5 questions on constructional drawing

# Thread: 5 questions on constructional drawing

1. ## 5 questions on constructional drawing

I've been working hard the past week, taking different objects in my house and draw them using the construction method (break the thing down into geometric solids + draw through them).

The more I do, the more questions accumulate in my mind and now I must release them or I die:

1) What is the purpose of drawing "3D" and transparent?
I know it gives a sense of 3-dimensionality compared to the outline / contour approach, but once we erase those construction lines / drawn-through lines, the whole thing will still look exactly like it's been drawn using the contour approach, right?
In a painting, all these stuff will be covered up, so who can tell which approach you use? This construction method seems to be an un-necessary step; the only benefit is that it allows you to rotate the object easily in space and draw it from any angle?

2) There was one artist (was it Cezanne or Monet?), who said that all things in Nature can be broken down into the 4 basic shapes. What about drapery? How can you break drapery into the 4 shapes? It's crazy. LOL

3) Pls see my drawings below. I've been trying for hours but is unable to break the 2 objects below into the 4 geometric shapes:

Sandal:
My plan is to break the triangular thing at the front into a flat cylinder, and contain the bunch of straps at the back into a big cylinder and draw from there, but I fail. Stuck.

F-Clamp:
My plan is to break the row of rectangular thing at the top of the picture into a long box, but I dunno how to proceed for the rest of the parts. Ignore the sketches below as they are drawn from a different position:

Some advice would be greatly appreciated!

4) When you "draw through" the subject, how are you going to be able to "know" what's in the subject? Guess, estimate, imagine and fantasize? Because that's what I'm doing now. Say, I try to break a grandfather clock into the 4 solids and draw through everything. I'm not the clock's manufacturer, so HTH am I going to be able to "see" inside?! This is bothering me to no end.

5) Same goes for breaking the human figure into the 4 solids.
Because I can't see through the flesh and muscle, how am I supposed to know how much of the cylinder's ellipses to show?
What I'm doing now is to estimate, guess and rely on "instinct".

My drawings below show how I break the human torso into 2 cylinders (based on Walt Reed's book, "The Figure"):

That's all. Pls save my ass. Thanks!

Good day,
Xeon

2. Drapery is largely cylinders, so there's your breakdown.

A lot of the rest, it sounds like you're overthinking the whole thing. You don't need to know the actual clockwork to draw a clock, but you do need to know how the arm on the pendulum moves, for instance. But yes, breaking down the shape into a big rectangle first is important because it allows you do do proper perspective, and have a feeling for the three dimensionality of it.

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4. Originally Posted by Xeon_OND
I've been working hard the past week, taking different objects in my house and draw them using the construction method (break the thing down into geometric solids + draw through them).

The more I do, the more questions accumulate in my mind and now I must release them or I die:

1) What is the purpose of drawing "3D" and transparent?
I know it gives a sense of 3-dimensionality compared to the outline / contour approach, but once we erase those construction lines / drawn-through lines, the whole thing will still look exactly like it's been drawn using the contour approach, right?
In a painting, all these stuff will be covered up, so who can tell which approach you use? This construction method seems to be an un-necessary step; the only benefit is that it allows you to rotate the object easily in space and draw it from any angle?

4) When you "draw through" the subject, how are you going to be able to "know" what's in the subject? Guess, estimate, imagine and fantasize? Because that's what I'm doing now. Say, I try to break a grandfather clock into the 4 solids and draw through everything. I'm not the clock's manufacturer, so HTH am I going to be able to "see" inside?! This is bothering me to no end.

5) Same goes for breaking the human figure into the 4 solids.
Because I can't see through the flesh and muscle, how am I supposed to know how much of the cylinder's ellipses to show?
What I'm doing now is to estimate, guess and rely on "instinct".
1. In most cases, your reference may not be exactly what you want. You may also be at a zoo and the animals are running like beasts (har har), making it impossible to copy. Constructing allows you to change and visualize things intelligently that may not be apparent in front of you. This is a necessary tool if you want to do anything beyond copying IMO.

4. I think you should only construct what is necessary. I doubt you need to know the positions of every gear in the clock if you're only interested in the outer appearance. I doubt most artists would draw the internal organs of a human body when they are drawing a barbarian unless the said barbarian is having their insides torn apart. If it's necessary to know what's inside, research yourself.

5. You guess and visualize based on prior research and instincts. That said, there is no perfect cylinder that can represent the complex forms of human anatomy and it definitely wouldn't be perfect geometric shapes in the end. I usually just treat the cylinder as a "first step", establishing the perspective.

