Ptical Indexing

Optical indexing is a fancy way of saying things line up. The idea is that if you have one object in your drawing placed correctly, you can use this as a point of reference to check the locations of everything else in your drawing. If certain parts of your drawing line up or are spaced appropriately according to your drawing reference, then you have a correctly proportioned piece of artwork.

Many artists use either a few simple horizontal or vertical lines or a more thorough grid system to check the alignment of the elements within their drawings. Both methods make it easy to spot mistakes in placement and proportion. Some artists begin their drawings with these guidelines to prevent problems from the get-go; others pull them out when they are in the middle of a line drawing that's not quite right. How you decide to use them is entirely up to you.

Bring On the Grid

Many artists use grids, but they are labor intensive and not needed unless it is a complex image you desire to draw. This pile of cats is a complicated series of shapes. This is a good time to use a grid system.

Draw the Squares

Place a grid of equal-size squares over the reference photo, or draw one directly on a copy of the photo. Then draw a grid of equal-size squares on your drawing paper. If you use a grid of one inch by one inch (3cm x 3cm) squares on your photo and the same on your drawing, the drawing will be the same size as your photo. For a larger drawing, make a larger grid on your paper.

Fill In the Squares

Draw the shapes you see within each square. Keep your finger (or other marker of some kind) on the reference-photo square you're currently working on so you don't get lost. (It may sound silly, but there are kitty paws and tiger stripes going in all directions.) Once you have the shapes drawn in, carefully erase your grid. Looking at the various parts of a complex subject in this way makes drawing them much more manageable.

"J You can make a reusable grid in a variety of different ways:

Create a grid on a computer and print it on a sheet of clear acetate.

Draw a grid with a permanent marker on a sheet of clear acetate.

Draw a grid on regular paper, run it through a copier and make copies on acetate.

Make a grid on a clear insert or folder, and slide your photo into the insert.

Reading Between the Lines

These two Great Pyrenees puppies are much less complex than the pile of kittens. A grid could be used, but often just a few lines are necessary to measure the distances between elements to make sure you're in the ballpark. Try drawing these puppies first, then take a ruler and see what lines up in your drawing compared to mine.

Reading Between the Lines

These two Great Pyrenees puppies are much less complex than the pile of kittens. A grid could be used, but often just a few lines are necessary to measure the distances between elements to make sure you're in the ballpark. Try drawing these puppies first, then take a ruler and see what lines up in your drawing compared to mine.

Check Locations

For example, when I place a horizontal ruler under the jaw of the puppy on the right, it lines up with the top of the left puppy's nose.

Check Locations

For example, when I place a horizontal ruler under the jaw of the puppy on the right, it lines up with the top of the left puppy's nose.

What Lines Up?

Here we find that the inside corner of the right puppy's eye lines up with the edge of his nose. Choosing a few different features or parts of your subject to spot check is usually enough measuring to make sure your drawing is in correct proportion.

What Lines Up?

Here we find that the inside corner of the right puppy's eye lines up with the edge of his nose. Choosing a few different features or parts of your subject to spot check is usually enough measuring to make sure your drawing is in correct proportion.

Cheat Sheet

• No amount of spectacular detail can "fix" a drawing whose site, or location of shapes, is incorrect.

• Every drawing needs a baseline or standard of measurement to which all the other parts of the drawing are compared. This ensures correct proportion.

• Measuring elements according to a baseline is easiest to do with a photo because it is two dimensional.

• Establishing two baselines—one for your reference and one for your drawing—makes it easy to enlarge or reduce the elements for a larger or smaller drawing.

• Make a horizontal reference line to help you check angles for accuracy.

• To measure a three-dimensional subject, "flatten" it by looking at it with one eye closed, extending your arm straight out in front of you, and measuring a baseline with your finger.

• If certain parts of your drawing line up or are spaced appropriately according to your drawing reference, then the drawing is in proportion.

• Use a complete grid or just a few horizontal and vertical guidelines to check how the elements in your drawing line up.

Crow Drawing

Think Shapes, Not "Stuff"

The feathers in this drawing of a Moluccan cockatoo were not thought of as feathers, but rather as shaded curves. You may think you can't draw feathers, but curves are simple.

Think Shapes, Not "Stuff"

The feathers in this drawing of a Moluccan cockatoo were not thought of as feathers, but rather as shaded curves. You may think you can't draw feathers, but curves are simple.

Hogan

Graphite on bristol board 17" x 14" (43cm x 36cm)

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