The word “plumb” means to measure or test to determine the vertical. In construction, it means to correctly align the water and drainage pipes in a building. In painting the human figure from life, it means to correctly align the body part with each other.
When drawing or painting, it’s easy to start at one point and go into great detail at that location while losing sight of the entire figure. And consequently end up without accurate proportions of the entire figure itself, as well as the figure most likely being the wrong size for the rest of the composition. An easy remedy to this situation is the use of plumb lines.
As you can see in the quick figure sketches in this post (and read more about them in my previous blog post) that I create at the beginning of every painting session, when I didn’t use plumb lines in the figure on the left, it looks all out of proportion and barely human. The middle figure is beginning to look better, with a recognizable body shape. And the the figure to the right is clearly a human being sitting in a pose with her legs crossed and leaning to the side.
What’s the difference between these sketches?
I used plumb lines!
What are plumb lines?
They are the straight vertical (as well as horizontal and diagonal) lines that provide guidance about how the different parts of my drawing align.
For example, in the middle figure, my plumb line reminds me that her shoulder is directly over the back of her left heel. So when I come to draw those parts, if they are both aligned with that plumb line, my figure looks proportional.
In the figure sketch on the right, I used plumb lines in all directions to describe to myself the angle from toe to hip, hip to shoulder, shoulder to head, hip to hip, etc. so that when I actually sketched in her body structure, her limbs would be in approximately the right places.
Come to think of it, the concept of alignment with straight line-of-sight is applicable to more than just drawing and painting! Are my goals aligned with my core values? Are my daily habits aligned with my goals? If yes, I’m in great shape; if no, it’s obvious I’m not going to achieve them. Given this insight, I’m inspired to take another look at my own core values, goals, strategies and daily habits to see if they are all plumb!
Do you use plumb lines in your drawing or painting practice? Or in your personal or professional goal-setting practice? Share in a comment to this blog or on social media!