a personal art course, but with too many words and not enough drawings

Archive for the ‘Drawing’ Category

Basic Shapes and Forms, Part 1

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My apologies for the long delay between Line Quality, Part 1 and this post – there was much more to do in China than I’d anticipated, and then some stuff over the new year. Thanks to those who sent me reminder messages 🙂 Quite a substantial number of exercises in this post to make up for the delay, so the deadline is in 2 weeks, 18 Jan.  The illustrations for this post are done digitally and are hopefully easier to see. I’m crap at drawing from scratch on the computer though, might have to look into getting a proper scanner.

So, basic shapes. These are the building blocks of pretty much everything that can be drawn, so taking some time to understand them is important. The three big shapes (2D) are the rectangle, triangle and ellipse (oval). From these you can get basic forms (3D): cuboid, prism (many kinds), cylinder, sphere and ovoid.

Why think in terms of simple solids? With basic forms we can break things down into planes, which helps immensely with shading. It’s hard to shade a horse from imagination, but it’s easier to do the same thing with ovoids and prisms. A poorly executed example:

‘Random shading’ looks sort of right, but also sort of iffy – ‘Semi-random shading’ looks a little bit more solid. The shadows cast by the nose and hair are wrong, by the way – sorry, wasn’t really thinking.


When just starting, it’s easier to copy from pre-drawn samples, because a) they usually show ‘pure’ basic forms, and b) the artist has already translated the 3D form to a 2D image for you. Copying then helps familiarize you with the actual process of drawing those forms. Attempting to draw directly from life may result in a lot of flailing about and wasted time because you don’t know what to do. But drawing from life is also one of the best ways to progress in drawing once beginning hurdles are out of the way, and pretty much the only way beyond a certain standard. Anyway, if you have access to books or images (e.g. the ones in assignment I) , you can try doing some copies.


I. Look at these renders of basic shapes under strong light sources: (these renders by ChristerMLB and these by Henrik Wann Jensen: 12). You can draw copies of them if you have the time – should be pretty useful.

II. Find some objects that closely resemble the basic shapes, e.g. book (cuboid), computer mouse (ovoid), tall glass (cylinder). If you have a table lamp (like the kind in the Pixar logo) or a flashlight, set the objects up, dim the lights and just move the light around, watching what happens to the shadows – which sides get darker? Where does the light fall? If you want to draw them, assignment IV has instructions.

III. Now get a photo of a fairly simple subject – simple buildings, stuff on a desk etc. It can be digital or physical, doesn’t matter as long as you can see what you are doing over the photo. Try breaking the forms in the photo down into the basic forms covered above. Architecture is good for this, because you have not only blocky cuboids but also spheres/hemispheres (domes) and prisms (pediments, roofs) to work with. If you’re using more organic subjects, like a pony or a person, you’ll be working more with circle-based forms: sphere, ovoid, cylinder.

An example. This is a photo of a lovely hotel in Hangzhou, which I’ll be posting 5-star reviews of once I remember its name. First, draw in shapes that face the same direction (the right):

Breaking 3D forms down into 2D shapes isn’t enough. So add in the sides to turn the shapes into forms.

We also have to actually be able to imagine what they are like in 3D space. What would it look like from another angle? With a different lighting setup?

Here is the fun bit, which is easy to do on a computer and a bit harder if you weren’t working on tracing paper: choose a direction for light, and use just one dark tone to put in shadows. Ignore cast shadows (= shadows cast by something on another object) for now – they’re complicated and hard to do without reference. In my first image the light comes from the right; in the second it shines from the left. If you have trouble figuring out where to put the shadows, try using the objects from assignment I to construct an approximation. That provides a model for shadows, and also helps you to feel the depth and relative position of the basic forms. This is also why ‘drawers’ see improvement after trying out sculpting – it makes you think in 3 dimensions, not ‘one curved line here, an ellipse there, some hatching, another line…’.


Another useful thing to remember when breaking down weird forms is that all polygons can be broken into a number of triangles.

