Draw like an Egyptian: using Canon of Human Proportion

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Draw like an Egyptian: using Canon of Human Proportion

Ancient Egyptian art encompasses the styles of art created by the civilization of the lower Nile Valley from 5000 BC-300 AD. Most of the art that survived from this period comes from monuments and tombs, explaining the emphasis on life after death. Egyptian artists painted detailed scenes on houses, temple pillars, and tomb walls. Most of what we know about Egyptian art comes from the paintings the Egyptians created in the tombs of the rich. Ancient Egyptian paintings told stories about people’s lives and what they expected to happen to them after they died and met their gods. Egyptian Gods were often a combination of an animals head and a human body.

There were strict rules about how to show figures and objects. Using Frontilism is one of these rules, although it is not in the dictionary it is used to explain art the Egyptians commonly did (Which was the profile face and forward facing body). The Egyptians did not depict the body as they saw it with their naked eyes, but the way they thought corresponded to the truth, with each body part clearly identifiable. It is well known that representations of the human figure in ancient Egyptian art conformed to principles in which the proportions between the different parts of the human body were determined by a set of fixed laws constituting a Canon of Proportions.

The Egyptian Canon of Proportions was maintained over many centuries through the medium of the artist's grid, in which the different parts of the human body corresponded to different squares in the grid. This (18/19square) grid system was not merely a copying device which made it possible to render a particular scene on any chosen scale, but rather a complete system of proportions by means of which the human figure could in theory be correctly represented by Ancient Egyptian artists, unlike artists of today, they were not interested in being unique or in having their own style. What they thought or felt was not what they were painting or sculpting. What they were doing was making, permanent in stone, homage to their gods and pharaoh. These images represented concepts, not individuals, and could not be changed. They were not meant to be portraits. The Egyptian artists and craftsmen used a grid system to insure that everything was done exactly the same. Grid lines can still be seen in unfinished tombs. The use of grids and a formal canon or proportions explains why their art seems to change very little over 30 centuries of Egyptian history.

Egyptian Artists followed carefully prepared plans of what to paint and often practiced on boards with a grid before beginning on a wall to ensure correct proportion or they marked the mud plaster walls with red grid lines. This was done by dipping string in red ochre, a pigment used to color paint. The string was held taut in the position that a line was to be marked. When the artist plucked the string like it was the string of an instrument, it would snap against the wall and leave a perfectly straight red line, just like a modern chalk line. The grid lines would help to be sure they drew the figures the right size and proportion

Scale: The larger in scale a figure is the more important. The proportions of children do not change; they are just shown smaller in scale. Children are depicted as having a finger in their mouth.

Color: Ancient Egyptians believed colors had meanings.
Red = Life and victory but also anger and fire
Yellow/Gold = Gold is everlasting and indestructible, a protective color
Blue = The sky, water (Nile River) and primeval flood (creation); rebirth and fertility
Black = Color of the underworld and night; death but also rebirth (afterlife) like the fertile black soil that rejuvenated the land after the Nile overflowed annually
White = Associated with omnipotence (from Latin: Omni Potens: "all power").
Green = New growth, good health, life and rejuvenation

Women and Men: Women are identified by their light skin tone and with both feet together, while men are identified by their darker skin tone and with their left foot stepped forward.

Roles and Gestures: Each figure had a specific role, whether they were royalty or common people. The role of each figure could be determined by what they were wearing, what they were doing, their position and posture, the other figures around them, and specific gestures. For example, a cross-legged seated figure is a scribe. A person with an open hand in front of their face is in mourning.

Egyptian Canon of Human Proportions

Standing figures

  • One unit is measured from the sole of the foot to the ankle ( not correct here feet to long).

  • One vertical line of the grid ran through the ear and divided the figure.

  • The figure is divided into 18 equal units or squares starting at the soles of the feet to the hairline. The 19th unit contains the area above the hairline, which is often obscured by a headdress.

  • Knee is between squares 5 & 6.

  • Elbow line at two thirds height comes at square 12

  • Neck-and-shoulders line comes at square 16 for a man and is 6 units across (on each side ½ a unit).

  • Calf line (curved) on lower leg between knee and sole starts at square 3 to 4.

  • Line 17 between nose and lip

  • Length of hanging forearm =a little over five squares from elbow to finger-tips for man and a little over 4 for a woman.

  • Naval is about 2 ½ units at line 11

  • In female figures it is 5 across shoulders at line 15

  • Distance between armpits is usually 4 squares for male figures, 3 for female

Seated figures

  • occupied 14 squares between soles and hairline:

  • 9 squares from hairline to lower buttock, 5 from top of seat down to baseline Lower leg occupies 6 units as for standing figures ( knee top is 1 square above seat top)

Tombs of Thebes above

Egyptian tomb painting

Hieroglyphic Alphabet







































Horus Eye




The Tomb of Ptah-Hotep & Akhti-Hotep

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