Drawing Table Angles

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If your still life is on a tabletop, apply what you learned about angles in Chapter 3 in order to draw them accurately. Tables are usually drawn from a slightly overhead vantage point so you can see what's on them. You'll see them either in one-point or two-point perspective, depending on where you're sitting. One-point means you're directly in front of the table; two-point means one leg and the corresponding corner of the table are the closest parts to you.

Although understanding perspective thoroughly is critical to an artist's development, I believe it's a subject better left for intermediate-level studies. The concept of a vanishing point-where parallel lines converge at eye level, or on the horizon line—is important in drawing landscapes and cityscapes, particularly, but since that subject matter is beyond the scope of this book, the terms are just mentioned in passing and in material indicating what to do and what not to do in handling tabletop perspective.


I suggest that you sketch your tabletop freehand first. Perhaps you will be able to draw angles accurately from observation only, and then, to check yourself, simply apply level and plumbline at every corner you observe that isn't at a right angle to help you see it better and replicate what you see. If you aren't satisfied with your freehand results, use the steps outlined ahead to increase your undertanding. Employ the strategies for drawing angles and sighting that were covered in the countertop exercise in Chapter 3.


• Place a table in two-point position relative to you (one table leg and corner are the closest parts to you).

• Use your level, holding your pencil horizontally just under the front corner of the table. Squint to see wedges of negative space between the level and the front angles along the table edge, right and left.

• Sketch a horizontal line corresponding to your level on paper.

• Sketch in your angles at the front corner. Remeasure to make sure they aren 't drawn too open.

What not to do: A common error in drawing two-point perspective is making the back edges of a table seem to lift up, as if about to fly, with edges growing farther apart from their parallel partners. To test for this error, extend the parallel lines on four sides of the tabletop (the illustration also shows what happens to the rest of the table). Dotted lines shown point out the unwanted divergence of these lines, when they should be parallel or growing closer to each other, as though they might eventually meet.

Drawing Table

What not to do: A common error in drawing two-point perspective is making the back edges of a table seem to lift up, as if about to fly, with edges growing farther apart from their parallel partners. To test for this error, extend the parallel lines on four sides of the tabletop (the illustration also shows what happens to the rest of the table). Dotted lines shown point out the unwanted divergence of these lines, when they should be parallel or growing closer to each other, as though they might eventually meet.

What not to do: A common error is drawing the sides of a tabletop in one-point perspective as if they diverge, or move increasingly farther away from each other. To test for this error in your work, extend lines along your table edge left and right, as shown. Dotted lines point out that the distance between these extensions grows wider, rather than closer, as they should. To correct, make them come slightly closer together, as though they might eventually meet.

drawing by student ann porfiuo

Determine your scale by sketching in the entire length of the shortest side of the table; the size is your choice and determines the scale of the whole table. Define the end of the short edge by sketching a vertical line at the end of the short edge where the leg is.

Sight on the horizontal from front corner to end of leg on the shortest side, to find a measurementfor the shortest side. You'll be sighting along the bottom line of a triangle. Estimate the longer side relative to the shorter one and draw that in. Use your level to verify angles of right and left corners. Extend those angles until they meet, forming the back corner. And now—you have a tabletop! Apply sighting techniques to determine the length and angle of the front leg and relative position of back legs, if you wish to include those. The front leg will appear longest. • Use the same approach and tools for a one-point drawing. Only two angles at front right and left corners require measurement, and they will be of equal size.


Put your table sketch on the wall. Sit in the position from which you drew it to make your evaluation. Does the tabletop look flipped up? If so, the angles are too open. If the top is too flat, the angles are probably too closed. In either case, review front angles and correct them. You are in the process of discovering how this works, and as is often the case, you'll need to adjust your sketch.

drawing by student ann porfiuo

Perspective Drawings Still Lifes

Step-by-Step Still Life

Drawing The Table

A rrange your final still life. Light it to bring out dimension and interesting patterns. Although the steps ahead pertain to any medium, using pencil may make the following easier to absorb the first time. After that, pen, wash, charcoal, or Conté, alone or in combination, await!

