Sculpting a Figure - Body Proportions

I hope I’ve peaked your interest in figurative sculpture, because today I want to talk about body proportions. As I mentioned last week, I like to sculpt the head first, then use the length of the head to determine the size of the hands and feet. After that I start mapping out the body. At this point I have a pretty good idea of what, or who, my character is. This is important because it determines how much you manipulate the body proportion formula.

If you took art in high school you may remember the rule that the average human body is approximately 7.5 head lengths tall. If you follow this formula and you have sculpted a 3” head, your character should therefore be approximately 22.5” tall. But the reality is that we are all different. If you look around you, some people have regular sized heads on short bodies, which may translate into a formula of only 6 or 6.5 head lengths. While your fashion model friend may be 8 head lengths tall, and your average super hero may be 9 heads tall.

“Wine and Cheese”. (Living Doll, Super Sculpey, wood, wire and textiles).

An example of these variations can be seen in a piece from my Chef collection called “Wine and Cheese”. (Living Doll, Super Sculpey, wood, wire and textiles).

Details of a Sitting Clay Figure

When working on a character that is sitting down there are a few other things to consider. One of the biggest mistakes people make in a s

“The Scrabble Player” (Super Sculpey, wood, wire and textiles)

itting character is to round the buttocks. This can cause instability and just doesn’t look natural. When we sit down the weight of our bodies flatten our buttocks and the back of our thighs. To make sure my character sits properly, I use a flat wooden disk as the surface I build this upper body on. The “Scrabble Player” sits flatly on the chair surface and I don’t worry about him rolling or falling out of the chair.

Another good rule to follow in determining proportion on a sitting body is that the distance from the shoulder to the sitting surface is the same as the distance from the buttocks to the knee, and from the knee to the bottom of the foot. Once again, this is just an average guide. Some people are long waisted, some are short waisted, but if you start with the average guideline, you can then tweak and adjust based on the character you are working on.

La Pieta

One last note on proportion. Our brains often compensate to see things in proportion even when they are not. Michelangelo used this theory in his sculpture “La Pieta” that sits in the Vatican in Rome. It’s a life size emotional scene where Mary holds her son’s body on her lap. Michelangelo knew that Mary’s smaller body would disappear behind the male frame in front of her, so he adjusted the proportions and camouflaged it behind the fabric folds of her dress. It is not immediately obvious, but once you are aware it you can’t not see it. If you were to stand the two figures upright, she would stand 7.5’ tall compared to his height of 6’.

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