Space and light and order. Those are the things that men need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep. –Le Courbusier
Now that you’re all nice and loosened up with the blind contour and gesture drawings, let’s pull our focus back in a little bit. It’s good to start with looser drawings because all too often our expectations cause us to be tight and rigid trying to get our drawings perfect. Gesture drawings and blind contours are a great way to warm up for a drawing session. In fact, I was just talking to an artist friend yesterday about drawing and she told me that when she paints, if she feels herself get uptight, she’ll do a “hard reset” on herself by stopping what she’s doing to make a blind contour drawing. It helps to get her brain and hand back on the same page—back in sync with each other. So even if these seem like silly little exercises, they’re like stretches before playing sports—if you don’t do them, you’ll end up hurting later on.
Here are the topics we’ll be discussing:
Shape Versus Form
There’s a difference? Yes. Shapes are things like circles, squares, rectangles, and triangles. Forms are shapes that have mass. For example, the basic shape of an orange is a circle, but when we talk about it as a three-dimensional object it is a sphere. The overall shape of a box is a square, but when we consider its mass, it is a cube.
When you start a drawing class, one of the first things they’ll have you do is draw from a still life setup containing one of each of the following forms: cone, sphere, cube, and cylinder.
Learning how to indicate mass will take your drawings to the next level. Instead of drawing something that looks flat, you will have the ability to make a two-dimensional object (your drawing) into something that looks three-dimensional.
All objects exist in space, meaning that they take up room. How do you make something look like it is taking up space? Mainly with perspective and value.
Perspective is a word that strikes fear into the heart of beginning artists, but it isn’t as bad as you think. I’m sure you’ve all done the drawing of the railroad tracks going back in the distance:
Or maybe fence posts along a roadway:
If you’ve ever done a drawing like either of these, then you already know about perspective!
There are a few different types of perspective, but we’re going to talk about the simplest one first: one-point perspective. The drawings above both demonstrate the basics of one-point perspective.
A basic rule of thumb is that objects that are closer to us appear bigger while objects that are farther away look smaller. We talked about this concept in Learning to Trust Your Eyes when we looked at the Caillebotte and Canaletto paintings.
As you can see in the image above, the railroad tracks appear to get wider when they’re closest to us and narrower as they recede.
Here I have drawn lines over the top of the railroad tracks for you to see better what I mean.
When we get rid of the photo altogether, you can see how the railroad tracks make a triangle shape and the railroad ties get closer and closer together the further away they are. If we flipped this photo around, it would change the way we perceive it.
Now it looks like we are on a tall ladder looking down! Or looking down a long hallway. This is because things that are further away look smaller. Even though this is still the same railroad track, when we flip it, our brains still read it the same way—that the big stuff is closer—so it changes the way we perceive the image.
Starting to Draw One Point Perspective
Before we can put this into a landscape, we need to discuss a few more concepts: the horizon line and vanishing point. The horizon line is basically the viewer’s eye level and in a lot of paintings, where the land and sky meet. The vanishing point is where everything converges and disappears. The vanishing point is going to be somewhere on your horizon line. This is the point where everything gets so tiny we can no longer see it. It’s also a critical point in your drawing because it’s where all your directional lines will converge.
The horizon line can be anywhere in your drawing as long as it’s horizontal (otherwise it wouldn’t be a horizon line!). When establishing your horizon line, think about where you want the viewer to be in your work. If you go outside now, look off into the distance and point to the place where the land and sky meet, I’ll bet your hand is at eye level! The horizon line is always going to be at your eye level. So if you are on top of a really tall building, your eye level is also really tall. If you lay on the ground, your eye level is low. It’s always helpful to keep in mind how our bodies relate to what we see – our perspective.
Take a look at where the horizon lines are in the above photos:
Just for fun, I’ve outlined the vanishing points on those photos too so you can see where they fall on their respective horizon lines. The red lines are leading back to the vanishing point, which is marked by a yellow star. The horizon line is blue:
Exercise One: Basic Perspective Drawing
Let’s start a drawing together. I’m going to put my horizon line a little above the middle and I’ll make my vanishing point in the center of my horizon line, just to make things simple. You can make sure you draw a straight horizontal line by lining up the flat edge of your ruler with the straight side edge of your paper first. And similarly, a straight vertical line can be made by lining up the flat edge of your ruler with either the top or bottom straight edge of your paper.
*Note: I’m using my computer because it’s easier for you to see than photos of a drawing, but it should look the same for you using your pencil, ruler, and paper. Don’t use your computer—this is a drawing exercise, not a computer class!
Now that we have our horizon line and vanishing point established, any straight line we draw out from the vanishing point will help us to establish the rest of the scene.
I’ve just drawn some random straight lines coming out of my vanishing point. You do the same. If we start connecting these lines, we’ll see some interesting forms start to take shape. Look what happens when I draw horizontal lines between two of my lines going back to my vanishing point:
We get our railroad track back. Remember that the railroad ties will appear closer together the further they are away from us, so draw them closer together near the vanishing point and further away from each other nearer to the bottom of your page. .
(For our left-brainers out there, here’s a mathematical formula Founder Phil came up with to help you make your tracks.)
Oh, but you’re a rebel and want to make your railroad track with the other lines! That’s okay:
Since all these lines are going back to our vanishing point, you can use any of them to make shapes that recede into space.
After you’ve drawn your lines coming out of your vanishing point, then try making your own “railroad tracks.” Experiment a little just using lines to see how drawing horizontal and vertical lines in different places works or does not work within your landscape.
Exercise Two: Drawing Cubes
Going back to our beginning discussion about forms vs. shapes, I want you to make a cube. I will show you how step-by-step:
First, use a new piece of paper and establish your horizon line and your vanishing point. Keep the vanishing point just a small dot on the horizon line (I made it a big circle in the above examples just to make it easier to see). Then, draw a square anywhere on your page. Make it big enough that you will be able to draw inside it later.
Here’s one way to draw a square: First, draw (as described above) two 2-inch horizontal lines about 2 inches apart. Then draw one straight vertical line through both of the horizontal lines. Measure the length of the vertical line between the two horizontal lines (it should be 2 inches), and mark each horizontal line with a dot that same distance from the vertical line you drew. If you draw a line with your ruler through those two dots, you should have a square. Erase any lines that extend beyond your square.
Now, take a ruler and draw straight lines from the corners of your square back to the vanishing point.
The next step is to draw another square by connecting the lines you just drew.
I’ve drawn the new square in red so you can see it better.
Look what happens when I make both squares black and erase the lines behind the smaller square:
We have a cube! And now that you’ve done one, you can do three more so you end up with four cubes–one each in the upper right, upper left, lower right, and lower left parts of your paper. I got a little excited and drew some extra boxes in the image below to show you different examples:
Draw a LOT of boxes. Believe me, it’s helpful. You can use multiple pieces of paper if necessary. When I first started drawing, my drawing teacher made us draw boxes for months straight. At first, it was fun but after a while, I was so bored I started drawing little hatchets sticking out of the side of the boxes. But you know what? The hatchets were in perspective. That’s why we practice—so it becomes second nature.
Exercise Three: Treasure Hunt: Cylinder, Cone, Sphere, And Cube
Find one of each of the following forms in your house: cube, cylinder, cone, and sphere. You may find a cylinder in the form of a soda can, for example. Set them up on a table and practice gesture drawing the shapes as well as the forms of each one.
Show us what you found! After finding and drawing each of the forms in the above exercise, send them to us! Submit your images using our submission form here.
Key Lesson Learnings: You have learned about vanishing points and the horizon line, and how they can be used to create perspective.
Next lesson: Value And Mass