FORESHORTENING

Believable ‘aspective’ views’ play a major role in foreshortening.

When the two methods the Old Masters used to solve the problems of extreme foreshortening are revealed, the novice is baffled to no end.

The Master draughtsman has two basic methods of dealing with extreme foreshortening.

Method Number One: They ‘eliminated‘ it.

Method Number Two: They ‘elongated‘ it, to make it more believable.

Except for Mantegna’s failed attempt of the reclining Jesus and a few experiments by Pontormo, the Masters rarely ventured in the arena of extreme foreshortening. This is not a convincing arm and hand.

How can this be true? Michelangelo used a great deal of foreshortening, as did Tiepolo, Rubens, and others. In Tiepolo’s case, the viewer has never looked up at flying Putti, so there is no point of reference.

There is no doubt that they changed the aspect of the foreshortened element to make it more readable. It is seldom extreme, and in nearly all cases, they have lengthened each segment. If one measures each segment separately and adds them together they will find that they comprize a larger limb than it appears. If the above figure stood up they would be fifteen heads high.

Michelangelo completely changed the game; he gave artists a plethora of poses and positions never seen before. All the master draughtsman to follow committed these newfound poses to memory and keep them in pose files. 

The illusion of foreshortening does not depend on ‘shortening’ as much as it does an elaborate system of interlocks, intersections or interrupters. It is a matter of emphasis and exaggeration. It is the interplay of lights and darks. It is very much the alchemy of illusion because the trained draughtsman never draws it as it appears. They draw it as it needs to appear.

These paintings by Jenny Seville are greatly exaggerated but illustrate the point. If she stood up her legs would be enormous in length. This is exactly what the Old Masters did but to a more reasonable degree.

The Masters’s process had nothing to do with drawing what they saw. It had everything to do with drawing a convincing ‘aspective‘ view. They understood that unaltered extreme foreshortening is NEVER the best ‘aspective view.

This is an outstanding example of every line helping to create and the illusion of foreshortening.

Principles of Foreshortening: ‘At its simplest, foreshortening is the visual illusion that causes an object to appear smaller than it actually is when it recedes from the eye. Technically, every part of the figure is always in foreshortening because the laws of perspective apply to everything we see on the picture plane. But in certain heavily foreshortened poses, such as when a model’s arm is pointing toward you, the effect is especially pronounced and challenging to depict.’ -JON DE MARTIN-

In his book ‘Drawing Atelier’ Jon De Martin covers foreshortening in great detail. There are really few shortcuts, it requires a solid knowledge of construction and the principles of good draughtsmanship.

If one draws extreme foreshortening accurately as many current practitioners are prone to do, the results are always less than pleasing. The right arm looks far to short here, as do the lower legs. We can guarantee that they were measured accurately. In our book if it looks wrong it is wrong,

Here is a painting that is mechanically accurate but visually incorrect. The foreshortening here was obviously precisely measured but the result does not look right. The legs look far to short and small the head is enormous and the extremely foreshortened arm looks far to short. This artist knows not of ‘aspective view.’

Unfortunately, they can not see the flaws because they accurately copied what was before them. Therefore, to them, it has to be correct. They are totally unaware that our minds see something totally different from our eyes.

They are unaware that our minds know how long these limbs should appear based on their length and it compensates for it. What our minds see is considerably more pleasing than what is drawn here

The flawed logic here is that if it looks like a photograph it must be right. NOT TRUE Photographs are distorted to varying degrees depending on the lens. To prove this point to yourself trace a photograph that has extreme foreshortening then look at your tracing; it will not by believable at all. There is absolutely no illusion of depth. It looks like a photograph is a condemnation, not a compliment.

Accuracy is overrated, and there is little virtue in being correct.

No Master Draughtsman draws what they see with their eye’s they draw what they see with their minds.

The Old Masters had cabinets full of believable ‘aspective‘ views of the human form and had memorized most of them. They used the same poses and positions repeatedly to solve similar problems.

Foreshortened limbs need to be drawn longer than they measure to appear correct to the trained eye.  Foreshortening is actually elongating. WHEN IN DOUBT MAKE IT LONGER.

Neophytes always question whether avoiding copying extreme foreshortening is copping out. They should be asking if copying is copping out.

It is the draughtsmen’s job to give the viewer works they comprehend, and that requires readable ‘aspective‘ views.

To create the illusion of form on a two-dimensional surface requires the indication of three planar aspects. It requires a height plane, a width plane, and a depth plane, which we refer to this as the HWD, readable ‘aspective’ views contain HWD.

Myron knew that no master artist ever confined themselves to what they saw, and we are in total agreement.

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