Prepare to Draw

How To Sketch

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In this chapter, you will be introduced to methods that help you to simplify the process of drawing. You will learn how to light and situate your subject so it will be easier to understand and to draw. You will also be shown a method of drawing that is concerned with drawing shapes rather than lines. This will help you to understand how to draw your subject three-dimensionally on your flat, one-dimensional sheet of paper. Finally, you will consider and look at a variety of marks which can add interest and expression to your drawing.

Arrange and Light Your Subject 32

Tone Your Paper 36

Make Your Marks 38

Examples of Graphite Marks 40

Find the Angles 46

Drawing Finding Angles

The subjects that you choose to draw, the way in which you arrange them, and the way in which you choose to light them are very personal choices. In this section, you will be shown different setups as examples only. Be aware that if you don't like the setup, you can rearrange it to suit yourself. The directions given can apply to any situation.


Look at the above arrangement. From what angle are you looking at these objects? Think about where the person who took the photograph is standing or sitting in relation to these objects. This is an important consideration because where you sit or stand determines your vantage point. It is very important to maintain the same vantage point when you are drawing. Moving around changes your vantage point, and consequently you have to change your drawing. In the above setup, the person viewing the objects is sitting in front of the table and looking directly at the objects. Notice that you cannot see the tops of the objects. You can see them from the side only. You can also see just a small portion of the tabletop. Notice the height of the back of the table in relation to the objects on the table.

Here are two different eye levels. In the first image (a), you are looking down on the objects. Consider which portions of the objects you can actually see. How much of the table can you see? In the second image (b), your eye level is lower. You cannot see the tops of the objects, and the table is obscuring the bottom of the objects. You cannot see the surface of the table. Remember that what you can see determines what you draw.

How Draw Table

This is a sketch of the objects as they appear in the image (a) at the bottom of the previous page. There is enough surface of the table here to show reflections of the objects on the table's shiny surface. Notice the level of the back of the table, compared to the objects. Determine exactly where this level lines up on the objects. Compare the height of the objects. Measure across to see if the height of the apple and orange are the same. Notice the shape of the tabletop. The strongest light on the largest object is toward the top; this is called the highlight. All of the above points are discussed in more detail in Chapter 5. This is an introduction to start you thinking more about what you can actually see, because you cannot draw what you cannot see!

Eye Level: A Quiz

When you look at an object, you do so from a particular point and a particular level. Imagine that your eye level forms a horizontal line in connection to everything you see. To help you, consider the following examples. Where do you think the person who took the photograph was standing? The answers are on the next page.


Eye-Level Answers

Here the viewer is looking down into the jar; consequently, your eye level is above the jar. Notice that you can still see the pebbles only through the glass; you cannot see them directly from the top, as the viewer is sitting back from the jar, not leaning over the jar.

The viewer is looking slightly up at these objects. The table is obscuring your view of the bottom of the objects. You are unable to see the tops of the objects; and they are visible only from the side. A small part of the objects' lids on the left are showing, but they are very small. Notice that the lids are curving down slightly.

Now, the viewer is looking directly at the jar, just about three-quarters of the way down the jar. You cannot see down into the top of the jar. However, because the jar is made of glass, you can see the back of the jar through the front of it. Notice the bottom left side of the jar, and see how it is arranged at a 45-degree angle. The angle is less vertical, and more horizontal, than the same side of the jar in the previous example.

Here the viewer is sitting lower and farther back from the objects. The eye level is lower, the table appears higher, and the bottom portion of the objects is obscured by the table. The curves of the lids are curving down more noticeably than in the previous example. These differences are slight, but keen observation is an important tool for an artist—you must practice it constantly.


Lighting is an important factor in drawing. Obviously, it is only with light that you can see and only with light that you can draw. Light reveals the form, or structure, of an object. Here, you consider two different lighting setups.

The different types of lighting are discussed in Chapter 3. Now, you can decide on the appropriate lighting for your situation. Here, a spotlight is pointed at the still life setup. It creates a strong sense of light and shadow. This dramatic light is very good for a beginner because each object is defined by its own shadow, as well as shadows from other objects. It is easy to see a jigsaw arrangement of light and shadow when the light is strong.

