Method Behind a Madness!

Henry is about to draw a portrait of his friend, Harvey. Harvey looks worried when Henry suddenly holds up a freshly sharpened pencil.


But, Harvey has nothing to fear! Henry is an accomplished artist who simply knows how to measure distances by using a pencil. The step-by-step process for using this technique is as follows:

Step 1: Step back from your subject – far enough away to see the whole subject, but close enough to see the details clearly.

Step 2: Hold your pencil in a closed fist with the pointy end pointed up.

Step 3: Place your thumb on the pencil so your thumbnail is facing you.

Step 4: Extend your arm toward your subject.

Step 5: Find some part of your subject to measure (such as the vertical length of Harvey’s nose).

Step 6: Position the tip of the pencil so it appears to be on the uppermost section of the part you want to measure (such as the upper section of Harvey’s nose in between his eyes).

Step 7: Without moving the pencil, slide your thumb up and down along the pencil until the top edge of your thumb is level with the lowest part of what you want to measure (such as the bottom of Harvey’s nose). The distance between the tip of the pencil and the tip of your thumb is the same as the part of your subject you want to measure (such as the length of Harvey’s nose).

Step 8: Stay where you are and keep your thumb in the same place on the pencil. Move only your outstretched arm (without moving your body) to various places on the subject until you find another distance that is the same as the first. You now have a clue for drawing your subject accurately: two parts of your subject are the same length.

And, Henry now has his first clue for drawing Harvey correctly. The vertical distance from the top of Harvey’s head to the uppermost section of his eyes is the same as the length of his nose.


You can find more clues by repeating this process. When you can’t find any more vertical distances, rotate your arm (without moving your thumb from the pencil) to find horizontal and diagonal distances that are the same.

About Brenda Hoddinott
Award-winning artist and author; illustrator, art educator, curriculum designer, co-owner of, owner of Drawspace Publishing, and retired forensic artist Brenda has developed art curricula and taught multidisciplinary arts since 1980. During her 25-year career as a forensic artist, Brenda worked with diverse criminal investigative agencies including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Department of National Defense, private investigative agencies, and municipal police departments. Brenda and her partner John live in the suburbs of Halifax, Nova Scotia with their two SPCA rescue dogs: Timber the Huskador and Katie the Pitweiler. Their blended human family includes five adult children and two grandchildren. Books by Brenda Hoddinott include: 2012: Introduction to Contour Lines (Drawspace Publishing) 2012: Introduction to Drawing (Drawspace Publishing) 2011: Illustrated Dictionary of Art-Related Terms (Drawspace Publishing) 2010: Getting Started with Drawing (Drawspace Publishing) 2004: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Drawing People Illustrated (Alpha Books) 2003: Drawing for Dummies (Wiley Publishing, Inc.)

One Response to Method Behind a Madness!

  1. Michael Landau says:

    I’ve studied your pencil drawings in ‘Drawing for Dummies’ and I admire them very much. Even the simple drawings, such as the trees from the deck of your house, are rendered in a gentle and sensitive way, as are the drawings of the human hand. It is a reminder to me, an amateur artist myself, of what a simple tool, such as a pencil, can accomplish in the right hands. Beautiful.


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