Adam Clague: The 4 Actions for Accurate Proportions

NOAPS Clauge A1  “More Whipped Cream”, 24×14, Oil on Linen, Private Collection

One of the most valuable lessons I learned at art school was the 4 Actions for Accurate Proportions.  With just 4 actions, you can draw absolutely anything under the sun…with the correct proportions!

These 4 Actions for Accurate Proportions can enable you to correctly draw absolutely anything (yes, even the human figure)…

  1. Compare distances
  2. Copy angles
  3. Check alignments
  4. Consider negative shapes

Now I’ll demonstrate each one…

Note: In the following illustrations, I measure the proportions of a painting.  However, in real life, I would measure the proportions of my subject first, and then measure my painting to ensure the proportions of my painting matched the proportions of my subject.

1. Compare Distances

A.  Hold out your brush handle (or pencil, etc.) against your subject.  Close 1 eye so you don’t see double.

NOAPS Clauge A2

Choose any 2 points on your subject.  Mark off the distance between these two points using the tip of your brush handle and the tip of your thumb.  In example “A,” I’ve marked off the distance between the top of the girl’s hair and the bottom of her chin.

B.  Now, see if this distance compares to any other distance in your subject.  In example “B,” I’ve discovered that the distance between the top of the girl’s head and the bottom of her chin equals the distance between the bottom of her chin and the bottom of the bowl.

NOAPS Clague_A3

Why this is awesome

Now that I’ve found where the bottom of the bowl goes, I will be much less likely to make her arms too long or too short as I draw them between the head and the bowl.  Continuously comparing distances like this will help you achieve correct proportions, no matter your subject’s shape or size.

2. Copy Angles

Compare a horizontal or vertical brush handle to an angle in your subject to determine how much the angle is tilted.  In this example, a horizontal brush handle makes it much easier to tell how much the girl’s eyes are tilted.

NOAPS Clague A4

3. Check Alignments

Use your brush handle like a plumb line to find 2 points that align to each other.  In this example, I’ve discovered that the corner of the girl’s mouth (A) is directly below the edge of her eye socket (B).  Finding this unexpected alignment greatly helped me to draw the tilt of her head correctly!

NOAPS Clague_A5

4. Consider Negative Shapes

Let’s say I’ve been drawing and re-drawing the arm, and it still doesn’t look right.  But then, I shift my focus and look at the negative shape-that triangular shape of air between the crook of her arm and her side.  I focus on drawing that shape correctly, and suddenly-viola!  Her arm looks accurate too.  Often, correctly drawing a negative shape will automatically improve a positive shape.

NOAPS Clague A6

I’ll demonstrate the 4 Actions in detail in my upcoming online video course, “Learn to Paint Dynamic Portraits & Figures in Oil.”  For more information, please visit

About the Artist

NOAPS Adam Clague

Adam Clague’s work has received international awards and press.  The artist lives near Kansas City, Missouri with his wife and fellow artist Andrea Orr Clague and their newborn son, Gideon.  Adam paints in an impressionistic manner and works from life as much as possible to produce the most life-like results.  The artist seeks to faithfully capture the beauty of God’s creation and to share that beauty with his viewers.

Adam’s work is represented by Ward & Ward Fine Art (Kansas City, Missouri), Hudson Fine Art (Hudson, Ohio), and Gallery Augusta (Augusta, Missouri).

Written by Adam Clague



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