Archive for November, 2010

Perspective in drawing.

When I say perspective, I am thinking more along the lines of depth and form in the subjects that we draw rather than the typical linear perspective.  Linear perspective is very important to understand and master, you know, with the horizon line and vanishing points etc.  This post is about dimensional drawing.

I want to share six very simple and basic rules that will help you endow each drawing with dimension.

The first, is the idea of objects sitting at different points along the ground plane.  Typically we show this by drawing one object higher on the paper than another.  Difference in Surface position.

Difference in Surface.

This drawing with no other indications begins to suggest that the higher ball might be farther away simply because it is sitting in a different point along the surface.  This is especially true when we can see the contact with the ground.  In and of itself, however, it does not present an entirely convincing illusion of depth.  But it’s a beginning.

With two recognizable objects that we know are flat, there is no illusion of depth. It just looks like one quarter is sitting higher on the table top than the other.

The second is a difference in Size.

Difference in Size.

In this example, all we see is one object larger than the other.  In and of itself, it may or may not mean that one is closer, but remember this rule, it can become a powerful cue to depth.

Looking at the same two quarters. We know that quarters are all the same size. Therefore, one starts appear farther away because it is smaller.

The next is combining these first two depth cues.  Surface plus Size.

Surface and Size.

Now we definitely start seeing the illusion of depth.  Most viewers would interpret this as two balls, with one closer than the other.

The fourth rule is Overlap.


While it may be possible that the one shape is simply a crescent that is pushed up alongside the circle, this appearance of overlapping will convince most people that one sphere is overlapping the other, therefore making a very clear statement of dimension and depth.

Next is Surface Lines.  These are lines that travel across the contour or surface of the object and deliver a lot of information about the three-dimensional form.  These lines may come in the form of stripes on a costume, shadows, or wrinkles, but they tell a lot about the form.

Surface Lines.

With these lines we can no longer mistake this for a coin, disc, or plate.

Finally, we have Foreshortening.  This is where we see the shape receding into space and actually getting smaller as it goes back.

Foreshortening with Receding Lines.

Now if we start combining all these elements, we can really get some perspective an depth into our drawings without getting very complicated.

All six rules are being utilized here.

Here is the rule of Surface being applied on a vanishing foreshortened grid and it is pretty convincing.

Here is Size on the grid, and it does not make the smaller one look further away, just smaller.

Surface and Size on the grid. Definitely depth and perspective here.

Notice this optical illusion. These two balls are exactly the same size. Because we expect to see the further one appear smaller, and it is not, it actually appears like it is larger than the one in the foreground once we place it on the grid.

Remember, shadows are shapes too. When a shadow overlaps an object we get a distinct depth cue.

Now let’s apply these rules to some simple drawings.

Notice the diminishing size of the two hands. If done correctly, they will feel the same size, only different proximity to the viewer.

Can you see the other dimensional cues that exist in this drawing?

There is Foreshortening an Overlapping as well.

If there were stripes on the shirt of this character, they would be Surface Lines and help us to demonstrate to the viewer the 3 dimensional form and how it sits in space.

Even without stripes on the clothing, there are plenty of opportunities for Surface Lines. Cuffs, belts, watchbands, and Wrinkles can all create cues to not only indicate the contour, but also the overlapping.

Can you see the perspective in this drawing? It looks quite natural.

There is forced perspective that helps create the illusion of form and not just shapes.

Notice the size differential of the individual elements like the eyes.  This is not meant to be a mechanical thing.  You should feel it more than anything, but sometimes it helps to use a few reminders (like perspective lines) to keep the perspective working right.  Again, notice the little things like the eyebrows and how they overlap the head.  Every little thing should contribute to the effect we want.  All the shapes on the far side are smaller and therefore appear to be receding in space.  Simple idea, but if we can see it and train ourselves to draw this way, our drawings will become much more dimensional and appealing.  They won’t look amateurish.  Amateurs draw flat because that’s all they know how to do.

Compare these two drawings. Which one has the better use of the six rules of dimensional drawing?

Notice all the cues. Every little thing needs to contribute to the dimension of the drawing.

Why would we want to draw a square when we can draw a cube? Show as much depth as you can in each of your drawings.

