How to use proportional dividers

Many people shy away from proportional dividers, but they are a really versatile tool once you understand a few basic rules when it comes to using them. This tutorial explains what they are and how to use them. 

For more tips and tricks on drawing animals, landscapes and humans, see our how to draw tutorials. And if you need to stock up your pencil case, don't miss our best pencils, best mechanical pencils and best sharpeners guides.

How to use proportional dividers

01. Decide proportions

(Image: © Jill Tisbury)

Dividers come in many of sizes and are used to transfer a drawing 1:1 or to enlarge or reduce. There will either be a sliding scale or a series of holes with a screw or clip to join the two pieces together to form a pivot point. Decide on the scale you want and adjust accordingly. The centre hole will usually be 1:1 scale.

02. Print a copy

(Image: © Jill Tisbury)

Print a grey-scale reference to draw on and draw a frame on your paper. I’m transferring 1:1, so my frame is the same size as the original. At each key point on the reference you will draw a dot to form a sort of dot-to-dot map. Although I’ve drawn a few here, I generally draw the dots as I work to avoid confusion.

03. Begin transferring

(Image: © Jill Tisbury)

Chose a starting point on the reference and draw your first dot. Place one divider point on the frame of the image and the other on the point you drew to take the measure. Move the dividers to the drawing page and draw a vertical line. Repeat from the top of the image, and where the lines cross, mark your dot. Join up to create the outline.

04. Join the dots

(Image: © Jill Tisbury)

Continue working around your image in this way until you have an outline of dots. Add as many or as few dots as necessary and join them up, paying particular attention to your reference. Soon you will have an outline sketch that you can refine into a full drawing. As your drawing confidence increases, you may find you need fewer dots.

This article originally appeared in Paint & Draw: Animals. Buy the Paint & Draw: Animals bookazine.

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Jill Tisbury has been drawing and painting since she could hold a pencil. She loves to experiment but her two main passions are pastel on velour and airbrushing (acrylics).