Drawing Basics: An Exercise to Practice Foreshortening

Foreshortening is one of the keys to drawing realistically, so that your drawings have a three-dimensional quality to them. If you don’t know how to do this, don’t worry. Here is an exercise to practice foreshortening, to strengthen your drawing basics.

What’s foreshortening? It’s how a shape changes the way it looks when it moves in space. By distorting part of an object, it creates the illusion that part of it is closer to you.

To do the exercise, find something perfectly round, but flat, like a plastic container lid, or a CD, or a circle of paper. Hold it flat at eye level. Do you see how it looks like just a straight line going across? If it’s something with a little bit of thickness, you will see a very thin rectangle in front of you. That’s the side of the circle.

Now begin to tilt it, and watch how that line changes shape. It goes from being one line, to being a rounded shape. See how it kind of looks like an oval, then a smashed circle? As you turn it more and more, it looks less and less flattened, until it is straight up and down in front of you. Now it looks like a perfect circle.

With a pen or pencil and paper, use your circle, and practice drawing it at different angles. Don’t think of it as a circle. Just draw what your eyes see in front of you. Tilt it a little, then draw what you see. Tilt it even more, and draw what you see then. Your drawings should look different. You are drawing foreshortening!

Once you can do a circle, try something else, like a rectangle. You can use a book or one of your folders, or a smart phone. See how the corners that are farther away from your eyes appear to be closer together than the corners that are closer to you?

Don’t think about it. Just observe and draw what you see. That’s part of the trick to drawing. You need to be able to draw what you see.

How can you apply this to your drawings? Well, if you draw a birthday cake, you could draw it like a rectangle, but to make it look three dimensional, change the top of that rectangle by adding a foreshortened circle to it instead. Now it looks like it’s round and tall.

Repeat this simple exercise to practice foreshortening, and it will soon be easy to do. You will be able to apply your new skills to your drawings, and you will be well on your way to mastering one of the drawing basics.