By twisting shapes we can create overlap and therefore depth and dimension.

Can you see the cues being used in any of these drawings?

Can you see how Overlapping, Foreshortening, and Diminishing Size are making this drawing very appealing? Look closely and you'll see that even the feet that are close together are NOT on the same Surface level.

Notice how the stripes help us understand which limbs are coming forward and which are receding.

Another example of Surface Lines defining form and perspective.

I always think of these guys when we talk about Surface Lines.

Make a concerted effort to utilize these “rules” every time you draw so they become second nature to you.  Even your rough sketches should be indicating a lot of this kind of thinking.

Thumbnails, thinking with the pencil.

A sample of a series of thumbnails planning an interactive game.

What’s the difference between doodles, thumbnails, and comps?  Doodles are taking you from the “nothing” to the “what” (many refer to this as blue-sky thinking).  Thumbnails take you from the “what” to the “how”.  Comps take you from the  “How” to the “best how” or “more complete how”.

Thumbnails are not defined by what you are seeing on the paper, but rather the purpose and thought process that occurs in your mind.  In the end, you must define what a thumbnail is by what it means to you.  In time, you will come to discover what works best for you and your particular style.

This is a thumbnail version of one Howard Pyle's great illustrations.

Thumbnails seem to mean slightly different things to different people.  For example, an animator will describe them one way, while a landscape painter may offer a different explanation.  But there are some basic characteristics that are universal.  Let’s examine these characteristics so that as you develop your style and skill, you have something to guide and direct you.

Thumbnails for animation of Daffy Duck.

Thumbnail sketches from a painter's sketchbook.

Thumbnails are Small.  Why?  Small makes it easier to view them as a whole and not get sucked into the details.  When the size gets big enough, the natural inclination of the viewer is to start focusing in on the details.  The larger the image, the more we tunnel in on the parts rather than the whole.  By keeping it small, it is much more natural to see it from corner to corner in one glance, which gives us the ability to judge it as an entire composition, never being distracted by minutia.

This sketch isn't much larger than a postage stamp.

Another small drawing.

This drawing is getting large enough that we want to look at the details.

Thumbnails are Simplified.  Why?  We want to work from general to specific.  This works hand in hand with the small concept above.  When it is simplified there are few details to speak of, so again, it is easier to evaluate it as a whole composition.  It stands to reason that our initial efforts should be focused on general ideas and not the nuance of details.  By eliminating the details we are designing the larger, more general shapes.  If the design works at this level then we can embellish it, adding detail on top of the basic arrangement.  If it does not work well at this level, no amount of embellishment can solve its short-comings.

This drawing is composed of the simplest of lines.

These shapes are so simple they are abstract, and allow us to evaluate the composition as an abstract design.

This is only the beginning, but the details can come later if we like this simplified design.

Thumbnails are Quick.  Why?  Being able to execute one thumbnail quickly gives us the ability to execute many thumbnails in a relatively short period of time.  We are trying to generate numerous little pictures to look at without becoming burned out and spending lots of time (time is money).  These little pictures give us options, and open up a variety of approaches to our project.  The more choices we have to choose from, the more likely we can pick one that is going to work well.  Our creativity becomes realized in the process of making these choices.  Having options is always better.

It does not take a long time to sketch this sort of thing.

Since they are done quickly, we can afford to do more and throw some aside.

Another view of the same scene.

And still another, completely different view, exploring many options.

This just doesn't take that long to do.

Thumbnails explore a Variety.  Why?  There would be little point in creating a bunch of little pictures that all look about the same.  Because they are small, and quick, and simple, this is an ideal time to ask ourselves, “what if I tried an entirely different approach?”  If we don’t find out by drawing five or ten more thumbnails, we rob ourselves of the benefits of this exploratory phase.  Once we have drawn a few, we need to step back and think about what new direction we could take to make it look completely different.  We need to identify elements and deliberately attack them in the opposite way.  For example, if an object is dark in one version, let’s try it light in another version.  From there we will create a few more, then we repeat this process over and over until we have a wide variety to choose from.

See the variation on an autumn theme explored here.

Many variations are found with these sketches.

