Learn to Draw the Hard Way – Part 2
Read through this article and, at the bottom, watch the video through.
When you have done that, get your supplies up together.
Now, go back to the start of the video and follow along with me as I start you out with the most basic, but crucial shapes of square and dynamic rectangles (I will explain what they are later), helping you to become conscious of their proportions, to visualise their overall shape before moving on to more challenging subjects.
By knowing these initial shapes, you will quickly be able to break down any subject matter into manageable chunks – working from general to specific. While at the same time developing an appreciation of route 2, 3 and 5 rectangle, the phi rectangle, or golden rectangle.
Whether your favourite subject is portraiture, or city scapes, engraining these shapes in your mind through practice, will help you to see them in your subject and use them as a spring board to correctly place crucial elements and accurately judge the overall proportion.
What’s more, these lessons will teach you to do all of this without premeasuring.
Regardless of which shapes you practice with, the main objective is to develop the skills to be able to quickly strike the overall height and width proportion, leaving you plenty of time to enjoy the other aspects of painting or drawing, instead of always wrestling with faulty technique.
'Being able to draw is simply to know how high it is, by how long – or, in other words height width proportion.'
Now, I know that learning to draw squares and rectangles is not that thrilling, but trust me when I tell you, if you follow this along and practice it in your own time, you will save yourself decades of struggle with your drawing.
My challenge to you is to practice these exercises (and you can use any object or image that you want) for 25 minutes to 1 hour every day, for 6 months, to a year, and see how quickly you improve.
And if you’re a late starter, you cannot afford to ignore these lessons. Remember, drawing is a skill like any other, talent does not come into it, the only thing you need to succeed is a willingness to see it through.
Being able to draw is simply to know how high it is, by how long – or, in other words height width proportion.
So, whoever you are, in a relatively short period of time, doing these exercises will put you head and shoulders over your modern day art graduate, and even many art professionals.
So, if your still here, let’s get on with the exercises.
Images are available to print out at the bottom.
You will need the following:
Easel – any will do. A table top one is fine if you can place your print outs on a wall about 6-10 feet away and are able to sit looking at your drawing surface and the image simultaneously as if side by side.
Drawing Board – Any smooth upright surface will do.
Plexiglas or transparency – a4.
Clips - to hold your Plexiglas or transparency.
Whiteboard pen or non-permanent marker
Clean rag – for wiping down your Plexiglas.
Old paintbrush or knitting needle – This will be your measuring device.
Plumb line – or string with a nut tied to one end.
Tape or pin - to attach the images you are working on, to the wall.
Stand or sit at an easel that is upright and a little less than arms reach away so that your arm is out in front of you but with a slight bend.
Your muscles will need time to get used to this, if it’s new to you.
Make sure you sit up straight, this will not only prevent aches and pains from leaning to compensate your extended arm, but it will also reduce distortion in your drawing.
Your work surface should be slightly below eye level and directly in front of you.
You should be able to simultaneously see your drawing and the subject, without moving your head or leaning to the side.
Your print outs should be around 8 ft away, pinned to a wall at the same height as your drawing.
Drawing the Square.
Once you’re all set up in front your easel, in a decently lit room, looking at your subject – in this case a print out of a square, you are ready to start.
Now you need to make your eyes go into a deep squint.
This helps to filter out detail and stops you from over exaggerating or focusing too much on certain areas which will create over emphasis and distortion in your drawing.
This will take a bit of getting used to, but you should be looking through your eyelashes or half closing your eyes to a squint so that the square looks a bit like this.
Make your first attempt at drawing this shape.
On your Plexiglas or transparency, mark the top and then feel your way visually to the bottom and mark the bottom.
Constantly looking back to your subject, continue to draw out from the top, feeling your way out to the left, then to the right, then about half way down on both sides, and the same up from the bottom.
We just want a first strike, your best guess, and then leave it. Use confidant but controlled, straight lines, don’t feather or dab or make timid, scratchy marks.
Correct if you have to, but this is your first attempt. It will feel odd, you may have never drawn on an upright surface before so you also have to get used to drawing from the shoulder and the muscles may not be used to this, but this is an important thing to develop as you progress to painting.
Your brush strokes will grow more confident and painterly.
For now, you will make many mistakes, but you will get better, it will improve and before very long, you will feel elated about your new ability.
