Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sketch Sunday 10

This weekend, to avoid the stress and hassle of finding parking (and actually parking) in San Francisco, I took a long relaxing ride on the train to meet some friends there. I was recently inspired by Shane Glines' cartoon pin-up girls, and sketched a few big-headed, long-legged girls on the way up. The train ride was very bumpy, but luckily there were many stops along the way. During the bumpy part of the ride, I would draw the rough underlying sketch with my red pencil, and then quickly overlay a few strokes of pencil lineart at the stations.

In addition to being a foxy lady, the girl in the sketch above must also have some serious muscles, because that pose looks pretty difficult to hold. It was really fun to draw curvy legs on these ladies, which is probably why I drew them a little longer and more slender than usual. One of the main reasons I like drawing girls over guys is because they have a lot more accentuated curves. This makes the poses much more dramatic and gives their shape much more depth.

So why are drawings that are grossly disproportionate compared to a normal human body still acceptable as cartoons? I was thinking about this and realized how many cartoon characters have giant heads, big eyes, or long slender appendages, and I began to wonder what kinds of proportions work, and which ones don't.

I was reminded of the sensory homunculus, which is used in psychology and neurology to depict which body parts require the most neurons to sense. In cartoons, however, it seems to me that the body parts are exaggerated based on how they are perceived. For example, since people pay a lot of attention to the details of another person's eyes, it does not seem unusual for cartoons to have larger-than-normal eyes. I think that the length of the arms is compared mostly to the length of the legs, and not to the size of the head or body, which is why Dee-Dee's and Jack Skellington's arms and legs are long and slender, independent of the size of their heads or bodies.

Anyhow, these observations are simply based on my own drawing experiences and not anything more scientific. If you have any more interesting insight or details, please share!


  1. Of course right after this post I read about The Big Book of Legs (warning: NSFW) at Design You Trust. Text excerpt below:

    The female leg is a sexual oddity. Its non-genital, nearly identical in structure to the corresponding male body part, and there is no obvious reason why it should be eroticized. Yet, through much of history, across many cultures, the female leg was hidden from sight and treated as such a taboo topic that it became an object of intense sexual obsession. In the Victorian era, the word leg was so forbidden that it couldnt be uttered in polite society. Even now, 80 years after women legs came out of hiding, their allure remains strong. In this third book of Dian Hanson wildly successful body parts series, she explores how freeing the female leg became central to women liberation, beginning with the French Revolution and ending with the sexual revolution. Learn who wore the first high heels, how nylons became a weapon of war, why Betty Grable were the million dollar legs, while enjoying great vintage photos by Irving Klaw Batters, and other great masters of leg art. Published by TASCHEN.

  2. When I was in high school I remember reading about a study that found that small children liked teddy bears with adult (human) body proportions more than the normal teddy bears that are usually more childlike (short limbs and big head instead of with longer arms and legs.

    Years later, in one of my college classes, one of my teachers said that things designed for kids are supposed to have childlike proportions (more "chub" he called it) so they should be squater and "cute".

    And earlier today I thought about your post and how superhero characters are supposed to have kid elongated limbs and a small head compared to their bodies. I read about this proportion (I think it's the 8 heads high rule) in a book about comic book illustration.

    So what am I rambling on about? I don't know, maybe ideas of what are "child-like" versus "adult-like" body proportions are factors in the body proportions in Shane Glines pin-up art. With the above in mind, this style of drawing women gives them child-like heads and adult-like bodies. I wonder what that means psychologically?

    It is presumed (I don't remember where I heard this) that humans find baby-like proportions cute because human babies are that way, and babies are more likely to survive if people automatically loved them just because they are "cute". And I am assuming that superheroes are drawn with smaller heads and longer limbs to make them seem more powerful. Maybe these things are having a subconscious effect on what does and doesn't work for these designs.

    My 2 cents, this time without links. :3

  3. Thanks for sharing your art knowledge! I have seen art like this type everywhere since I can remember, but have never really stopped to think about why it is. And you're right about superhero comics--where heads are so much smaller, and muscles/etc are so much more accentuated.

    Your statement about babies being cute is correct, which explains the big heads, but that doesn't explain why we like long slender arms and legs. Who knows! :)

  4. I remember hearing from somewhere that the fashion industry uses really skinny and tall models because clothing that is drapped over their thin bodies looks more dramatic and theatrical. Maybe something similar is happening in art with figures that have slender arms and legs?

    Only a guess at worst and a theory at best. You're right. Who really knows?

  5. i'll go with the phrase, "hierarchical scale"! i think things are drawn bigger when they have emphasis and focus from either a) the artist's perception or b) the artist's message.

    as for "chub" vs "adult" vs "superhero", i think they illustrate a theory: proportions are more important below the neck: "human" proportions (length wise) need to be maintained between torso, arms, and legs to be attractive, or else the exaggeration is so noticeable as to be a message. pushed further, i'd say that the neck is a borderline: that good head proportiosn are also important, lest they become distracting as a message on their own.

  6. ps: i totally disagree that female legs are not distinguishable from male legs. the wider hip array makes a huge difference, as does fat distribution over the musculature @o@

  7. Very good points, Ian. I think you said what I meant much more eloquently; that bigger means emphasis/focus. I do find it interesting that the neck serves as a borderline. I guess our emphasis on the head is much greater than that of the rest of the body, and within the rest of the body, proportions still matter between arms and legs and whatnot.