a Newspaper, 1921

It gives us an intimate view of this nude with real focus given to the body, the face is covered with the newspaper. This also seems to have been a preparatory painting for another work.

Even now it is a technique used to great effect, and Jenny Saville uses it for distortion, a statement on bodies and how we see them. In Plan, the viewer looks up, the body looks large and it’s a comment how how women are made to feel enormous in today’s society. It’s interesting because she uses her own body to work from, she’s a regular sized person, she is the artist and she is the viewer. She’s purposefully moving away from the idealised nude that has dominated western art for centuries, painting women in a realistic but exaggerated way. There is no background, the emphasis is on the body, discussing beauty in a man-made world.


Andrew Wilton, ‘A Supine Male Nude, Seen Foreshortened c.1799–1805 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, May 2013, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, April 2016,, accessed 09 October 2017

Davies, Hunter, This is Jenny, Independent, 1st March 1994,



A Longer Study

In my life drawing class the longest pose available is thirty minutes so I am going to post a few that I have done.

This is a fifteen minute study, using charcoal, no erasing:


15 minute charcoal sketch

I like this pose and I think I captured its characteristics quite well, it has the volume and presence that makes it a believable study. The proportions look good to my eye. I find that in class it takes a few attempts to get anywhere near the proportions and this was done after several quick studies.

A longer study of the same model, this time 25 minutes, also in charcoal:

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25 minute charcoal sketch

Whilst I am quite satisfied with the body, I encountered a few problems, the legs don’t look right, the model’s right knee looks too low and the left upper thigh doesn’t look right, the dreaded foreshortening has caught me out here. I did have a problem getting the chin right as she was looking down so the angle was difficult to recreate accurately, but I am happy that I managed to get some facial features in at all as I have been having problems with this area too. Feet are also challenging and her left foot looks a bit awkward here so plenty of things to work on but overall I think I have given a good sense of the pose of the body.

This is my longest study so far, which was for thirty minutes. My main aim here was to focus on proportions and line. I did not use an eraser but instead used a white compressed charcoal stick to ‘erase’ errors and highlight some areas.

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30 minute sketch in compressed charcoal

This shows improvement, I couldn’t see her right foot so well so that seems a little incorrect and I’m not sure I got the size of her head in proportion but I’m not far off so am pleased with my progress so far. It is a very challenging exercise as is there a lot to think about. I have a tendency to just launch into the drawing but I am trying to take time to look first, especially in the longer studies, and also pretend to draw the figure on the paper before committing with the charcoal. I think it is helping. I also found it quite helpful to place the shoulders first for some reason, and draw the torso before I do the legs. In another drawing I did the legs first and she ended up with super long legs, where I then had to lengthen the torso to make it look realistic! I need to do a bit more reading. I got a great book from the library called Anatomy Made Simple for Artists by Jonathan Freemantle which looks ideal for this topic.


Quick Studies

I was absolutely delighted to finally find a life drawing workshop after looking all summer. I had a two hour introductory workshop and afterwards was so happy to discover the tutor organised a regular life drawing session, so I can only hope to get some great experience from this.

We didn’t quite cover exactly what was prescribed in the instructions but more or less followed a brief of quick studies followed by longer studies.

This is a one minute sketch:

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1 minute sketch in charcoal

These sketches were all done in 2 minutes each:


Sorry for the bad quality images, I have such bad lighting for photography. The first one is in pink crayon so it very pale.

The two standing poses were a little more successful in representing proportions, the seated one is a mixture of sizes.

These were also two minute sketches from a different class:



Then two longer studies, both for ten minutes each:


It’s funny how changing the position leads you to making errors, the torso is too long in the lying down sketch and I didn’t have time to draw the blanket she was resting on.

The second sketch isn’t too bad considering the differing angles. The proportions are slightly better.

Two more from a later session:


There were obvious difficulties in getting the proportion right as this is new to me I tried not worry too much about the details but rather focused on getting the volume and general body shape right. I really tried to observe well before drawing and also look at the model a lot whilst drawing. I haven’t really considered planes before but I did encounter a few problems with the different body shapes. Am so grateful though that the models are so different, they have different bodies but are both so great to draw. The models have blown me away with their posing skills, it has been such a great experience.

Life drawing clearly requires lots of practice so I am trying to attend this informal class weekly, going forward I will need to learn how to do hands, feet and faces and also foreshortening is going to be an issue!