The Cylinder

Rough drawing a three-dimensional looking cylinder using just two ovals and two lines.

Rough drawing a three-dimensional looking cylinder using just two ovals and two lines.

If you are trying draw a simple cylinder that looks dimensional, you’ll notice that once you get the hang of combining the two ovals and the two straight lines that make up the sides, it’s a rather easy task to turn the cylinder at different angles.  Simple adjustments can create a slight tapper and even make it look like it’s receding in space.  Our minds don’t give us trouble when it’s just a cylinder.  But when we use that same cylinder as an arm, for instance, our left brain can’t let go of the idea that this is an ARM, and as we al know, arms are very complex.  If we allow our right brain to just stay focused on the fact that it’s JUST a cylinder (for now), we can usually manage quite well.  Notice that’s it’s the curvature of the ovals that tells us if the “End” of the cylinder is facing more towards us or is closing away from our view.  It’s that curved line that tells us so much about the contour of the object and the angle at which we are seeing it.

See how the lines on this character give clear clues as to the angle of view.


This drawing was done by one of my students, Lindsey Alvord. Look at all the cylinders that are in this form, and how descriptive and solid it is.


Here's a photograph that illustrates the same idea.


Yer lookin right down the business end of this here cylinder.


In this classical Dean Cornwell drawing, the shapes are more sophisticated, but if you study it, you recognize that cylinders are a part of it's construction.




Drawing Basics

I have developed some material for classes that I have taught at Utah Valley University (Utah’s largest university in terms of undergraduate enrollment).  The classes that I have been working with are Drawing for Animation, and Drawing for Illustration.  Much of what we try to focus on in the class is the drawing of figures in a structured and consistent way.  We are looking for “SOLID” drawings, “APPEALING” drawings, and a way to create them over and over with consistency.  We start with basics of shape and form.  So much of drawing really comes down to being able to “SEE”.  Recognizing shapes and their spacial relationships is the biggest challenge.  We start with the idea of a shape.  The shape is a two dimensional thing.  You can measure it by it’s height and it’s width.  Technically, anything we draw on paper is by its very nature two-dimensional.  We focus on the three basic shapes, the  circle, the square, and the triangle.

Basic shapes.


Now this is not geometry or science, so a square is any box-like shape with four sides.  For the purposes of this kind of art, trapezoids, rectangles, and parallelograms are all squares to me.  Circles are roundish things that may look like ovals or eggs.  And triangles are things with three sides where the lines are sort of straight-ish.  Get it?  NOT geometry.

Forms are three-dimensional. Statues carved out of stone have form.  By scientific definition, nothing on paper can have form.  Even computer artwork is not in fact 3-D, because as it appears on the screen it has only two dimensions.


Basic forms.

So here is where I show you a drawing of the basic forms, Cube, Cylinder, Sphere, and Cone.  But wait, they’re flat, so they’re not forms after all, but merely shapes.  The whole idea about shapes versus forms having been said, the crux of drawing is to create an illusion of form using the two dimensional shapes.  This objective is so crucial to the artist that from here on out we have to give ourselves license to refer to shapes as forms as long as they are appearing to have form.  Let the mathematicians and scientists bother with all that other stuff.

So we must first understand that many things can be drawn very effectively by simply using the basic shapes or forms.  In this simple drawing we see that if we arrange a variety of basic shapes, we can draw a locomotive.


A complex object made up of simple and basic shapes.


To draw something like a human figure, we can use the same technique.


The figure made up of basic shapes.


Okay, these drawings are pretty crude and simplistic, but believe it or not, these basic shapes hold the key to solving extremely complex drawing problems.  It is not terribly hard to draw the basic shapes as just shapes.  It takes a little bit more practice to draw them as forms, and then start assembling them together.  Then we can start refining the way they fit together, and before long we can figure out fore-shortening, and difficult angles in all our drawings.


Practice makes perfect.  Warm-ups are helpful.  Practice drawing a shape and adding to it another, and another. Let the sizes change.  Just let it grow into something that fills the paper.  You can dedicate one page to spheres, one to cubes etc.  Let the lines overlap so that it starts to appear that some of the forms are in front of others.  Notice how these relationships can easily create the illusion that some of the shapes are receding back in space or coming toward us.  Have fun, discover, and let your hand, wrist and arm get comfortable with these shapes.


