Let’s Take a Field Trip

I like to take my classes to a local coffee shop to gain experience drawing in public.  For those new to drawing, it’s a comfortable place to get their feet wet sketching on location.  And for the more experienced, it offers a wonderful variety of subject matter.   Tables and chairs fill the middle of a large room, and overstuffed sofas and chairs provide conversation areas along the windows.  In addition to a variety of quirky decorations, like a large metal pig hanging from the ceiling, there are always seasonal displays and interesting knick-knacks.  It’s well attended by a range of locals from mothers with small children to seniors doing crossword puzzles.  If that’s not enough, there are large windows with views of trees, flowers, and the Tudor style shops across the street.


The first time sketchers often select a piece of furniture or a decorative item for their first subject.   Once they gain a little comfort, they begin to expand their work with perspectives and people.  I love drawing the folks that spend time there.   I’ve discovered that my students make handy subjects; they’re focusing so hard on their drawings they don’t realize I’m drawing them.



Best of all, it’s an enjoyable way to spend a few hours during our damp Northwest winters.  Do you have a favorite place to sketch when the weather is cold and wet?



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Staying Inside the Box

Drawing boats is always a challenge.  Those curved shapes are graceful and symmetrical and yet so difficult to put in perspective.  How do you draw the right shape and make them look like they’re floating on the water at the same time?  Whether it’s a giant tug tied up at dock, a sailboat heeling in a steady breeze, or a small dory pulled up on the beach, I have found a box to be the answer.   What kind of a box you might ask?   Well, a box big enough to encompass the boat.  By putting the boat in an imaginary box, it’s easy to see how to keep the boat in perspective. This method requires being able to “see” the imaginary box, so it may not work for everyone, but it has really helped me.   Let me show you what I mean.  Let’s start with a boat on the beach:


Imagine it in a box.  By noting the angle of the stern and the angle of the center line of the boat – from the stern to the bow -I can find the perpendicular lines to create my box.    This drawing is a little light, but hopefully you get the idea:

135 box

Some aspects of boats are straight and parallel, like the seats on this boat.  In a dingy the seats are often parallel to the stern. That means that all of the vector lines from the seats and the back of the box will go to the same vanishing point.



If a sailboat is leaning with the wind, draw the box at an angle:


The box concept also helps me draw cars.  I find the box enables me to more clearly understand how something is made, what should be parallel and what should be symmetrical.  It also gives me a framework to consider proportions from one item to another.

Shore Boats



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One Week 100 People

Did you see the online drawing challenge this week?  #Oneweek100people2017.  I thought it would be kind of fun so I jumped right into the fray on Monday, drawing people every chance I had.  In order to make the daily quota of 20 people, each portrait needed to be simple and quick. The first day I was pleased to draw most of my subjects from life.


The second day, working around  my teaching schedule I decided to work from photographs.  This day found me spending too much time on details.


By Wednesday it was time to ramp it up so I drew groups of people.  But by the end of the day I was only halfway to the goal.


I was starting to feel a little stressed because I had quite a few other commitments in the next few days.  I paused to consider why I was doing this.   Liz Steel and Marc Taro Holmes initiated #OneWeek100People to encourage sketchers to improve their people drawing skills, certainly a worthy goal.  I loved seeing each day’s results on Facebook and Instagram. But I was scribbling faces and bodies just to reach the count with no thought to improve my skills.  I made the decision to stop at 52.  This was a big deal because I really like to see things through.  But I made the right decision for me. I will continue to draw portraits slowly, hone my skills and progress at my own pace.




Be sure to  look up the drawings for this great challenge.  There is a fantastic array of work. I now recognize I was excited to be a part of this global event. The work from sketchers around the globe never fails to inspire me.   Congratulations to all who have joined in and posted their work!



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Do you see what I see?

Working with straight lines is one thing, but how do you deal with round?  Circles in perspective can boggle the mind.  I find it helpful to put the circle in a square.  This makes it so much easier to to see how the circle relates to the rules of perspective.

circle                 circle1

A good example for drawing round is a simple paper cup.  If we hold the paper cup squarely in front of our eyes, with the round bottom of the cup perfectly centered within the opening, we know we are looking at a full circles. But the minute we tip the cup or move it up or down, the round opening starts to become elliptical.  The more we move the circle away from us, the narrower the ellipse becomes.  This is where seeing becomes critical.  To draw a believable paper cup, pay attention to the exact size of the ellipse.