Although similar to an extent, the artist is trying the same idea in various ways.

This is a nice example of exploring variations.

Although the view is from above in both of these, the composition changes quite a bit.

They are Expendable.  Why?  Because the fact is, we are not ever going to use the vast majority of thumbnail sketches.  Think about it.  If we do 25 thumbnails for one project, how many will we wind up using?  One.  That means we throw out 24.  If we spend too much time on them, they represent too much of an investment and it’s harder to drop the poor drawings because we just spent too much time on them.  We ruin our objectivity.  If they are done quickly, it’s easier to say to ourselves, “this only took me a few minutes and it just isn’t working too well, I’ll just draw another and I think I can make it better.”  In the end, the overall improved result should justify the time spent on a bunch of thumbnails we don’t use, because the one we wound up with is great!

We pick the one that works best, and the others become expendable. We didn't spend that much time on any of them, so we can afford this exploration.

If for some reason you had to choose not to use this one, it didn't take that long to do, so you're not being hurt to leave it out.

We may have to pass on this one too.

All of these things are closely related.  Quick, simple, small etc.  A key aspect of the thumbnail is that it should be serving as a vital part of our creative process.  Creativity is defined as coming up with an original idea that is useful.  Sometimes great ideas just pop into our heads.  Okay fine, but usually we need to be able to conjure up ideas on demand.  This is not an instant event, but a process.  It needn’t be a long drawn out ordeal, but it does take a little time and attention.  And we do have to realize that one step leads to another, then another, then another.  After some time, some great ideas have emerged and stand out clearly over the rest.

In this example, the choice of how to crop it can be made after the basic sketch is drawn.

In these sketches by Scott Gustafson, notice how he has explored and searched for the right feel.

These sketches are so rough that they may only serve as notes to self, but that leads to additional thumbnails that become more and more refined.

The next pass of these same ideas becomes more refined and developed.

We should be able to start with an empty brain (devoid of any ideas), doodle around, start to get into it, generate some ideas, modify them, improve them, try some more, get excited, realize that there are some other, completely different approaches, explore them, discover some more ideas, realize that most of these are crappy, start focusing in on the ones that really seem to be working, make them a bit better still, and finally come down to two or three great thumbnails that will work quite well.  Then all we have to do is make our choice (then we’ve achieved creativity).

In this sample, the larger thumb was deemed to be too balanced and two additional thumbs explored what would happen if the darker shape was pushed higher or lower.

Do any of these seem obviously better to you?

Many of the thumbnails we’ve done will be easy to label as useless.  Instead of trying to erase and correct a bad thumb, just move on to a brand new one.  It will be a no-brainer to know which ones we should discard.  There will be another group that we may think is not too bad, but again, once we compare them to the best ones, it shouldn’t be too hard to set these average ones aside.  If we find ourselves in a pickle because we have three different thumbs that all look great, well, what a nice position to find ourselves in.  Ask some other people, get some feedback and make the choice.

Frequently, sketches like this are just a part of the process in arriving at something much better.

By the way, don’t throw any of your thumbnails away (except for the really horrible ones).  You never know when they may yet come in handy.

It’s all about exploration, trial and error (don’t forget that the error is an important part of the equation), and generating options.  This is what creativity is all about.  The concept that creativity is just having an idea magically pop into your head, is myth.

I think this one could be better, don't you?

This is what thumbnailing is all about, not the specifics of size, medium etc.

Don't be afraid to mix media. This one has pencil, ink and white-out correction pen all on colored paper.

Of course as artists, we should take advantage of the thumbnail process to refine the underlying design as we go.  In other words, with each sketch, we are looking at all of the design components and visual elements and evaluating it.  Most of what we are judging as we compare one thumbnail against another, is its design merit.  Where’s the focal point, is there unity and variety, flow and dynamics, etc?  This is a great stage to be doing this, for if we can determine that the staging is not right, it’s so easy to whip up another sketch that addresses the problem.  Once we solve one problem however, we usually realize that there is another weakness appearing, so we move on to address that problem.

The thumbnail phase is one of the best opportunities to study our composition as an abstract design.

