Upside Down and Backward

One of the best ways to assess a drawing is to step back from it for a bit and analyze it objectively.   Perhaps you’re focusing intently on getting that perspective right, or making the shadow values dark enough.  When you step back, the tendency is to stare at the places you were just working on.  I like to take a break, think about or even look at something different, then set my drawing upside down and walk away from it.  From across the room, I take a fresh look.   From a distance the arrangement of values and lines is prominent and problem areas become apparent. If there are composition flaws, they will stick out.

Here’s a drawing I started.


It’s coming along, but I’ll put it upside down to see what stands out.


Immediately I notice that the background dock is too dark and too close to the horizontal center of the page.  That one tall piling – or whatever it is – really sticks out because it’s too dark. There are several strong areas of contrast, particularly that large open doorway, none of them are where I want to focus attention.

One of the challenges to fixing an ink drawing is that dark areas cannot be lightened. What I can do is change adjacent values to reduce, or increase contrast.   I increased the value range of the foreground dock, leaving white areas and pushing the shadowed areas to black.  Now the front wharf draws attention because it has the strongest contrast.  And because it’s lower on the page, it pulls the eye down from the center.  Next, I  added a distant shore behind the background structures.  That not only adds more depth, it reduces the contrast of the tall pole against the sky.  Now see how these changes improve the drawing.


Some artists carry a small mirror with them.  This works well if you’re in a place where you can’t step back a distance from your work.  Simply turn around and view the reflection of your drawing or painting in the mirror.   You can even put your work upside down to view it backwards in the mirror.  Even better!

Sometimes it’s still not obvious what should be adjusted.  I have a shelf in my living room.  I like to leave work there and glance at it as I walk by. It might take a few days, but it soon becomes apparent what needs to change.  Just a few little tweaks can make the difference between ho-hum and Wow! Take a fresh look at your recent work.   What do you see?

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