How do you not draw feet? I’ve identified more than a dozen ways and I’m going to show you some examples.
Feet are hard to draw. Comic book artists are notorious for doing their best to not draw them. The best artists in the business have avoided drawing feet in some of their most memorable works, but perhaps you didn’t realize it.
Let’s look at some of the most popular ways comic book artists avoid drawing feet. These examples all come from covers, but they apply just as much to interiors.
At the end, I’ll provide a checklist and you can play along at home with your favorite comic book covers.
Design It Away
This the fancy option. Use an element of graphic design that helps feet to disappear. You can blame this one on the graphic designer, if it doesn’t go well. Otherwise, you can take the credit for your thoughtful composition and grab all the credit.
Take this example from the first Invincible Compendium book:
The entire lower half of Mark’s body is designed away, including the feet. Perfect! Artsy!
Shadows are important in art. They help show the viewer the angle of the light source. They can add mood, texture, or depth to an otherwise flatly-lit piece of art.
Or they can be randomly placed to avoid having to draw any detail on the feet. If you do it right, you don’t need to draw a silhouette, either. It all just sort of… blends together.
Anything that you can draw in front of the foot will do. We’ll get into specific techniques next, but any random object will do.
If you’re a Batman artist, for example, an ornate gargoyle is a good start. It feels natural.
Draw lots of other characters in front of those feet.
If you run out of characters, draw some vegetation that lays low everywhere except for where it’s convenient to hide feet.
Group shots are great for this method of hiding feet. As a bonus, you might also avoid drawing other tricky things like hands. It’s the most natural feeling of the excuses.
Jim Lee does draw hands on this cover, but deftly avoids the feet:
“Of course you can’t see his feet, because that other character is in his way! And of course her feet are missing, because he’s standing in front of him!”
Todd Nauck, on the other hand, missed this memo. He pulls off an overlapping group shot while still drawing all the feet in this cover:
Cut Them Off at the Bottom of the Panel/Cover
Any photographer would tell you that this is the worst option. You don’t want to take an image and make it look like the subject is an amputee because you couldn’t frame your shot properly.
Digital Photography School has a good guide on where to crop your subject. Generally speaking, it should be just below or above the knee, but not at the knee or ankle.
I may pick on Mignola here, but at least he’s cutting off the leg at a photographer approved level.
If all else fails, there’s always handy smoke.
It can exist as a (literal) dust-up fight between two powerful enemies, the collapse of a building, or the exhaust of some kind of highly advanced technology that causes a machine to run on an internal combustion engine still. (Planes are great for this. Any door opening that’s dramatically backlit might call for smoke to come from the, er, hydraulics?)
It doesn’t matter that there’s no smoldering fire or recently destroyed building still spewing debris out. Smoke can be used in any situation. It’s dramatic.
Picture a concert that brings out the smoke machine, or the episode of X-Files where fog suddenly shows up at ground level for no apparent weather reason other than that it looks cool. Wait, that’s all the X-Files episodes, with double points for episodes set in the forest.
One of the favorites in the world of smoke is the way the backs of spaceships open up and there are puffs of smoke to go along with it for some reason. That appears to be what’s happening in this “Heroes in Crisis” cover by Clay Mann.
It’s a great piece of art with a challenging angle, some strong anatomy, and solid cover composition. But the smoke filling the bottom of the image rises just high enough to cover everyone’s feet. “Overlap” is a very important way to add depth to an image, but I don’t think that’s what the artist was going for here.
Smoke is great for one other thing: If you want to save face as an artist, you can say the smoke isn’t completely transparent, so you can hint at the feet and look like you drew them without ever doing the work. Bonus!
See “Smoke”, above. It’s all the same thing.
See “Fog”, above. It’s the same thing, though it’s more useful with flying characters.
That Sinking Feeling
Have a character standing in soft sand, snow, quicksand, or a body of water. Let them sink in just far enough to cover the feet.
(Please note that Darwyn Cooke was so good that he still drew Spirit’s feet on this cover, not to mention the footprints in the sand.)
In the colors, Dave Stewart adds some sand flying through the air, which you can see in front of Spirit’s front arm and her legs. It’s a missed opportunity not to have drawn in a total sandstorm that would have blocked you from seeing her legs completely in the same way a fog/smoke entry on this list would do.
Rubble and/or Rocks
I wouldn’t say that Jim Lee pioneered this technique, but he certainly did master it. He could also combine it with the “Smoke” technique above and get the two-for.
If you can’t find small enough pieces of rubble, choose bigger rocks or, if desperate, a decapitated statue.
That stone in front of Superman’s right foot is exquisitely placed. It perfectly hides the entire foot, from heel to toe, arch to bridge. Or maybe that is Superman’s foot and it stared at Medusa just before this panel?
It is a combination of the rubble and a careful composition of overlapping characters that prevent any feet from being show on this cover at all. Green Lantern is well placed to rise above the other characters, but not so far that his feet would show. We’ll have none of that here!
Bodies. Pile Them Up!
Do you think Gary Frank drew Power Girl before or after Harley Quinn here? Because Harley has to pose just right to get both feet cut off at the ankles like that.
And, yes, OMAC is footless, too, the victim of being the background character behind too many layers of blocking bodies, with a hint of smoke and haze in the air to help finesse it.
Use Your Colorist
When all else fails, wave your hands, don’t finish the drawing, and tip your colorist an extra fiver to add Photoshop filters in the general region of the feet help hide the fact you didn’t draw them.
