Faintly draw construction lines to remind yourself of the parts of the form you don't see.
by Bob Bahr
|Contour of a Woman Relaxing
by Alex Zwarenstein, 2002, graphite, 20 x 30. All artwork this article collection the artist unless otherwise indicated.
Zwarenstein's perspective lines greatly diminish the possibility of distortion in the subject matter. Note also that he drew the entire naked foot, although an obscuring shoe—already partially sketched—would likely get added later.
When drawing any form of even the mildest complexity, it helps to sketch in the parts you can't see. Once your hand and mind are trained, these lines won't be as necessary, although even the most accomplished artists lightly draw construction lines for helpful reference. These lines are easily erased or covered over later.
The simple cube or rectangle is a perfect example. Unless you are drawing from a vantage point directly facing one of its sides, any building will show how drawing construction lines can help. The box's angles disappear out of sight, promising some sort of polygon if seen from above, but unless the angle of the line is drawn correctly, your Empire State Building will suggest a trapezoid instead of a rectangle. Draw the hidden, back corner of the building, connect the lines to square up the form's angles, and the drawing will be convincing. We learn this as kids, but somehow we forsake it as adult artists.
Examination of drawings by accomplished artists will not turn up these lines, but whether they were ever sketched is a separate question—they may have been erased. Most skilled artists don't need to draw the hidden corner of a cube, but many will, just as reference. Leonardo faintly drew the hidden lines of machines and structures in his sketchbook so he could work their structures out in his mind and with his hand. That should be more than enough license for the rest of us.
|Twisting Gesture (detail)
by Dan Gheno, 2004, sanguine crayon, 24 x 10.
Note how Gheno drew the shape of the rib cage even though it is not visible from the surface. This allowed him to properly orient the rest of the torso.
|Preparatory study for Suit Shopping: An Engraved Narrative, Triptych, Scene 4
by Andrew Raftery, graphite.
Raftery drew the figures for his final prints naked before working on the finished version of his drawings in which they are clothed.
|Fey, Seated (detail)
by Sharon Allicotti, 2005, colored pencil
on blue-green paper,
25 x 19.
Note how the footstool hid the lower part of the model's right leg, but Allicotti drew it in anyway to ensure that the visible part of the right foot was properly sized and oriented in relation to the rest of the body.
| Most drawing teachers will tell you that understanding what's beneath the skin of a human figure will help you accurately draw what is visible from the outside. Sketching the basic shape of the rib cage, as Dan Gheno did in Twisting Gesture,
reminded him of the torso's orientation and structure. Clothes obscure
even the skin, so it's not surprising that artists throughout history
have started their compositions by first drawing the figures naked,
then redrawing them clothed in the appropriate costume. Jacques-Louis
David used this method, as did Thomas Eakins. Andrew Raftery, a
contemporary printmaker and art instructor, takes this further by
making nude models of figures in wax, sketching the resulting diorama,
and then working up to a finished drawing.
Many artists' sketchbooks include drawings of skulls, skeletons, and
muscle groups, and all are exercising this approach: Draw what you
don't see but know is there.
There is value in drawing exactly what you see instead of what you
know is there. Drawing through observation instead of relying on
preconceived notions is a crucial step in an artist's early
development. But extending a line you know is there through a form that
sits in front of it is not a fatal compromise of this principle. The
best way to accurately render the line of the road, even as it passes
behind that picturesque barn or copse of woods, is to draw it.
Similarly, if a limb or even the torso of a figure is obscuring
another limb (or a part of the torso), draw through the figure or limb
and complete the line. You can erase it later.
|Cartoon drawing for Portrait of Linda Wink
by Alexey Steele, 2003, Conté, 47½ x 33. Private collection.
in this fairly finished study the artist broadly indicated the lower
part of the model's left leg, which was hidden behind her arm and wrist.
|Reclining Female Nude, One Foot Propped on Her Thigh
by Auguste Rodin, ca. 1900, graphite,
12? x 7?. Collection Museé Rodin, Paris, France.
Consider the same concept from the opposite direction. Even if a
torso is obscured by a breast, arm, or another object, draw the
torso's contours and major forms. The torso is crucial in suggesting
by Dan Gheno, 2005, sanguine chalk, 24 x 11.
Notice how Gheno extended the lines of bulges beyond their intersection in "concave" areas of the form to ensure that these indentations were not exaggerated—thus reinforcing the fact that the indentations were merely the negative space between large muscle groups.
|Gheno points out an easily correctable mistake artists sometimes make:
drawing inaccurate curves—especially on the human figure.
Inexperienced artists tend to draw the indentation between two bulges
as a pinched angle, when the indentation is actually much more gentle.
The easy solution is to draw the continuation of the curved lines of
the bulges; the inappropriate severity of the indentation in the line
is usually a function of the artist seeing an imagined concavity
instead of the intersection of the major forms that creates the "concavity." Art teachers often repeat the mantra, "There are no
concave forms on the human body—only overlapping convex forms."?
Keep this in mind and these phantom concavities will stay reined in.
by Sigmund Abeles, 2006, charcoal,
24 x 18.
Collection the artist.
|Sigmund Abeles's sketch of a neighbor and model demonstrates two more
examples of drawing what you don't see (view an audio slideshow demonstration of Stephanie). Note how Abeles left more
blank paper to the left of the model than to the right. The artist
explains that he needed to â??give room for the action to act.â?
Stephanie was looking out the window, stage left. Abeles' blank area
gives her a place to look.
Secondly, in the early stages of the drawing Abeles sketched in
construction lines showing the form of the chair in which the model was
sitting—including lines showing the part of the chair hidden behind
the body. It allowed him to more accurately draw the curves of the
support and to more convincingly depict the figure's weight on it. A
believable figure of substance needs something solid to sit on, and
incorrectly rendering the curved lines of the chair would rob the
drawing of its credibility—and seemingly put the model at risk of a
|Perspective Drawing for The Pair-Oared Shell
by Thomas Eakins, 1872, graphite, ink, and watercolor, 3113/16 x 479/16. Collection Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
|When a prominent horizon, numerous boxlike structures, or crucial
layering of elements make accurate perspective crucial, draw extensive
construction lines. The exceedingly thorough Eakins often did.
|Bust of a Woman Holding an Urn
by Simon Vouet, ca. 1644, black chalk heightened with white on buff paper, 91/2 x 8. Collection Louis-Antoine Prat.
Vouet took no chances in drawing the entire elliptical opening of the urn, even though the liquid pouring out of its opening was obscuring part of the ellipse.
|The internet has many websites with
tips, complicated algorithims, and elaborate illustrations dedicated to
helping people understand the nature of ellipses and some methods for
rendering them. It is senseless for a draftsman to make matters more
difficult by not lightly sketching a hidden area of the oval shape.
If you are drawing a glass, draw the entire ellipse that forms the
bottom of the glass, even though you may only see the front of it. This
pertains to the lip of the opening in a vase too. Draw the complete
ellipse, and erase the hidden portions after you are satisfied that the
curve is accurate.
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