This scene is lit by light coming through a window. As you can see, it is a very soft light that simply filters over the objects. It is a directional light because it is coming through the window. However, the window is a lot larger than the metal frame of the spotlight. Consequently, the light isn't as concentrated as it was in the previous example. This light presents a more difficult situation for a beginner. It is simply not as easy to see the structure of the objects when the light is softer.

Toning your paper is one of the many available methods of drawing. In this section, you will learn how to prepare the surface of your paper to begin the drawing methods that will be introduced in Chapter 5. Descriptions of all of the materials mentioned in this section can be found in Chapter 2.

Apply the Tone

Make sure you have an even, flat surface on which to lay your paper. In this preparation, do not use a smooth piece of paper. It is better to use a paper with some texture, or some tooth.

You need the following materials: a razor knife, a 4B or higher-B-number pencil or a graphite stick, and a paper towel. As in the example, you will sharpen your pencil or graphite stick over your paper. Remove the shavings of wood, but leave the shavings of graphite on the paper. Doing so serves two purposes: You obtain graphite to make the tone on the paper, and you sharpen your pencil to a nice, long point. Alternatively, you can buy graphite powder in a jar (shown in the photo above) and simply shake some onto the paper. The powder is more expensive than a graphite stick or pencil and can make a very dark tone, so use it sparingly.

Use your paper towel to smooth the graphite over the paper. If you are using powdered graphite, smooth it in very lightly. Make sure that you obtain an even tone over the whole surface. It is important that you cover the whole page. Do not leave any of the white surface visible.

Here is the finished result. The tone has to be workable and not so dense (heavily rubbed in or dark) that it cannot be erased easily. You may find that using a pencil and razor knife enables you to obtain a lighter, more airy tone. Even though it takes more time, you may prefer the tone it gives you. Using the graphite powder gives you a darker and denser tone.

Light tone

Dark tone

Light tone

Dark tone

Now you can use a kneaded eraser to test how dense the tone is on your paper. Erase a small area. It should be easy to erase the tone so that you can see the white surface of the paper. If it is difficult to erase, you probably rubbed the graphite into the paper rather than smoothing it over the surface.

In this quick sketch, the artist used an eraser to take away the large shape of the model's belly. Because the chest was also being lit, tone was erased in strokes rather than in shapes. The artist wanted the light to be a little more subdued on the chest than on the belly.

In the next section, you will learn that using your eraser to make marks rather than large shapes can add even more variety of tone to your work.

A drawing holds the viewer's interest because of the marks that were used in its creation. As you gain more experience drawing, you will notice that there may be a preponderance of certain marks in your work. These marks will come to characterize your style and make the work individually yours.

Marks of Spontaneity

In this drawing, the model has taken a pose that will last for only a few minutes. The artist had to work quickly to relay the information in front of him onto his paper. In this exercise, intuition and spontaneity come into play. Consequent on having a short time to work, the marks are more energetic. Notice that the lines drawn are used to convey a general sense of shape and not to delineate any details. The lightness of the marks gives the drawing a gentle quality. The fluidity of the lines reinforces the curvature of the whole pose. The transition from light to darker marks relates to the action of bending over. The darker marks and the marks of the shaded areas are located within the closed, curved area of the body.

Kneeling, Quick Study, by Dean Fisher

This drawing is a spontaneous response to a figure in motion. The weight of the body is carried by the left leg, but is about to be transferred to the right leg. This motion is skillfully realized by the almost continuous angled, dark, and thick mark along the torso and on the left side of the body. There is no one continuous line in this figure; rather, the line is broken into different marks, which nicely convey the sense of action. The marks arching out from the left leg reinforce this impression of a forward motion.

Deanfisher Com
Striding Figure, Quick Study, by Dean Fisher

Look at the variety of marks made in these four examples. The paper and hardness of the pencil are given under each illustration. The completed drawings are on pages 42-43.

William Coldstream Shaded Drawing
Smooth sketching paper and a 2H pencil

Smooth sketching paper and an H pencil

Smooth sketching paper and a 4B pencil

Smooth sketching paper and an H pencil


All of the marks made with a 4B pencil are used in this drawing. The softness of the pencil gives this drawing an airy quality. The static quality of the pose has been interrupted by the energy of the line.

