Perspective With Just A Pencil!

If you are painting outdoors or attempting to paint a still life in front of you, how would you go about drawing realistically with just a pencil and paper? How could you transfer what you see to your painting surface? How can you judge proportion and perspective without error?

To make a drawing look right, we must understand that all parts of a scene (or landscape) are LOCKED into a proportional relationship which doesn’t change. When drawing, your job is to observe carefully what the relationship is and reproduce it accurately. You don’t want to guess what the proportions MIGHT BE or assume what  they SHOULD BE. Instead you want to replicate what the proportions actually ARE.

In my last blog, Use The Low-Tech Grid Method To Transfer Your Image, 4/8/20,  https://leemuirhaman.com/2020/04/08/use-the-low-tech-grid-method-to-transfer-your-image/, I explained how to use a grid to judge placement, angles, and proportion in a drawing.

However, using just a pencil and paper for drawing is even simpler and faster! The pencil you draw with becomes the tool for comparing and SIGHTING how shapes relate to each other. You take your sighting by holding out the pencil AT ARM’S LENGTH. (Your arm is locked straight out from the body.) You look down your arm and slide your thumb to measure the approximate length of an object. (Your thumb is a SLIDING MEASURING GAUGE.)

Sighting 2

In this way, you measure first one portion of a scene or object, while you extend the arm holding the pencil. Hold your thumb steady on the pencil to mark the measure, move your pencil while keeping your thumb in place, and compare the first measurement to the size of a second portion of the scene or object. For example, to find the relationship (RATIO) of the top width of a chair to the height of the chair, place your thumb on the pencil to mark and hold the width. Turn your pencil without moving your thumb, to compare the height to the first width measurement. (If width measures ‘one’, height might be ‘1.5’. In this case, the height of the chair is 1.5 times width of the chair.) You could then easily use this information to create a drawing of the chair.

Sighting3.jpg

Continue to measure and compare other areas within your scene to the first measurement in order to figure relative sizes and relationships throughout the picture. Angles can be determined using this method as well.

Sighting 4.jpg

Once SIGHTING with a pencil is learned , it quickly becomes an effective way to check size, distance, and angles in a drawing. You can scale an image up or down in size while maintaining proper proportions. The technique will become automatic and indispensable as you gather information and look carefully at your scene. The more you look into your subject, the more you will see!

Sighting.jpg

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For a quick video explanation of sighting with a pencil, watch this YouTube by Chris Triner, Drawing With Simple Sighting Technique, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Otv_l_qkML4

Use The Low-Tech Grid Method To Transfer Your Image.

The most useful tools are often the most simple and easiest to use!

Several of you have recently asked how to transfer an image to your watercolor paper when you have no graphite tracing paper or already enlarged template to trace. Here is a simple way to accurately transfer your image.

The grid system of drawing or transferring an image to paper (or other painting surface) has been used for centuries by many artists, including Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Durer. It is a low-tech, inexpensive tool used to reproduce, decrease, or enlarge an image.

Overview.

Draw a grid of lines over a reference photo, then lightly draw a larger grid (of equal ratio) on your work surface. To calculate the size of the second grid, work backwards from the desired final size of your drawing.

Method. Draw first grid and label.

To use this method, you will need watercolor paper, ruler, pencil, pen, and eraser. Try to work from a black-and-white original image. Draw a grid with pen (so it’s easier to see) directly on your black-and-white template image. You can decide arbitrarily on the size of the squares in the grid, but they must fit evenly on the image. For example, with a 5X6” image you might draw 1” squares – 5 squares across and 6 squares down.

Gridded Rose.jpg

Example of grid over template, 4 squares across, 3 squares down.

When the squares are drawn on your template, LABEL the boxes on left and top, to help you keep your place as you proceed to transfer your image onto your watercolor paper (or other painting surface). You might label boxes down the SIDE with letters – A, B, C, etc. You might label boxes across the TOP with numbers -1, 2, 3, 4, etc. In this way, you keep track of the lines you are transferring from each box to its corresponding box on the second grid. In other words, if you are duplicating box E3 from your template, you will look to work on box E3 on your work surface.

Labeled Grid.jpg

Labeled grid.

Figure and draw second grid, then label.

To create your second grid, determine the final size of the picture you want. Then you’ll need to make some calculations. Will you need to double the size of the original grid squares? Perhaps make them three times as large? What about making them on and a half times as large?

Measure and lightly draw the outer rectangle (or square, whatever your shape) for your final image. Use your ruler to determine the new size of the grid. You want the same number of squares in your second grid (not the same size as the original unless your final image will actually be the same size as your template), with the SAME RATIO of width to length. So, what size squares will fit EVENLY within your rectangle? For simplicity’s sake, let’s decide your final image will be 10’X12”. This would make 2” grid squares a good choice. Lightly draw out your final grid with PENCIL on your paper, and LABEL the new grid in a way similar to the original grid, e.g. with letters down the side and numbers across the top.

Rose:Grid to enlarge.jpg

Example of original grid, and enlarged second grid with same proportions.

Then, square by square, transfer the same line details to the second grid, one square at a time. Follow the details, from box to box. You look at where the lines start and progress, say in square E3, and approximate the same line placement. Your aim is to recreate similar lines you “see” WITHOUT interpreting and drawing what you think you see.

Get the large shapes penciled in, then begin adding some details. Keep looking at grid labels to keep your place and check placement. When your drawing is finished, check it over. Catch any mistakes now! Smooth out lines in your image and erase grid lines as carefully as well as you can, without damaging your watercolor paper. Then, it’s time to paint!

A final lesson.

Using the grid method encourages the artist to draw what is there without struggling with concepts of how things “should” look. While the grid might seem to be a constraint, it, in fact, liberates the artist from making unintended misperceptions relating to the way they think something looks. See my related blog posts:

Painting Begins With Looking and Seeing…, published 12/18/18, https://leemuirhaman.com/2018/12/18/painting-begins-with-looking-and-seeing/ ,

Avoid Painting Lollipop Trees! (Parts I, II, and III), posted 3/13/19, 3/19/19, and 3/26/19, https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/03/13/avoid-painting-lollipop-trees/ , https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/03/19/avoid-painting-lollipop-trees-part-ii/ , https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/03/26/avoid-painting-lollipop-trees-part-iii/ .

In summary, the grid prevents an artist from changing or misinterpreting important information. A grid can help you measure relative proportions to sidestep any distortions. And, finally, the grid also insures that you observe and take into account necessary constant vertical and horizontal references.

In the next blog post, let’s move beyond the grid method to learn HOW TO DRAW and to transfer perspective and proportion using just a pencil, as a moveable, low-tech “grid” for drawing, perfect for using out doors. The method allows you to transfer what you see without any template. Keep watch!

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