EDIT: As for the objects, you're doing well. Just watch out for the perspective of the initial rectangular prism of the sandal. If the shoe is going away in space, the lines of the prism should actually converge to a single point away from us rather than towards us. It would also be useful to add a line representing the facing directions of each figure (or make them boxes, which leaves no question as to where each plane is facing).

Last edited by Alex Chow; June 7th, 2010 at 02:54 PM.

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6. Originally Posted by Xeon_OND
1) What is the purpose of drawing "3D" and transparent?
I know it gives a sense of 3-dimensionality compared to the outline / contour approach, but once we erase those construction lines / drawn-through lines, the whole thing will still look exactly like it's been drawn using the contour approach, right?
Wrong. Unless you are very, very confident and had trained hard at constructing the form beforehand, the lack of construction always shows. The difference is roughly the same as between a square cut out of paper with a knife and ruler after careful measuring, and one that had been clipped out by sight with scissors. There will be accumulating mistakes that skew the result. Even if you cannot see the difference yet, it does not mean that I won't cringe in pain when I see it.

Also, construction drawing greatly aids with lighting and perspective. These are much harder to fake than a contour.

2) There was one artist (was it Cezanne or Monet?), who said that all things in Nature can be broken down into the 4 basic shapes. What about drapery? How can you break drapery into the 4 shapes? It's crazy. LOL
Drapery forms folds that are mostly incomplete cones and cylinders. Nothing crazy.

Although, you don't have to slavishly adhere to the four basic shapes; you can use planes, for instance. I often sketch with bone and muscle anchors and vectors rather than shapes. But it pays off to try different existing methods to develop your own: less chance of bumping around blindly or reinventing the wheel.

3) Pls see my drawings below. I've been trying for hours but is unable to break the 2 objects below into the 4 geometric shapes:
No kiddin', man. Your guesses are all over the field.

I think you should practice a bit with simple forms. Boxes, cans, books, pans, a teapot if you want a challenge... Get the hang of construction first, tackle complicated forms later.

4) When you "draw through" the subject, how are you going to be able to "know" what's in the subject? Guess, estimate, imagine and fantasize? Because that's what I'm doing now. Say, I try to break a grandfather clock into the 4 solids and draw through everything. I'm not the clock's manufacturer, so HTH am I going to be able to "see" inside?! This is bothering me to no end.
You are able to "know" what's in the subject when you know what's in the subject. There is no royal way into that ability; you need to learn what makes up the object. E.g. if you want to be able to construct a human figure, learn its internal structure and functioning, then you will be able to recognize its form from structure. Same with anything else.

You don't have to know the details of the clock's movement down to cogwheels, to use your example; but you have to understand how it works well enough to know where the pendulum is attached and what these holes in the face do and why there are three weights, etc.

5) Same goes for breaking the human figure into the 4 solids.
Because I can't see through the flesh and muscle, how am I supposed to know how much of the cylinder's ellipses to show?
What I'm doing now is to estimate, guess and rely on "instinct".
You are supposed to know where the muscles connect, and what they do. Then you can see them through the skin by subtle hints they make on surface. Again, you must know what you are seeing if you want to interpret it, and it is an absolute necessity if you want to construct it without a model.

"Instinct" is useless unless you train it to implement the knowledge. It will happily reproduce junk if you let it; you aren't born with it.

In short, stop rebelling, draw those basic shapes, learn perspective and anatomy by heart, and always think structurally whether you are drawing or not.

Or you could just squint and reproduce the vague blobs you see, but that won't help you draw anything not in your sight. It's either a lifetime of learning or a lifetime of Betty Edwards crap. Make your choice.

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8. Thanks a lot, Nezumi, Alex and Arenhaus!
Many thanks to Arenhaus especially for taking time to read my length post. All the posts here have enlightened me!

As for Betty Edwards crap, well, I must admit her technique did at least help me draw something which is "recognizable", but as you guys have said, the biggest drawback is that I am only copying what I see, and is totally unable to draw anything I don't see (which is why now, I still produce 2-year old stickman if I try to draw from imagination).

I've realized the importance of construction and structural-thinking after reading all these posts.

Thanks again!

9. I agree with Nezumi - seems like you are overthinking things and trying to follow/force the process into channels that are merely guidelines. For example I would never try to see that sandle as basic geometric forms - it doesn't relate to them well at all. I would just take an intuitive, observational approach and be careful about where things meet, cross over, negative spaces, etc. The clamp is more geometric of course but so complex that you just have to pay attention to perspective, center-lines, slab-like shapes, etc. They are both excellent subjects by the way - one organic and one mechanical. Just keep at it and don't try to make everything fit into a rule - approach it with a bit more direct, simple and intuitive sense.