Deanfisher Com
Seated Figure, Quick Study, by Dean Fisher

All the marks made with a 2H and H pencil can be found in this drawing. The details of the face have been given more attention, as they have been finely delineated with careful lines and marks.

Aye Aye Draw

Before you begin to draw, you need to determine the correct proportions of the object you are going to draw. In this section, you will learn to use a simple tool as a visual measuring aid.

|The Processj

When you measure your subject, it is essential that you either sit or stand in a fixed position. You must also maintain the same position that you intend to have for your complete drawing (see page 32).

Holding an implement with a long handle (such as a paintbrush, a knitting needle, or a long pencil) as a measuring tool, extend your arm completely. Align the end of your measuring tool with the top end of the object (in this example, a vase) and then use your thumb to mark the position of the bottom of the object on your measuring tool. You have now created a unit of measurement, or a scale, that represents the height of the object as seen from where you are sitting or standing. To record this measurement for later reference, you can put some tape (opaque, not clear) around the measuring tool to mark this point, which is shown in the photo on the right. You can then hold the tool horizontally (arm straight) to line up the end of the tool with the left side of the vase. You can see where the tape ends. Now you have established the relationship of the height of the object compared to its width.

To the right is a diagram showing two different ways to measure the height and width of the vase. The unit of measurement, denoted by black lines, compares the height of the vase to its width. Note that, as a comparison, the measurement of the width of the vase only reaches to the bottom of the neck, vertically, on the vase.

The red lines denote a measuring scale, using the width of the vase's spout. Note that the height of the vase is four-and-one-half times the width of the spout. When you draw, you can plan out the proportions of your subject with this information. This plan lets you achieve the right shape and proportion.

Of course, you can designate any portion of the vase as the unit of measurement. To maintain consistent measurements, always have your arm fully extended, not bent at the elbow, and maintain the same standing or sitting position each time you measure your subject.

This figure drawing shows you an example of how this technique can work in different situations. Here the length of the head, from the top of the hair to the bottom of the chin, has been used to determine the height of the figure.


The width of ■ vase as a unit of measurement reaches to just below the

The height of the vase is - 4 1/2 times the width of the.- top ' of ;^he-spout.

In this drawing the subject is almost exactly 3 1/4 heads high, from the top of his head to the chair he is sitting on.

Correctly measuring your objects is only one part of drawing exactly what you see in front of you. You also have to consider the angles of the contours of objects. Doing so can be tricky, but there are methods that you can use to determine these angles. The method shown here is a simple one.

Look for the Angles

With the same measuring tool that you used previously to determine a scale, you can also find the angles of objects that are not horizontal or vertical. Fix your position and extend your arm straight out. Hold your tool in front of the curve, or angled contour, of the object you will be drawing. You can either remember the angle and add it to your drawing (visualizing it with your measuring tool can help you remember it), or you can transfer the measuring tool to the correct position on your drawing paper by keeping the tool in the same position and marking the angle directly from your tool onto the paper.

Look at the curved form, and you can see two or three angles, representing various aspects of the curve. You can then lightly draw these angles on your paper. Doing so will assist you in finding the exact shape of the curve.

When you try to represent a more complex contour or form, draw multiple straight lines to represent each section of the shape that you have observed with your measuring tool. You can repeat this process as many times as you feel is necessary. It helps you to see the objects that you draw more clearly. You will be surprised at how much easier it is to record difficult shapes if you use this method. Feel free to lightly draw these straight lines on your drawing to use as a guide. You can also leave them on your drawing. Some artists, such as Euan Uglow and his teacher William Coldstream, left guidelines on their drawings or paintings in the form of lines or tiny crosses. They felt no need to remove them, and, in turn, these marks became a part of the work.

William Coldstream Paintings


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Freehand Sketching An Introduction

Freehand Sketching An Introduction

Learn to sketch by working through these quick, simple lessons. This Learn to Sketch course will help you learn to draw what you see and develop your skills.

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  • frank
    What unit of measurement did euan uglow use for his figure paintings?
    8 years ago
    How to draw vantage point?
    8 years ago

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