Tag Archives: theory

How to draw anything – break it down!

23 Jan

I often wondered about those instructional drawing books, and how they claim to teach us how to draw. The best they seem to be able to do is to change our perspective on drawing, hoping to unlock some of the talent that is hidden in (most of) us. The authors are playing mind tricks on you, and those may or may not work. Most art instructional books are more like art inspirational books, books of faith, with dogmas and all.

I’m sure I can’t escape this just-believe-the-expert mentality, but I will try to avoid it as much as I can. I am merely human, though, prone to fall into the trap of self-importance. Luckily, I’m still relatively unknown and have little claim to fame, making me feel like one of you, rather than being above the masses. This means what I say still matters more than who I am.

Problems of drawing

What are the problems one encounters if one tries to draw something representational (something that represents an object or a person)?

  1. What is it I’m trying to draw?
  2. Build the drawing.
  3. How do I make it seem “believable”?

These are essential questions to ask yourself as a visual artist. They involve previsualization, drawing mechanics and critique. You try to reason what you want to draw, then draw it, and consequently judge the result in a constructive manner, so you will do better next time.

In fact, we could take this a little further and say that each step consists of three similar steps, which can be abstracted as follows:

  1. [think] define the task
  2. [do] perform the task
  3. [think] prepare for the next task

Let us apply this to our previous 3-step list.

  1. What is it I’m trying to draw?
    1. What are the shapes that best describes the object?
    2. Organize the shapes (big shapes into little shapes).
    3. What is the best order to draw the shapes?
  2. Build the drawing.
    1. Plan where to put the shapes and how big they are in a rough sketch.
    2. Elaborate the shapes with the precision you want.
    3. Judge the balance of the whole drawing, by seeing the whole (rotate, take a step back, etc.)
  3. How do I make it seem “believable”?
    1. What are the parts of the drawing?
    2. Compare those parts with a reference that most closely resembles your object.
    3. State what parts need improvement and what parts are “good enough” for now.

Of course, the exact workflow depends on your subject, your skill level, your personal preferences and the required quality of the end result. If the quality is not good enough, you may need to correct parts of your drawing or start a new drawing.

The point I want to get across is that you need to break down your steps into smaller steps, and to pay close attention to what you are doing during each step. It is this attention to detail which determines if you are an accomplished artist or you are someone who just likes to draw (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but never gets any better.

Breaking your process down into steps, bringing order into the chaos that is your creativity, is the first step towards becoming a successful artists.

I think this is how you will be able to draw anything.


This method of breaking your process apart may or may not work for you, depending on how easily you are taking out of your creative flow (I guess). If this analytical approach does nothing for you, don’t use it.



24 Nov

When I was drawing those Preston Blair head shapes, I was wondering what makes a shape like that tick, how can you best see an ellipse, egg shape and pear shape through the artist’s eye?


Well, an ellipse is straight forward. That is an elongated circle.

An egg shape is based on an elongated circle, but it is elongated more on one side than the other. Furthermore, the more elongated side is thinner and the less elongated is fatter than a comparable ellipse.

A pear shape is like an egg shape, but with a pinch in the more elongated side of the shape. This pinch makes the already thinner side even thinner, and the fatter side gets even fatter.

So an egg shape is just a special case of a pear shape, while an ellipse is a special case of an egg shape, and a circle a special case of an ellipse. Of course, by logic, a circle is also a special case of a pear shape.

That is all.

Two modes of looking

6 Nov

While trying to find a productive way to draw a circle freehand, I found these two modes of looking at an object, which may be handy to know about if you are a visual artist.

The human eye has many properties, but two of those are particularly important to artists who tries to do a sketch from memory or use imagination to change an existing image into something else (so when you’re not drawing from life and are mainly looking at your artwork). Those are focus and peripheral vision. Focus is mainly concerned with detail and has no real concept of an overall look. Peripheral vision is all about overall look and has a blurry concept of detail, at best.

Now, an experienced artist will quickly switch between these modes while sketching, and will probably not be aware of them. However, if you don’t yet have years of experience under your belt, knowing that these two modes exist and that you can train them separately, might be a tremendous shortcut in improving the quality of your artwork, or at least, make your sketch have better proportions and look more like what you had in mind (during the previsualization).

Mind you, I’m not an expert on perception and the human visual system by any means. I’m just sharing what I have found to be useful.

Try this experiment:
Draw a spiral in one go, keeping your pencil or marker on the paper, and…
1) only concentrate on the gap between the concentric lines (the whitespace)
2) only concentrate on the outer borders of the shape your drawing

For (2) you probably will need to relax your focus (as if you were looking at a distance object), so your peripheral vision takes over. The idea is to let go of detail in favor of overall shape.

Two modes of looking

Note: I’ve tried to do this in the image above, and used a drawing program and Wacom tablet. The lag between my hand movement and when it appeared as pixels on the screen was too long to feel comfortable. It was perhaps only a few tenths of a second, but long enough to spoil my concentration. This is one of the reasons I don’t feel comfortable using a computer in the sketching phase, when I’m still exploring a shape.

Mind you, if you doing life drawing, your eyes should be mainly on the subject and only be on the drawing to make sure your pencil, marker or piece of charcoal is still where you imagined it was on the drawing surface. In that drawing mode, your drawing utensil is just registering what your eyes receive.

For some people, this is the only drawing mode they know of and will ever find enjoyable. However, there is also a drawing mode in which the object of your attention is solely in your imagination, and where you only use photos, drawings and even life individuals as a remote image to spark your imagination, and not as an icon you should copy literally (or resembling as closely as your drawing skills are allowing you).

It is this latter group of draftspersons my advice could be useful for.

That is all.

Panda bear

11 Aug

The thing about rules of thumb to help you draw something is that it should be in the back of your mind, not in the forefront. If you start to draw formulaic, the result will be predictable and dull. So acknowledge there is a certain recommended way to look at things, throw it away completely, except for a faint rudiment of the idea, an echo of an echo. Just take the rules with a pinch of salt and lighten up. You make the rules, because you’re the Creator, the one who makes something out of nothing.

That is kind of what I tried in this sketch of a Panda.

Panda bear

I knew the head is divided into three parts, the skull (a sphere), the long part of the nose and the muzzle. I roughly indicated where the skull was, drew the eyes, which led me to the nose and then the muzzle. The torso and legs were just sketched in on sight (so-called “blind drawing”), as was the rough indication of the fur.

This isn’t a good drawing, but it is a start. To improve I think I need to make it slightly more schematic, based on what I know is underneath what I see, then in similar drawings loosen up a little, drawing slightly more freehand. As I explained in an earlier post, Construction versus Straight Ahead, there are always two fundamentally different approaches to drawing, and both are equally valid methods. They complement each other. Depending on the style you’re after, you should mix and match how you approach your subject, from the inside out, and the outside in, like a clay modeler adding pieces of clay and a sculptor hacking off pieces of stone.

That is all.