How the heck are you supposed to look at something 3D and draw it in proper proportion on a 2D surface?
It’s easy to copy a photograph, because everything has already been flattened into a 2D image for you. Photographs can be a great tool for illustrators who already know how to draw. But for those who are learning how to draw, unrestrained use of photographs can easily get in the way of learning.
However, there are good things to be learned from photographs at any level. For example, I have attached a photograph of two revolutionary War reenactors – a fife player and a Redcoat. One is obviously farther away from the camera than the other. I’ve drawn a few horizontal green lines overtop of them. Since the actors have been flattened into a convenient 2D image, those lines show clearly that, for instance, the fife-player’s elbows are at the same height as the Redcoat’s tails.
It is much easier to see these sorts of relationships in an image that has already been flattened into a 2D image. In order to develop the skill of being able to sketch what you see in real life, you need to train your brain how to look at 3D scenes and see them as flat images.
Imagine a perfectly horizontal line. Now sketch it. Practice sketching several horizontal lines on a scrap of paper. They must be parallel to each other and reasonably straight. Don’t just assume that you can do this – practice it at least enough to verify that you can do it.
Great! Now do the same with vertical lines.
If you can imagine and draw horizontal and vertical lines, then you can sketch anything, no matter how complex.
For this assignment, I want you to pick one subject and draw it from different angles, using horizontal and vertical lines to help find the proper relationships between “landmarks” in a drawing. A landmark can be any small detail with a precise location: the corner of a fold in a cloth, the corner of a box, an elbow, etc. Leave some or all of your horizontal and vertical guidelines visible in your drawing so that I can see your “ah-ha” moments. Don't use a camera, but instead train your brain to observe like a camera.
Here are some suggestions for your subject matter:
The human body - If you have a figure-drawing session available to you, use this to map out the form. Is the heel vertically aligned with the shoulder? Is the right elbow horizontally aligned with the left wrist? This could also be done with one of those silly posable wooden dolls that are supposedly a staple of all artist’s studios. If you use one of those figures, be sure to try foreshortened poses, because they don’t have much else to offer.
Perspective – Ultimately, mechanical perspective is only a useful tool if you can also sketch a box from imagination. And in order to sketch a box from imagination, you first need to spend some time observing and sketching boxes from life. Set up some simply, boxy objects, and use horizontal and vertical guidelines to sketch them without the use of mechanical perspective.
More perspective – Do the same as above, but with the interior of your house.
Cloth – Anyone who aspires to draw people for a living also needs to be familiar with cloth, because we have a tendency to wrap our naked bodies in the stuff. Take a plain piece of cloth (no prints or patterns, please), and hang it or tie it or drape it over something so that it forms interesting wrinkles. Use horizontal and vertical guidelines to sketch it.
Hopefully that’s enough to get you started. I’ll be around for most of the week to give feedback. Either late Friday or early Saturday I’ll be heading off on a road trip, so I’ll tentatively say the due-date is Sunday, December 23. Have fun!