The  simple stools in the art studio where I teach make a great subject.   As the stools move away from my vantage point, the seats become not just smaller, but narrower ellipses too.  The brain insists that those seats are round, but your eyes reveal the truth. Do you see what I see?   I’m thinking some new words to the old Christmas song might remind us to check our ellipses.


Circles are everywhere – tires, flower pots, plates,  traffic lights, tools, spools, and more.  Learning to draw round objects accurately will enhance your work.  One final tip: if you’re  not sure whether or not your circle is correct, measure the proportions of the ellipse with your thumb and pencil point. So often the width is much less than we think it is.  Just one more way to check what you see.


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Looking Up

For most drawings, basic two point perspective works just fine.  Occasionally, we might want to try a more dramatic angle.   Let’s use this classic New England church to demonstrate three point perspective.  From a distance one can draw it nicely using two point perspective.  The steeple is tall and, although it reduces in size with each level of ornamentation,  all of the vertical lines will remain parallel to the vertical edges of the paper – the standard for all two point perspective subjects on a horizon line.



Now, move in close to the building and look straight up at the steeple. You can see that the vertical lines get noticeably smaller as they move away from you, in fact if we were to extend them, they would meet somewhere in outer space.  This is the third vanishing point.


Because this vanishing point is so far away, it’s best to hold a pencil along the angles that you see, then recreate those angles on your paper.  Do you know where the horizon line is for this picture?   It’s off the page  below the scene.   It’s important to understand that when you look up or down at a sharp angle, the third vanishing point is not on the horizon line.  The horizontal lines depicted in your picture will, however stay on the horizon line. I know that’s a bit tricky to understand.  But trust me on this, once you see several good examples of it, it begins to make sense.


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Peak Positioning

Moving on with two point perspective, let’s imagine that we’re drawing a simple house and we want to figure out where to put the peak of the roof.


Our basic house starts with a rectangular box.  The green line is the horizon line/eye level.  Starting with the corner nearest to me, I hold my pencil up to catch the angle along the base of the roof to determine the vanishing point on the right side (off the page for this view).  For the vanishing point on the left side, I draw a line from that bottom of the front roof to the bottom of the back roof and continue that line to the horizon.

When drawing the roof it’s helpful to know how to find the center of the gable side to find the roof peak.  Draw diagonal lines (red in the picture) across that side – usually from bottom of the roof to the opposite base of the building.  Then simply draw a vertical line through the mid point and you have the center of the wall to position the  peak  of your roof.  To get the correct roof pitch, lay your pencil along the roof in your photo, or in the air in front of your subject, and transfer that exact roof angle to your paper.  There it is!

Here’s a video from an early post showing the procedure with a barn.


As you can see with the video, I did all the preliminary figuring without a ruler.  I started with the horizon line, and built it up from there.  I don’t use a straight edge when I draw.  If I find the roof looks off somehow, then I draw those diagonal lines to clarify the mid point.  I let my eyes be my guide.

And, because you might want to see the finished barn drawing:



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A Shocking Revelation

We were simply drawing boxes in class, putting them in positions that require two vanishing points. One of the students suddenly exclaimed, “It’s shocking!”   Shocking is not usually a word associated with the art I do or teach.  She was referring to the surprising realization that things radically change when we change our viewpoint.

Let’s take a simple rectangular box as an example.    The dimensions might be five inches long by 3 inches wide, by two inches deep.  Drawing the box squarely in front of you, using one point perspective, the width and the height will stay the same.  Depending upon your vantage point, the depth dimension will change.



Now, let’s put the box on the table, and turn it away from you so that both the width and the depth are in perspective. The five inch width will change depending upon its location.   It might change so much that the five inch width will appear less than the two inch depth.  That was the shocking discovery my student made.






When you change the way you look at things, the thing you’re looking at changes.

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New Perspectives

I recently began teaching a six week Perspective course.   It’s a topic I find fascinating and I especially enjoy discovering it fresh through the eyes of my students.   There are always wonderful questions that come up that help me see perspective anew.  For veteran sketchers, this next series will be review; for those newer to drawing I hope to cover some helpful ideas.  And if you have questions, please let me know!

