Ensuring correct proportions is one of the most important factors in producing beautiful figure and portrait drawings. In my work, this is usually accomplished during the preliminary sketching and drafting phases before I move into shading and tone.
There are many different ways to ensure correct proportions in your drawing. Some artists will use the stick and sight method, where you hold up a stick (usually your pencil) and gauge proportions relative to landmarks found in the original drawing. Other artists may trace their original outline, sometimes with the use of a light-box, computer screen, or projector (Lisa Clough made a fantastic video that discusses the benefits of using tracing methods in your drawing).
When I want to ensure correct proportions in my own drawings (and I am drawing from an image and not my imagination) I use the grid method. Some of you may know what the grid method is, but if you don’t, it consists of three simple steps. First, overlay a grid on the image you wish to draw. Second, lightly draw a grid on your paper or canvas that keeps the same ratio. Make sure you draw very lightly, as you will eventually want to erase these lines from your canvas. Finally, working square by square, copy the image you are working from on to your canvas.
Breaking down your original image into individual squares makes it much easier to see the image as simple shapes and lines and copy that image onto a new canvas. It can also be used to scale up or down an image simply by changing the size of the squares on your canvas but leaving the ratio the same.
For those of you who do not want to actually draw a grid on to your paper, you can instead create a simple grid made of thread and cardboard that you can overlay on to your paper. I find this much more helpful for two reasons. First, it saves time because I do not have to redraw the grid for every new piece of artwork. And, second, I do not have to worry about damaging the tooth of the paper by going back and erasing lines. When I have finished sketching out my image, I can lift the grid off my paper or canvas and there is no need to remove any pencil lines.
In the pictures shown here in this post, you can see a simple grid tool I constructed from cardboard, masking tape, and brown thread. This particular one fits paper that is 21 x 28 cm or smaller. Constructing a larger grid for larger pieces of work is also possible, though it requires the use of larger pieces of cardboard.
To be honest, I do not know if anyone else uses something similar to this tool. I made my first one after becoming frustrated with constantly erasing the grids I was drawing on my artwork. If you use a similar tool, or know of someone who does, I would love to hear about it in the comments! Also, if you use the grid method, or any other method for ensuring correct proportions in your work, tell me about it!