This is a great addition to the special effect type of drawing, like a fog or a smoke.
The low-lying fog already blocks Superman’s feet (in combination with some loose bones), but that coloring helps blend the leg into the fog nicely. It might be enough to fool someone into not realizing Superman has no feet. A little blur and texture go a long way.
It’s a classic magician’s tactic — get everyone to look way over here with your razzle dazzle while the you pull off the trick in the other hand right in front of the mark while their attention is drawn elsewhere.
In comics terms, make the rest of the art so cool or so interesting that nobody ever looks for or at the feet.
Take this “BRZRKR” cover by Rafael Grampa. The red smoke (check!) and the strong light from the left side of the page highlights the character’s face and arm. The holes in his body shine bright from the backlighting. Those bright spots on an otherwise dark cover form the areas of greatest concentration. The eye is naturally drawn to it.
There’s almost a vignette effect around the rest of the cover: a black ceiling, the twisted pipes in the lower corner, the dark clouds (check!) of smoke on the bottom right away from the light.
Hey, does he have feet?
Nope. Grampa stopped drawing about three quarters of the way down the character’s shins. The feet are hidden in the rolling smoke at ground level. The colorist helps blend it all away, as well. (Check!)
Grampa brilliantly misdirected you. You didn’t even realize he was tricking you. Even if he had drawn the feet here, you likely never would have looked at them.
Extreme Angle (Worm’s Eye/Bird’s Eye)
Go super high to the point where the barrel-chested upper body blocks the feet.
Or, go super low and shoot up.
Let the angle be just low enough that something in front gets in the way, such as this “Gargoyle by Moonlight” cover with the upshot to ensure the top of the building is seen, but not the character’s feet.
Use Your Manga Influence
A giant sword! The manga kids love those, right?
Plus, they’re ridiculously huge enough to cover up portions of the anatomy you might want to avoid, when placed at just the right angle.
This is often a less obvious choice than drawing way too many unnecessary speedlines. You’ll get points for creativity and toyetics.
Bonus: The other foot is hidden by some random objects and is cut off at the bottom of the page. (Check! Check!) This artist combined three techniques for one cover!
Wrap It In a Cape
If you animate the cape enough or if you wrap it around the character enough, nobody will notice there are no feet in the picture. They’ll just be amazed at how crazy cool that cape is, or how the shadows from the folds look ultra dramatic.
This one is tricky. You need the right costume.
But, mostly, you need Todd McFarlane to pull this off. He excelled at drawing feet in the Spider-Man days, but he was also capable of convincingly hiding the feet when he wanted to. He’s also shown in both his Batman and Spawn work that he can draw things like capes that are so wild that they’re practically sentient enough to cover up feet.
This Batman cover is legendary for its use of the cape:
Just Flat Out Don’t Draw Them; Don’t Go Near Them
Or, don’t draw full bodies. If you don’t draw legs, you’ll never have to draw feet. Crop every panel at the waist or so. If you have to, draw to just below the knee, but make sure to bail out after that before it starts to look awkward that you didn’t draw the feet.
Even better, create a whole series of covers where you only need to draw their faces.
In this article, Todd Nauck has managed to draw both the cover with the most feet and the cover with the fewest bodies. Well played, sir!
Putting Most of Them Together
I went looking for one cover that could best exemplify all of these techniques.
It’s one thing to have a group of characters standing next to each other in close promiximity to help hide the feet. It takes a special effort, though, to have all the characters bursting out from the same point, point them in different directions, and yet still hide their feet.
This is Jim Cheung using a variety of techniques to hide the feet. There’s the classic group shot to cover up troublesome anatomy. The magic special effects (almost manga-like) kick up some clouds of dust to block some feet. Shang-Chi’s back foot is silhouetted, so I’ll give him a shadow checkmark there. And there’s some rubble being kicked up that helps to block things, as well.
This one has it all!
You Can’t Unsee It
Now that I’ve pointed out some of the more popular ways artists don’t draw feet, you’re going to notice it everywhere.
So let’s make a game out of it. Here’s a check list for you:
Post your favorite covers next to your checked off lists on your favorite social media under the #NoFeet hashtag. I’ll retweet some of my favorites.
Give it time and you’ll forget about it again. Ignorance is bliss. Knowledge is power and annoyance and that thing that gets under your skin and makes you want to itch real hard.
OK, so how about some serious advice?
For More Information
Want to know how to actually draw feet? Need some hints, tips, and exploration of anatomy and comic book artistry? I have some links:
Proko has an excellent video that breaks the foot down into simple shapes so you can draw it.
Draw With Jazza devoted a video to drawing feet, as well, that might prove helpful.
Jim Lee did a video on drawing feet once, too. I haven’t dug deep enough to see if there’s a follow-up on how to draw rubble and smoke, though.
And, of course, there’s my original essay on “Rob Liefeld Doesn’t Draw Feet! (Except When He Does)“, which is the ultimate Rorschach Test of this website. People always read into that essay what they want to see…
I hate to pick on Jim Lee, because I do enjoy his art an awful lot.
But this —
— this cover made me giggle.
Fog, shadows, colorist assist (between the Photoshop fog and Batman’s boots), a group shot, sloping rocky hills that always jut up in front of any foot, and the most perfect composition ever to hide every possible foot.
Superman’s right foot makes a small cameo appearance, but you almost have to squint to see it.