BTW: the tapered cylinder is a good starting point for the limbs but the torso and hips are more boxy - check Bridgman for good ideas on that.

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Originally Posted by arenhaus
Or you could just squint and reproduce the vague blobs you see, but that won't help you draw anything not in your sight. It's either a lifetime of learning or a lifetime of Betty Edwards crap. Make your choice.
Betty Edwards talked about hemispheres and how brain perceives image.
She went much farther on something other avoided because didn't get it. And copying is just one of possibilities that her teaching gives.
IMO Betty Edwards crap is one of the best first parts of lifetime learning, that gives a solid base for drawing.

Xeon_OND, can't say much. I browse through your blog time to time, your hard work is very inspiring : )

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13. Further on Betty Edwards, she's a very useful first step in that she gets students to let go of symbols, which a lot of amateur drawing is full of. To start looking at and learning what a real eye looks like, you need to let go of the habit of drawing a symbol for an eye first, and that's one of the things Edwards does. You shouldn't limit yourself to her stuff, but it's an excellent first step.

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15. Thanks, Nezumi, Jeff and Coffee!

From Jeff:
For example I would never try to see that sandle as basic geometric forms - it doesn't relate to them well at all. I would just take an intuitive, observational approach and be careful about where things meet, cross over, negative spaces, etc. The clamp is more geometric of course but so complex that you just have to pay attention to perspective, center-lines, slab-like shapes, etc.
Yeah, but somehow, I've to find a way to break them into geometric forms, even if it's modified geometric forms.

While using the construction approach to draw has the benefit of the thing looking more solid and 3D (like what Arenhaus says), the main motivating factor that drives me to learn construction is so that I can look at an object (even a complex one), take it apart, simplify it, and then be able to draw it from any angle, any extreme perspective without reference. That's like, the most wonderful skill I can hope to have, because then, I'll be able to draw from imagination!

I'm gonna start by breaking simple objects into the geometric forms, then proceed to the harder and harder ones.

And yeah, I'm starting to love Bridgman now. I used to think his drawings are crappy, but I now realized what an animal I have been. LOL. Same goes for Loomis.

16. Originally Posted by Xeon_OND
While using the construction approach to draw has the benefit of the thing looking more solid and 3D (like what Arenhaus says), the main motivating factor that drives me to learn construction is so that I can look at an object (even a complex one), take it apart, simplify it, and then be able to draw it from any angle, any extreme perspective without reference. That's like, the most wonderful skill I can hope to have, because then, I'll be able to draw from imagination!
That is a lofty goal - be aware that none of the great figurative/portrait artists and illustrators throughout history draw from imagination without reference. They may lay out composition and develop an illustration/painting through rough sketches but eventually they go to the model for the real information. This myth that people draw anything accurately "from imagination" is completely false and is a huge stumbling block for many people because it gives the idea that one only needs to learn construction and rules. Observation trumps rules every time.

17. With the sandle you might want to think about the foot first, and I do agree that you're over thinking every single little thing.

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Originally Posted by Xeon_OND
Thanks, Nezumi, Jeff and Coffee!

From Jeff:

Yeah, but somehow, I've to find a way to break them into geometric forms, even if it's modified geometric forms.

While using the construction approach to draw has the benefit of the thing looking more solid and 3D (like what Arenhaus says), the main motivating factor that drives me to learn construction is so that I can look at an object (even a complex one), take it apart, simplify it, and then be able to draw it from any angle, any extreme perspective without reference. That's like, the most wonderful skill I can hope to have, because then, I'll be able to draw from imagination!

I'm gonna start by breaking simple objects into the geometric forms, then proceed to the harder and harder ones.

And yeah, I'm starting to love Bridgman now. I used to think his drawings are crappy, but I now realized what an animal I have been. LOL. Same goes for Loomis.
One thing I notive about people talking about basic shapes is that they use the expression "break down", as in "decomposing the complex shape into several simpler ones that evokes the final form".

I think it's an incomplete reading of the tools geometrical shapes offers you. Often time, basic shapes serves as a support for your complex shape. Instead of trying to build a sandal with shapes, you trap your sandal into a big prism.

You could probably trap the sandal into a big prism, trap the two other parts into smaller ones and then carve into them what you'd like. The basic shapes your use don't have to look anything like the final product.

