Employing techniques such as using a master figure and hanging the figures on the horizon line is crucial to good illustration. However, cartooning deals with subject matter that goes far beyond people standing in the living room. Superheroes, for example, are constantly dashing directly at the viewer at angles that are difficult to account for with a standing master figure. These poses require a good working knowledge of foreshortening.
The Linear Perspective Aspect
The process for drawing foreshortened figures is quite similar to drawing in perspective. First, start with a line indicating the character's height, remembering that, due to foreshortening, this line will be shorter than the character's normal height. Across the front of the line, draw a perpendicular line indicating the width of the shoulders. Now draw lines from the ends of this shoulder-width line to the horizon line. At the bottom of the height line, draw a perpendicular line connecting the lines that reach the horizon.
Now you have a rectangle that represents the general area your character exists in. Dividing it into quarters is simple: Draw an X from the corners of the rectangle to find the middle, and then draw an X in each of the resulting rectangles to find quarters. If you feel it would help, make the rectangle into a three-dimensional box, using the same reference point. Now that you have the guides for your figure, you should be able to rough in the character — according to the correct perspective.
Drawing a woman in the same foreshortened perspective is slightly more difficult (see the following page). There is no simple geometric trick to play, as you did with the Xs — you'll have to eyeball it. You can't measure it with a ruler because the object is receding into space and, therefore, the thirds will not be equal measurements on the page. The closest third will be the longest segment of the line, the next one slightly shorter, and the next one slightly shorter yet.
The Artistic Perspective Aspect
Linear perspective is very useful in helping to draw the body in such a way that it occupies the correct space in a setting. However, in matters of dramatic perspective, a cartoonist will allow herself to be guided by artistic perspective. In particular, you will be exploiting the rule that states that objects get larger as they get closer.
In the following illustration of the woman hanging off the ledge, you'll notice that linear perspective was used to find the rough proportion of the arm. However, the hand was drawn using artistic perspective and the artist's best judgment. A dramatic perspective such as this cannot be drawn by the timid. Force yourself to exaggerate the closest body part a couple of degrees more than you're comfortable with. You'll be very pleased with the results.
Perspective tends to intimidate beginning cartoonists — especially if they did poorly in geometry class. However, if you stick with it and try to incorporate it into your daily drawings, you'll find that it comes quite naturally. And it's important. Although the reader may not be able to articulate a perspective error in a cartoon, she will respond to the awkwardness of the drawing immediately. A little bit of extra planning will make your illustrations jump with life and believability.
Drawing a figure in perspective