If you don’t make any mistakes at all, don’t worry, you’re not a genius, you are probably just cheating yourself.
The point of taking your best guess first, is to build an ability at quickly judging the all-important proportion of shape.
By checking after you have made your first attempt – Never before - you expose areas where you are going wrong.
We all go wrong in different areas and you will find you may have a tendency to either draw too narrow, or wide or lopsided and by using this technique, you expose the problems and correct it, instead of carrying the faulty trait with you for your whole career.
Each time you do this exercise, you build and hone and strengthen your hand eye coordination, until after a while, you will be able to draw the shape of anything in under a minute and you will know it is correct.
The need to check the measurement will diminish as you develop this skill and your new ability will serve you for your entire artistic career.
Another important benefit over, say, that of the sight sizing technique, taught in most European Ateliers, is that you will be able to draw to any scale, because the proportion will be accurate, so you’ll never find yourself with too small a painting surface, or wandering off of the edge of your paper, or cutting the top of the heads from your portraits.
Conversely, if you rely on measuring first, instead of your best guess, you will never develop this skill of hand eye coordination, but will always be dependent on your premeasuring, which is both time consuming and laborious.
Now check for accuracy.
The next thing we do is to check, first the width, by holding our brush, or large knitting needle and with arm outstretched in front of us and looking through one eye (your good eye). With our thumb and the end of the knitting needle or brush handle, take the measure of the width.
(Try to take your measurements from the same position – seated or standing.)
Holding this measurement and keeping our arm straight we turn our forearm and transfer that to the height.
With the square, this is of course, the same measurement.
Now, we check that this is the same on our drawing.
First width, then height. You may find when you transfer your width measurement to the height that it either falls short, or goes over the top line.
Either way, you always correct the width, never the height. There are always exceptions to rules, but this will serve you well.
So if you have fallen short of the top line, this means your width measurement was too short, so you are too narrow, if you overshot the top line, then you are too wide.
Correct the width
Check it again
Now it’s time for the moment of truth.
Remove the transparency and hold it upright from the top, looking through your dominant eye and moving back or forward until your drawing lines up with the image on the wall.
How did you do?
Make mental notes of any obvious problems, place the transparency back and make the corrections and then check again. Repeat.
Keep doing this until your image lines up.
Then, wipe it down and do it again
Keep doing this until you get it, bang on, first time, 3 times in a row. Don’t move on to the next thing until you have achieved this.
I will say this once more: each time you make your best guess, followed by checking the measurement, you are strengthening your visual memory and hand eye coordination until, eventually, drawing any type of object becomes a leisurely stroll through the park
The Root 2 Rectangle.
The route 2 rectangle has a ratio of 1.414. Its construction lines are useful in portraiture and ascribe to the natural laws of the proportions of the face.
Familiarizing yourself with these rectangles will give you an awareness of natural proportion that will resonate with the viewer.
As with music, the untrained ear can readily detect when it falls out of rhythm, or the wrong note is struck, the same can be said with proportion and the use of dynamic shapes – even the untrained eye will feel it and appreciate it without necessarily ‘’knowing’’ why.
The route 2 rectangle and the construction lines featured in the gif above, can be used to place elements within a painting to create a pleasing arrangement, or give direction to where you want the viewer to look.
The construction of the route 2 rectangle is simple.
A square is first drawn and then an arc is added by placing the point of a compass on one corner and drawing the arc on the opposite corner. The base line is extended and a vertical line is drawn up from the intersection point of the arc and back to the square to complete the rectangle.
Construction lines such as the diagonal line, semicircle, reciprocal line (which is the line from the square to the end of the rectangle) can all be used to place elements in a pleasing composition.
The symmetry and crystalline nature of these rectangles can be seen when the shape is extended, or constructed within itself, or rotated. The proportion remains a constant at 1.414 as the size increases or diminishes, ad infinitum.
In the picture below, the Root2 Rectangle has been turned vertically and placed over a portrait model. It has been constructed from top to bottom and repeated from bottom to top.
As you can see, the top boundary of the Root 2 aligns with the hair line, or top of the frontalis (forehead muscles), the edge of the square aligns with the all-important brow ridge at the top, and the base of the nose below.
The lower boundary of the Root 2 Rectangle aligns with Mental Protuberance (the chin) and the sides align with the boundary of the cheek bones (zygomatic arch).