"I was hesitant to show what I had done.

My drawing was in very light strokes. But as the weeks passed, I noticed a tendency to use bolder strokes. "

-stephen monahan

STEP 1: UNDERDRAWING. Lightly sketch your still-life objects. I used a 2H pencil to search out shapes, focusing on their relationships to each other, along both horizontal and vertical sight lines. "Drawing through" (page 43) is helpful here. Check for scale and symmetry, so you won't build on a faulty foundation. This may be messy, so clean up with an eraser, once you settle on shapes, to prepare for the next step.

STEP 2: DEVELOPING FEATURES. Develop contour lines, adding specifics. Lightly indicate highlights. Squint to see basic value relationships. Scribble in local values, then add shadows on objects and reflected light, if any. Leave paper untouched for lightest areas and highlights, filling in around them. Break up or subdue any rigid, too-dark outlines if you want a still life that looks dimensional. I added 2B here to all areas but the empty portions of the wine glass, where I filled in with 2H. Surfaces and transitions are still rough at this point.


Before taking the final step, sit with your still-life setup between you and your artwork so you can see both from your drawing position. Address any areas that need strengthening or correction. Determine:

• Are your values generally accurate?

• Can you improve your drawing with some darker values ?

• Can you simply apply pressure to your 2B, or do you need a 6B?

• Does your drawing lack the excitement and verve you had hoped it would have?

Problems with value application and dimension are covered in Chapter 4; solutions to questions about charcoal are in Chapter 6; Conté, in Chapter 9.

"I worry that my painstaking, meticulous approach sacrifices spontaneity and flair. I admire some of my classmates' works which would not have received high grades for accuracy, but which have a real pizzazz. "

-student george f.. stevens


In a still life, when adding darker values, you need to consider the group as a whole. Especially with the bold capacity of the 6B in your toolbag, if you darken one area with it, avoid isolating that spot, or it will become the focus of your drawing, riveting the viewer's eye where it shouldn't be. For balance, add darkest tones to a few other areas—in edges or shadows, to pull attention into other parts of your drawing. If you're not sure where, pick three areas that would benefit from darker values. If you're nervous about it, work in small steps—or, save this strategy for another still life.

"This was my first art course. When we got to still life, my big problem was deciding what to do. I made six different setups and tried them out first in charcoal. My final setup related to the type of food I cook regularly, and was pleasing to me. Over time, I studied, erased, and redrew. My tool of choice, the pencil, is a gracious medium, accommodating precision while tolerating changes. At this point, it suits me perfectly. I was surprised and pleased with the result ''

-student ann portfilio


"When am I finished?" When you ask yourself that question, it's a gut reaction that's worth listening to—and probably means you're nearly there. Many beginners spend days working on one piece, enjoying the process of getting lost in time, focused on the development of a single drawing. It's not hard to become obsessive—but beware of overworking a drawing. Instead, direct that energy to something new. Tack your present picture up in a protected area, where you can revisit it from time to time to decide if and when it's finished.

Before going to the final step in your still life, another option to consider is leaving part of it deliberately unfinished. That approach allows viewers to be in on the process of completing your picture with their own imaginations.

"I have come to realize that if I try to draw an exact rendition, I set myself up for failure and frustration. What I try to do now is draw my best interpretation of what I see. "

-student rita walker copping

Observational Drawing Wine Bottle

STEP 3: FINALIZING. Refine surfaces and value transitions with finer, multidirectional pencil scribbling, adding details and value contrasts as needed. I added 6B here, concentrating on the dark wine bottle, and added 6B accents elsewhere, working on top of foundation values with fine scribbling to reflect the objects' surfaces. Smudging with finger and eraser helps smooth surfaces and blend value transitions. Note the value shapes added in negative spaces as a guide to applying them in your own work (see "Filling the Void," page 147).

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Freehand Sketching An Introduction

Freehand Sketching An Introduction

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