Going off on a Tangent

I don’t know about you, but when I first started drawing, I would get so excited about a subject that I couldn’t wait to get started.  I would totally ignore composition. I figured I could fix things as I went along.   When I finally sat back to take a look, it wasn’t unusual to find a big “oops”.

Tangents are typical of problems that we don’t discover until too late.   Tangents are objects that touch each other but don’t overlap.  It sounds simple enough.  Sometimes, an interesting use of tangents can  lead to beautiful design, but often they result in odd, if not humorous effects.  For example, putting a building on the paper in a way that the roof peak touches the edge.   In fact, any kind of  arrow shape pointing off the paper takes the eye right out of the picture plane.   Placing any shape on the edge of the paper can detract from the overall effect if it has no relationship to the rest of the design.


It’s easy enough to remedy these situations.  Take a look at how I moved things around in this drawing:  the building is placed lower on the page, the cross boards of the dock  are moved over, the tree is made larger so that it’s top is off the page, the boat is moved up and over, all while staying faithful to the subject.


Also, watch out for strong diagonal lines that go to the corners of the paper. We don’t want the viewer’s attention diverted to la-la land by directing his eyes off the page.  The point is to hold the viewer’s attention by composing an interesting arrangement that keeps one’s vision within the picture plane.

Another way tangents can cause problems is from the arrangement of items within the picture.  Sometimes we are so intent on accuracy that we don’t realize it’s sending an ambiguous  message.


Is the tree really growing out of the top of the house?   Is the barn attached to the house?  Where does the house end and what’s holding up the far end of the porch roof?  Help your viewers understand what they’re looking at.   It’s a good idea to always show important structural elements like corners, roof peaks and edges to help make things clear. Move trees, signs, fences, or anything may obscure the view.     You’re the creator – you can put things wherever you want them.


I still get excited about drawing, but I have learned that a little careful planning can go a long way in assuring success.


  1. Thank you Paula ! It is nice to sit down at home & watch ,read & learn from your easy to understand explanations about art !! I am so grateful you are willing to share so much information for any & all to grow by ! I enjoy anything you share ! Jadie

  2. I’m applauding you for sharing your art and knowledge in a very understandable way for the beginning sketcher. You have a way of showing the how to as well as the why in your tutorials, so not only are you a gifted artist, you’re also a gifted teacher. Thanks for providing the link to your website/blog in Sketchbook Skool.

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