Today I’d like to talk about parallel lines.  Parallel lines are always equidistant to each other, right?  They can be straight, zig-zag or wavy – as long as they’re equidistant we know that they’re parallel, even when drawn free hand, like this:


BUT, when we’re talking perspective, parallel lines will come together and actually meet, or vanish, at a point on the horizon line called, appropriately enough, the vanishing point.   As this fence moves away from me, it appears to reduce in size. The horizontal boards that we know to be parallel appear to get closer and closer together as it recedes in the distance.  (The green line is the horizon line and the dot is the vanishing point.)


While this is a good example of parallel lines converging,  I discovered after photographing the drawing, it has a problem.  The distant posts and fence boards seem really dark, don’t they?  To be accurate, the more distant an object, the lighter it should be.  I used a very fine pen for the entire drawing, but because the lines need to be really fine in the distance, they  now appear bold.  A way around that might be to use a very light touch with the pen, or a bolder pen with near objects and a finer pen with distant ones.

Here’s another example:


This is a freehand drawing of a short hallway where the hallway walls are parallel to each other.  The distant walls have two different angles and can be ignored in this example.  What I want you to notice is the parallel walls of the hall and the green dot which indicates the vanishing point for all things that are parallel to each other.  The pictures on the wall, the door frames, the old sewing machine table are all parallel and if we drew lines from all of them, those lines would all converge at the vanishing point.

While this is basic perspective, I know it’s a challenge for many to put into practice.  The take away here is: Draw parallel lines the way you see them – not the way you know them.  





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Close Up Views

Probably my favorite way to draw trees is to focus on the part that I see up close.  Most of the time only a section of trunks or branches is within our range of vision because trees are so huge.  Trees are graceful and elegant from any vantage point.  Their trunks and branches create wonderful designs and the marvelous thing is that no two trees are the same.

I like to focus on the natural shapes.  Line drawings can be an effective way of capturing the form of a group of trunks. By making the closest trunks a little bolder -pressing harder with my 005 micron pen – I can create a sense of depth and add interest to the line work.


Value drawings can highlight the interesting shapes too. Winter is the perfect time to draw trunks and branches.  This old oak tree would be covered with leaves in the summer, but without leaves the design of limbs comes across loud and clear.


Here’s a drawing I’m working on now. There was a time when I would have stressed about making the leaves as detailed as I see them.  Now I realize that the pattern of light and dark in the leaves is enough.  A little definition here and there is all that’s needed to say leaf.


We tend to draw what interests us.  Trees may not be your thing, but hopefully these posts on trees have helped you to see the possibilities.


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A Walk in the Woods

Come take a walk in the woods with me.  Our trail meanders through tall cedars and Douglas firs mixed with the occasional alder.  Ferns, huckleberry and salal cover the forest floor with a thick blanket of green.   In fact up, down, all around, it’s green – needles, leaves, grasses, moss.  How does one begin to draw this?


The key lies in simplification.  Start by looking for the main shape in the scene – maybe it’s the path, or the the large cedar trunk on the right side of the scene.  Then look  for the next big shape, like the fir tree on the left side.   All those tree  trunks in the middle can be simplified too.  Remember that  you don’t need all of them.  A drawing doesn’t have to be an exact representation of a scene; rather it’s an impression of a feeling about a place.  I use the elements I see to inspire my composition.  Here, I pull out the main ideas I want to use .  So like those very simple shapes I used when drawing individual trees several posts ago, I start with the most basic elements.  My drawing starts like this:


Next comes the tricky part – values.  Light is obviously coming from one source, but there are so many things blocking it as it shines through the trunks, branches and leaves that the shapes are not so clearly defined.  Looking closely for clues,  I simplify and arrange the values. two things to keep in mind: make sure your light source is consistent and the value pattern pleasing.


From here , it gets to be fun.  Add a few details like individual leaves, branches, texture on the tree trunks… and, lo and behold it’s starting to look like a forest!


Now, while this is all about simplifying the scene, I freely admit it is not so simple to do.  It takes practice, lots of practice, to learn to see this way.  I can’t say too many times that learning to draw is learning to see.  What wonders are out there just waiting for us to behold them.  The more you draw the easier it becomes.


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