Warm-up and practice exercise.


The next thing we have to get familiar with is the concept of “Drawing through” and using “construction lines“.

Drawing through, means that we go right ahead and draw lines that would actually be visible only from the other side.  Notice in the drawing above that we can see through some of the circle shapes to the circles behind.  It’s like they are glass balls.  It’s important for the artist to be able to visualize the features on the other side of a form as well as those in the front.

In the following drawing, the black lines represent the features that the viewer would normally be able to see.  The blue lines are drawn-through and represent the artist’s understanding of what lays under, behind, or on the other side.  This is what we call “drawing through“.  It’s an important part of  “constructing” a solid drawing, where all the parts fit together in a believable and structural way.


Notice the blue lines that show through the form.


Construction lines are all the lines that are helping us establish the structure.  But especially those like the “mid-line” which shows where the body would be divided right down the middle, or the “eye line” which is a line that circumscribes horizontally around the head at the level of the eyes.  A belt that wraps around the waist is like a construction line the circles the body at the level of the waist.  This construction line  should be drawn through so we can see it in back as well as in front.


Notice the red cylinder that makes up the upper arm. The entire body can be formed using these kinds of cylinders, spheres, and cones.


Enough talk.  Let me show you lots of drawings.  Look for the basic shapes.  Look for the evidence of drawing through.  Look for construction lines.  Practice and observe.














Notice how bugs is constructed using basic shapes, drawing through, and construction lines.


Preston Blair's book. Basic shapes.


Notice the basic construction in this model sheet from Disney's Lilo and Stitch.





I play Requests

In my younger days I played in a band.  It was necessary to be able to play requests that may come forward from members of the audience.  I do the same thing here on my blog.  To the seasoned jazz artist, the phrase “hum a few bars and I’ll fake it” held as much truth as it did humor.  I may have to “fake it”  once in awhile, but not this time.


I was asked about some children’s book illustrations that show up in my gallery page.  Specifically these two.

Page illustration from Little Heroes. Sam and his dog Jax like to play in an abandoned old plane.

This is Sam, the hero of the book.


The book is called Little Heroes, Sam Takes Off.  It was supposed to be part of the Little Heroes Foundation’s ( effort to explain their purpose and ideals.  It may yet happen, but it has hit a snag or two, and is stalled for the time being.  I will show you some pages and art that I have done.  Most of it is still subject to change or not finished.  The text was rewritten a couple of times, so my artwork had to change to reflect the new content.

One of several cover layouts. I like this one. I like the dog version seen here.

These are two versions of Sam's Dossier.


This is the raw scan of the P-47 drawing.  I actualy did quite a bit of research on the P-47D Thunderbolt, a fine World War II fighter plane.

This is the raw scan of the P-47 drawing. I actualy did quite a bit of research on the P-47D Thunderbolt, a fine World War II fighter plane.


Page two. Actually the first page of the book.

I decided to change the dog to a sheep herder type dog after attending a sheep herding competition at Soldier Hollow, in Utah.

Sam is ready for imaginative play in the old fuselage that lays in the field. When I was a kid, some neighbors had an old plane like this in their back yard. What a blast! It was a Navy carrier plane. No wings.

An unfinished piece from page 6. This was the first dog version. He was hard to draw. He always looked stupid.


This is the color version. It lost something in the colorization. That would have to be fixed before publication.


Sam is noticing that this time the old plane is coming to life for REAL.


Here is the art for the cockpit, taken from actual P-47 photographs.


Here's the page layout for page ten. Nobody else cared about the detail in the plane, but I am very interested in history from this era, and wanted to draw the equipment in a way that a veteran would recognize it.


The old plane goes magic and lifts right of the ground.


Once airborne, it transforms into a sleek little jet.


Here are the raw scans of sketches that helped me develop the illustrations. At first I wasn't really locked into the P-47.


Hopefully, we can get the book one of these days.  It really is a cute idea and has socially redeeming value as well.  Thanks Mark.