IV. Try to draw one of the objects from assignment I…from life (dun dun dun!). If you’re up for a challenge, pick a more complex object that’s made of several basic forms joined together. Eleanor has also suggested an alternative of sorts, which you can also apply the basic form idea to:

one or more careful studies of a stuffed toy. They’re brilliant subjects for wannabe cartoonists as the proportions are made but they still have their own sense of weight. One can pose them, or, if one knows a child, scatty toy collector and/or dog one can likely find one ready posed in an hilarious ‘crime scene’ like fashion. I’ll own that there’s a possibility that not everybody in the thread has accesss to a stuffed toy but you can get some goofy ones dirt cheap or usually find somebody to lend one to you. Temporarily.

First draw in basic shapes, then build up to the basic forms underlying the object (post a photo and ask if you’re not sure), and then add details on top in a darker color. You can shade as well, but keep it simple and only shade the large masses. For instance, there was a lighter shadow on the unshaded side of the harmonica case, but it only made things look confused, so I didn’t include it.

Ellipses are my nemesis, so naturally I picked two cylinder-based forms for the demo -_-||| Also sometimes drawing a basic form container doesn’t actually help, as in the cup handle, so just use them as you see fit. Here’s another example (which ended up deviating significantly from what I saw – bad!):

By the way, construction isn’t something that comes naturally when drawing from life. For more rigid forms (buildings, manufactured objects) like in the example above, constructing the basic forms before laying on details is a great way to ensure things look more or less ‘right’ in the final drawing. But doing it for organic forms is, in my opinion, a waste of time, and isn’t going to get you anywhere. When drawing from imagination, however, construction is your best friend.

Example of what I do when drawing from life (or in this case, a photo I took):

Get rough outline – I recently started doing the enclosing-box thing, and it helps for irregular shapes.

Add details.

Sigh and hit Delete (or you can continue refining and shading).


No seriously, one of my goals is to get accuracy to a passable level. I don’t believe in measuring obsessively (sight-size, I’m looking at you) because it generally screws things up for me and takes all the life out of a drawing. But this level of inaccuracy is really quite unacceptable, especially for someone who’s setting exercises and doling out advice.

Resources is a place to find pictures to draw from, though I’ve stopped going there as it’s usually overrun by pictures of babies and/or family gatherings and/or weddings. Also try looking under Stock/Resources on deviantART, and Google Images for private practice. (If you’re going to post it publicly, make sure you credit the photographer – if you don’t know who did it, best not to post).

Whew! Long post. Have fun – I’m looking forward to doing these.

P.S. I have Skype and MSN in case anyone wants to talk about drawing.


Quick Update

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Well, it’s been quite some time since I last updated here.

I’m currently working on an acrylic painting, despite swearing never to touch acrylic again at the age of 12. Sigh…for various reasons I can’t show images of the painting right now, but here’s a photo from the studio:18052010145 An upturned table (only this kind of table, unfortunately) makes a very good brush holder + tape-sticking area + place to store bottles of paint + place to keep water! If you spill the water it gets contained by the table edges.

On other fronts, my grand plan for un-sucking my art remains pathetically unrealized. I’ve been trying to sketch more people from real life but my strokes are really horribly messy and you can’t tell what I’m drawing.

What the hell? I’m not that hairy.

— A subject

Written by krysjez

May 19, 2010 at 10:18 pm

Posted in Drawing, Painting

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Figure Drawing #4

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Can’t be bothered to do cuts. Anyway, this is an art blog, so it is right and proper that some nudes should pop up once in a while.

This session was about value: start with a light-valued ground, and then build up the form using values.Vine charcoal gives a lighter tone but smudges very nicely, so I used it most of the time, but compressed (medium) charcoal was used to black in the darkest shadows.

As usual, I put too much emphasis on line – I can’t detach myself from line, it seems: I do the same with my paintings. Too much influence from an Ingres quote I saw when I was 13?

