Difficulties with the proportional divider.

Firstly I'd like to say how great it is to see such a methodical way of learning how to organise a pallette and composition. Unfortunately, when I use a proportional divider I don't get the same result twice and I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong. I have my string hung up and my shoulders square. I am always sat in the same spot, I always have my arm straight and lined up with the string. The only difference is that I am working a little less than life sized, for a number of reasons.
When the length of the object (bottles) is smaller than life sized, the width is life sized which is a proportional impossibility. I have found that when going from vertical to horizontal and vice versa, it is impossible for me to keep my hand in the same place because the objects are tall and thin, but that is what seems to create this distortion.
I understand that without seeing me drawing it may be difficult to understand what I am talking about and what I am doing wrong, but I guess I'd just throw it out there in case anyone can shed some light, before I have to hire a private drawing tutor :) 
Thank you for reading this


  • Andy

    Welcome to the Forum.

    Could be just teething problems that will work themselves out, or not be as visible as you imagine.

    If all the parameters are under control as you describe I can only think that your glasses or contacts, if you wear any, are creating the distortion. Do you keep your head in the same position and orientation when measuring verticals and horizontals? 


  • It might be that I'm moving my head slightly and looking down when measuring the horizontal. The widest part of the bottle is just beneath the eyeline. I am also due for an eye test! Thanks Denis.
  • edited November 2016
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  • Thank you Tim that's a good idea.
    [Deleted User]
  • It might be that I'm moving my head slightly and looking down when measuring the horizontal. The widest part of the bottle is just beneath the eyeline. I am also due for an eye test! Thanks Denis.
    In November I took one-on-one lessons with Mark in Austin. One thing he showed me that I hadn't seen on the videos was that in addition to the string you use to make sure your proportional divider is always at the same distance from you and the shadowbox set up, is that the other string that hangs from the box's cover that you can use, for example, as a golden line to mark, say, the edge of the canvas and from where you can measure, has a little piece of masking tape behind it stuck to the background.

    Then, when you're measuring from the golden line, if you make sure that your head is always positioned so that you see the little piece of tape lined up directly behind the string, then you will always be looking at the set up from exactly the same position with never a variation when you measure.

    I think this is a great help in using the proportional divider correctly.
  • @ArtistMartin1 that is an excellent suggestion.  I've had my share of issues the pd also. Thanks!
  • Here it is 5 years since this was posted and I could have posted the same thing today. If fact I was going to but tried the search feature to see if it was already talked about. I’m now into step 4 and finding I’m having the same issues. Thanks for all your past replies, very helpful and will start again tomorrow.
  • One device that might be handy is a brace or support of some sort to position your head in exactly the same location every time. 

    I can't remember now who the artist was, but one of the artists who used a grid, positioned between himself and the model, also had a brace to help position his head repeatably.

    Of course it is also important to hold the dividers at arms length the same way each time.
  • Marks method is largely around photos, in that case, you don't even really need to have the proportional side of things.  He does do still lives, though I haven't particularly noticed that the proportions where identical there.  He certainly captures the scene and the effects perfectly.

    However, from photos you can get the dimensioned perfectly there is even software that allows you to enter a photo and have it corrected for optical distortion, and some cameras have this built in.

    You don't need his uber expensive set-up for the photo thing.  There are a lot of different ways of doing it, but one is to make a black and white photo and if necessary tape it together.  Make it identical size, and then take the measurements off that, then use everything else Mark suggests as far as rendering with perfect values and colors.

    I did a post somewhere where I mentioned half a dozen ways to cheat your pitcture.  Really, once you are making full size pictures, you may as well punch some reference holes and lay the map over your canvas and mark through.

    I made up a grid like the one that guy sells and am experimenting with sight size.  It is really difficult to do, even the slightest shift of position and everything falls apart.

  • TamDeal, I find the same thing of everything falling apart with the dividers with just a slight difference in position.
  • I only know you need to stand in precisely the same spot, and hold your arm out straight, not bent.
    Calibrate yourself: one way to check you're in the right place is to go back to a measurement you've already made and check that it's the same, eg, the height of a jar. If it's not, then move until it is. Then get the new measurement from that position.
  • Barry, I'm very new at this so bear with me.  I took a 1-week class with Mark and it was extremely beneficial.  One thing that you may want to consider, and I'm not sure if you already knew this or saw another related suggestion, but rather than work from the still life with and the drop-down strings perhaps just take a photo of the still life and use it as a reference photo.  You then would still use the proportional divider, but the strings would no longer be necessary since the photo is right in front of you next to your easel.  I struggled with the strings as well and ran into inconsistencies, but not so at all with using the proportional divider against the reference photo with the still life.

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