Comparative Measuring

Skill Name: Comparative Measuring

Comparative Measuring

In the boxes below you'll find a list of Works and Creators who used this knowledge / skill.

For classes on basic comparative measuring techniques, visit JJ Arts London


The comparative method involves making measurements primarily using the naked eye, sometimes aided by a pencil, brush or plumb line, and comparing and contrasting these measurements to some other reference or measurement within the subject.  This comparison and contrast helps the artist determine correct proportions and geometric relationships.

- Ruler
- Plumb line
- Easel
- Knitting needle / Drafting divider / skewer
- Drawing board
- Vine Charcoal / Pencils

 Masking tape
-  Paper

A studio large enough for you to be able to stand back and view both the model / object and the drawing together.


1) Begin by marking the top and bottom parameters of your drawing on your paper so as to establish how big the drawing will be. Then place a dominant vertical line to anchor the drawing. 

2) If you're drawing a figure, to take a comparative measurement, hold your pencil vertically and with an outstretched arm. Line up the top or tip of the pencil with the top of the head of your model. Place your thumb at the point of the pencil where it corresponds to the end of the model's chin. The distance between your thumb and the tip of the pencil serves as a unit of measurement. You can now move your arm down, with your thumb in place, and apply that unit of measurement to figure out how many head-lengths your model is.

3) Once you’ve figured out how many head-lengths your model is, do the same thing on your drawing. The exact distance between the tip of your pencil and your thumb may be different on your drawing, but the unit of space between the top of the head, as you’ve drawn it, and the end of the chin, as you’ve drawn it, will serve as a unit that you can use to measure the relative length of your drawing.

4) Once you've made a series of vertical measurements and compared your drawing with the same number of proportional units of visual distance, do the same thing horizontally. 

5) It's just as important to set the horizontal boundaries of your drawing as the vertical boundaries. Using comparative measurements to find these boundaries early on in the drawing process will help you keep your drawing and it's part contained. 

The point of all of this is to help you get your proportions right. Keeping your proportions right is essential to accurate, realistic, and convincing drawing. There is no one right way to do this and it can be done in all kinds of ways. You can use a drafting divider, a chopstick, a knitting needle, a skewer, or anything straight for this purpose. The basic idea is just finding a way to fix a length of visual distance that you can use as a means of proportional comparison on your drawing.

TUTORIAL: James Otto Allen

BIBLIOGRAPHY: The Swedish Academy of Realist ArtStudy Drawing


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