Draw lines, young man, many lines; from memory or from nature-it is in this way that you will become a good artist.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

and this too:

A thing well drawn is always adequately painted.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

So, anyway, the point was that charcoal is great for value drawings and that your kneaded eraser can be used to draw. Unfortunately my eraser was dirty as hell and couldn’t lift out much charcoal anyway (perhaps also because the paper ate the charcoal).

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The first drawing of the lot. I tried to start by drawing the contour of the entire form, and you can see where I went really off – the shape on the right, for example, was the original position for her foot and the cloth. I’m not very good at drawing the entire form in one go, because this deprives me of a unit of reference. I guess that’s why drawings get more accurate the longer you draw: you are more able to consider if the relationships between objects in your drawing match what you see.

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Drawing is about relationships, then.

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35 minutes, “cannot make it” – this was the last drawing of the session. I finished early, so kept reworking her back (overworking a bit, I think).

All the proportions of my figures were quite off in this session. I think I was somewhat thrown off course by the notion of not having lines, heh.

Note to self: I need to buy fixative!

Written by krysjez

March 1, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Acrylics & Figure Drawing #3

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My new (ish) set of Daler-Rowney System3 acrylics. I think I mentioned them before.

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First try. Pretty bad huh…the apple texturing is all right though. Just drybrushed a bit of red on. For my second try I even did a charcoal drawing to try to work out the values! Not that it was much use in the end though…I don’t know what happened to the painting. I either threw it away halfway or lost it. Though one thing that the painting did for me  was show how similar to oils acrylics can look. As some of my friends may know I am enamoured with oils, and this was one of the reasons why I decided to try making myself un-hate acrylics. I can’t say it’s been very successful though, but that’s also possibly due to the fact that I don’t paint very well.

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Figure drawing last week (nude models ahead):

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Written by krysjez

February 28, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Figure Drawing, Lessons 1 & 2

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Sorry for the delay: I thought I had posted this last week but turns out it was languishing inside Writer.

So somewhere around the end of last year I decided that I should really try to take some outside art classes. My first-ever art course: figure drawing for beginners.

The first lesson: contour drawing. Basically this involves drawing without lifting your pen/cil from the paper. There are two kinds that we tried, blind (no looking at the paper) and semi-blind (occasional glances at paper allowed).

fd1Blind. It’s brilliant, I know.


The one on the left is semi-blind, the one on the right obviously blind.

Our second lesson, held yesterday, was mostly focused on gesture drawing. Charcoal was the medium of choice, and I am glad to report that I am gradually getting less intimidated by the medium. I think of it as pencil, just blacker and a bit thicker, so no detail work for now.

More drawings under the jump (model is nude).

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Written by krysjez

February 14, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Posted in Drawing

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Drawing from TV

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I read Glenn Fabry‘s book Muscles in Motion: Figure Drawing for the Comic Book Artist recently. The book is not really that great, but it introduces a fairly easy way of getting practice drawing subjects in poses that would normally be difficult to do from life. Fabry drew figures from videotapes (fitness tapes, bodybuilders…) to amass a vast personal library of poses and anatomy reference for his comic book work.

His basic methodology:

  1. Get a tape
  2. Stop at a suitable point (in exercise tapes this was virtually every exercise, really)
  3. Draw
  4. Forward a few frames
  5. Repeat steps 3-4 until the tape spoils, buy new tape, go back to step 1

I haven’t got any fitness tapes handy, but I did have a few episodes of Mythbusters on my recorder.

I tried this with a Peking opera that was showing as well.

Obviously this isn’t going to increase my people-drawing skills (not the faces, anyway…) but I like to think of it as quick training exercises. But there are also times when I’m watching something (like The Life of Mammals the other day) and I think to myself “damn, I gotta draw that!”. But my sketchbook is in my room, and I really just want to watch the monkey catching and eating the flamingo. To counter this I am planning to leave the sketchbook on my coffee table, together with a 3B pencil.

Why 3B? For me at least 3B provides that nice balance in between rich tones and fine control. Then again, with these drawings, I suppose it’s more about capturing the gesture than absolute control that matters.

Written by krysjez

January 26, 2010 at 5:59 pm