Foreshortening is the modification of an established scale in a drawing of the human figure to represent perspective. Unlike linear perspective, there is no need for vanishing points, however one has the option of using such methods if the figure is lying down or standing up in such a way that a three dimensional rectangular cube could be drawn in perspective to encompass the figure and be used as a guide.

More often than not, foreshortening is a matter of observation and drawing what you see, as opposed to what your logical brain thinks you see. When you start to draw an object that is foreshortened, your logical side of your brain kicks in and tries to convince you to draw what it knows the object looks like. You need to be able to override that left brain function and let the right side, the creative side, take over and draw exactly what you see.

Foreshortening is when an object appears to be receding into the distance or coming straight out at you. When something gets foreshortened, proportion is skewed and the size of the object is distorted to make the object appear closer to you. Foreshortening can be remembered easily by its descriptive nature because whether an arm or leg extends backwards or forwards it appears to be shorter than its actual dimensions. Another rule of thumb goes as follows: part(s) of the figure closest to the viewer should be drawn larger, almost exaggeratedly so. Also, a common technique for drawing the foreshortened figure is to incorporate greater definition and detailing to the foreground while leaving the middle and background sketchier.

Below are two sketches which demonstrate foreshortening. In the first sketch you will note that the fist is drawn in a somewhat exaggerated fashion and the arm appears somewhat shorter. The three dimensional cube is used as a guide for the size of the fist. In the second sketch, the thigh is somewhat foreshortened because it is receding into the distance.

Foreshortening sketch 2

Other pages of interest

Drawing gestures
Gesture sketches
Drawing clothing
Nude figures with conte crayon