This is a large topic to cover, so let's get back to the drawing.
Drawing the Root 2 Rectangle
So, as before, we squint down and take our best guess by marking the top and then visually feeling our way to the bottom and marking there.
Constantly looking back to your subject, continue to draw out from both sides at the top and, about half way down, and the same up from the bottom.
The next thing we do is to check, first the width, using a brush or large knitting needle and our thumb or finger. With arm outstretched in front of us and looking through our best eye.
Then holding this measurement and keeping our arm straight we turn our forearm and transfer that to the height.
Now we have to place a visual landmark by fixing our eyes on where the tip of our measuring device is - this is the first visual landmark.
With our eyes kept on it, we move our arm up so that our thumb is now in line with that visual landmark.
The position of the top of the measuring device at this point is fairly near the top of the rectangle. Remember, we always want to be judging the shortest distance. So, we use this as our visual landmark, which, incidentally is the top of a square.
We mark where we think that is, on our drawing.
Now, we check our drawing.
First width, then height.
Once again, if you over shoot your landmark, your too wide, and if your measuring device lands below the mark, then you are too narrow.
There is always the chance that your landmark is in the wrong place so make sure you check again before correcting the drawing. Carpenters rule: Measure twice, cut once.
Remember, always correct the width.
Check it again and when you’re happy, remove the transparency and hold it upright, to your subject, looking through your dominant eye and moving back or forward until the images line up.
Once again, make mental note of any obvious problems, place the transparency back and make the corrections.
Check again. And repeat.
Keep doing this until your image lines up.
Then, wipe it down and do it all again. Every time you do these exercises you are strengthening your hand eye coordination and drawing ability.
You are undergoing a kind of mental-pumping-of-iron, but without all of the sweating and grunting….
Incidentally, If you are sweating and grunting, and perhaps also swearing, then it’s definitely time to take a break, and come back later.
Don’t move on to the next shape until you have nailed this, 3 times in a row, first strike. And DON’T premeasure!
Route 3 Rectangle.
The route 3 rectangle has a ratio of 1.732 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851 painting of Caernarvon Castle at 152 x 232 is a ratio of 1.52.
Not quite a route 3, but Turner would have been well versed in composition techniques and well aware of the usefulness of diagonals, squares and arcs to serve his preferences.
We can see that a diagonal from the end section of the route 3 intersects the constructing arc and at this point Turner has determined the edge of his canvas.
Incidentally, deciding the 4 edges of your canvas or work surface is an important step, when you grasp the superior qualities of dynamic rectangles, you will never go back to a static 24 x 24 or 12 x 24 or 10 x 12 canvas again.
Shooting lines out (rays) from other intersection points, places the edge of the castle and the boats. A square drawn from within the route 3 reciprocals (in blue) places the horizon.
The crystalline nature of these shapes is such that you can cut them at these junctures and still retain the DNA of a harmonic shape.
There is obviously much more to Turners paintings than this, but it is non the less a very important observation. The same analyses can be made with undeniable results, when examining many of the old masters.
Turner would have no doubt been very familiar with these dynamic rectangles to the point where he probably didn’t need to draw them out when planning a painting, but just knew them.
That is what I hope to instill in you as you practice these exercises. Before long you will insticntively construct your drawings on these
Drawing the Root 3 Rectangle.
Repeat what you did with the Route 2, but this time we take two width measurements and fix in our minds the second landmark.
The reason that we don’t place the first landmark on the drawing like we did with Root 2 is because it’s too far from the top of the root 3 rectangle. We need to find a spot that is easier to judge and smaller distances are always easier to judge.
So, by moving up to twice the width measurement, we can place a landmark that is closer to the top of the rectangle and thus easier to judge on our drawing.
We fix our eyes on this spot for a moment and then, looking at our drawing we take our best judgment as to where that spot would be, and make a mark.
This is a landmark, and as you build your drawing, however complex it might be, these landmarks will act as a springboard for locating the placement of each element.
Drawing the Phi Rectangle.
The Phi rectangle is constructed in a similar way to the Root 2 except that the diagonal is taken from the center of one side of the square and extended diagonally opposite.
Here is an example of Phi and how it relates to the spiral formation of a shell.
Now, I have guided you enough, time to watch the video through (Not all the shapes are covered in the video, but it’s more than enough to set you on your way).