They're mostly there to provide information such as volume, height, width, perspective etc.

Originally Posted by JeffX99
That is a lofty goal - be aware that none of the great figurative/portrait artists and illustrators throughout history draw from imagination without reference.
I get what you mean. If the Renaissance Greats, Monsieur Ingres and JSS can't do that, then neither can I!

This myth that people draw anything accurately "from imagination" is completely false and is a huge stumbling block for many people because it gives the idea that one only needs to learn construction and rules. Observation trumps rules every time.
And I thought once I learnt how to break objects down, I can re-construct them again however I want.
I always have this belief that professional artists can just draw complicated subjects from imagination from any angle with complete details.
Your words saved me and prevented me from ending up like Van Gogh! Thanks.

But, if I only have a ref photo of a particular subject (still life objects, machinery etc.) in a particular angle, and I need to draw that same subject from another perspective, what do I do?

In the earlier post, Arenhaus said something like "Or you could just squint and reproduce the vague blobs you see, but that won't help you draw anything not in your sight.".

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Originally Posted by Xeon_OND

I get what you mean. If the Renaissance Greats, Monsieur Ingres and JSS can't do that, then neither can I!

And I thought once I learnt how to break objects down, I can re-construct them again however I want.
I always have this belief that professional artists can just draw complicated subjects from imagination from any angle with complete details.
Your words saved me and prevented me from ending up like Van Gogh! Thanks.

But, if I only have a ref photo of a particular subject (still life objects, machinery etc.) in a particular angle, and I need to draw that same subject from another perspective, what do I do?

In the earlier post, Arenhaus said something like "Or you could just squint and reproduce the vague blobs you see, but that won't help you draw anything not in your sight.".
Jeff talks about a level of perfection we're not about to reach in 5 years time.

He's probably perfectly right, but the truth is that, for now, there are perfectly satisfying way of drawing "from imagination". Does it get to be at master level? No, but it's more than enough to create the optical illusion you need.

Plus, if you're into "drawing what you see", you still need to understand the world in three dimension. When you look at something, anything, you're actually looking at a 3d shape. So if you truly want to draw what you see, you have to understand all dimension of a given object. This is why simple contour drawing and copying doesn't work. It doesn't provide the experience you need to understand what is it that you're seeing. You spend 2 hour carefully following a single line, not for a moment contemplating that you're only following the contour of a 3d object with many other faces, only to end up with a goofy looking picture and no additional knowledge what so ever. You might have been drawing for hours but you're no wiser because of it.

This is why shapes are important. They're simple enough so that you can understand the 3 dimentional world you see. They're key to what we're seeing. They explain what is it that we perceive what we perceive so that you know why that contour line your drawing is crossing point A and not point B.

Master da shapes. Powerful tool to be used in combination with the other powerful tool that is reference.

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22. Really I'm just trying to make the point that this stuff is hard enough as it is - working from life makes it easier - at least if you want to be able to handle subjects in a fairly realistic way. The more simplistic, abstract, iconic the "style" you want to develop the more you can work from imagination - but the less it is "realistic" as well. Think about animation or comics for example - they become stylized and iconic so that they can be produced quickly and without reference - but they lack any sense of realistic texture, light, color, etc.

Light, shadow, form, texture, color are just all too complex and interwoven for us to be able to "make it up" and have it be realistic - or at least it is far easier to use reference and the model for that information. Anyway, good discussion Xeon - as usual! Hope it all helps...

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24. Your brain will build up a memory of how things look at different angles the more you draw. Do your 10,000 hours and then ask again.

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26. I can vouch for the basic shapes thing. I've only been doing Vilppu for what, a week and a half? And yet I'm finding myself looking at everything around me, from life drawing models to people on the bus to trees to buildings to cats to whatever, in terms of the shapes they're made of. Which, of course, makes it easier to block out those same shapes on paper. I've still got a long way to go (who masters something in a week and a half anyway?), but it's definitely helping.

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28. Originally Posted by Honorius
So if you truly want to draw what you see, you have to understand all dimension of a given object. This is why simple contour drawing and copying doesn't work. It doesn't provide the experience you need to understand what is it that you're seeing. You spend 2 hour carefully following a single line, not for a moment contemplating that you're only following the contour of a 3d object with many other faces, only to end up with a goofy looking picture and no additional knowledge what so ever. You might have been drawing for hours but you're no wiser because of it.
This about sums it up! I understand now.

And special thanks to Black Spot and Nezumi too.
And Jeff! (sometimes, I wish you teach in my school )

Thanks,
Xeon

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