The thumbnail phase is a great time to consider how the subtext, or basic abstract composition is contributing to the mood. See how the figure on the left is separated from the couple on the right?

If the focal point comes across in this small thumbnail, then it will certainly work when we enlarge the final image.

There are a lot of things to be looking at that will eventually make the composition work well.  If we don’t recognize or address some of these issues until we have invested hours and hours of drawing time, it can become very difficult if not impossible to correct.  It should become easier to see the problem in the simplified thumbnail, and it is certainly a lot easier to change.

This process is what accounts for so many versions being done in the thumbnail process.  We shouldn’t be creating 25 thumbnails just randomly. If you try to come up with a bunch of thumbnails just to impress your instructor and somehow avoid this process of creativity and developing the quality of design, you clearly will be frustrated and come away thinking this whole thing is a waste of your time.

It is important to thumbnail the overall composition.  To this end we must frame our thumbnails in a box with the appropriate aspect ratio.  We should know the size and dimension of the finished product, therefore, design the thumbnails in the same dimensions scaled down.

Though the unframed thumb on the left is useful to a degree, before we are done, we must frame it up to know how our composition is really going to work.

We should also do thumbnails in a full value range, meaning blacks and whites and two or three shades of gray.  The value structure of the composition is the single most important element of the composition, so don’t move onto larger comps until you have established the design with these values in mind.

These are nice thumbs in a full range of values. We need to be thinking about the mood that we are seeking.

Although done in an overall higher key, this is better than a simple line drawing.

While the gesture drawing in this sample is great, notice how the lack of lighting and shadow compares to the samples above.

You can also do color thumbnails.  Not everybody feels the need to do these, but the same principals would apply.  General colors, simplified and small to establish the basic structure.

We want to look at the basic color scheme. Cools against warms.

Again, the small size allows for exploration of different color schemes.

Keep it as simple as posible.

A lot of information for such a simple sketch.

Here's another idea, not exactly full color, but a suggestion of it.

Along with doing the entire composition, you can thumbnail any segment or part of the picture.  For example, you may want to explore the pose of the character in thumbnails.  This wouldn’t be a substitute for the entire composition, but additional studies to nail down the gesture and staging of the character.  It would be a matter of personal preference whether you did these pose thumbnails first and then added the rest of the composition around the selected pose, or the other way around.

Focusing on just the face.

These just focus on the character.

There are times that for one reason or another we elect not to spend much time on thumbnails.  We need to make sure that we are opting for this course for a good purpose and not just because we are being lazy or don’t feel comfortable thumbnailing.

Here's a sample from a children's book showing how the pages are laid out in thumbnails.

While these are nice sketches, they invite too much attention to the details and don't address the overall composition like we should in a good thumbnail.

This is what I would call a good doodle. It doesn't make a bold enough design statement to be a good thumbnail.

While some of the detail is now missing, this version makes for a much better thumbnail because it has a bold statement of composition of lights and darks.

Notice in this one how you can focus on the whole because there are few details in any of the parts.

In this one however, there are enough details to tempt us away from looking at the whole.

Stylizing, finding your voice.

As a disclaimer, the intent of this blog is educational.  Please do not be offended if I have featured YOUR art here.  Simply inform me, so I can give you proper credit, or request me to remove it and I shall be happy to do so right away.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Draftsmanship is the ability to control the pencil and render convincing illusions.  Here are some examples that have amazed people around the world.  You may look at these and respond as many have by thinking, “Those can’t really be drawings”.

Hyper-realism in graphite.

Another amazing piece of work.

These pieces are perhaps the most amazing examples of draftsmanship that I’ve ever seen.  But what they have in fantastic rendering, they lack in originality and design.  Why? because they are portraying the lion and tiger as they appear in any number of pictures.  That is to say photographs.  When you  adhere this faithfully to realism, you do so at the expense of your individual inventiveness and sense of design.

I believe that these exceptional drawings are most certainly created from photographic reference.

Photorealistic pencil rendering.

But I also believe that it is important for the artist to contribute his/her own creative interpretation and invention to the art, modifying and embellishing things from what they actually are in the world, so that they become uniquely beautiful and imaginative.  It is a personal decision that we each must make (how much to deviate from reality in pursuit of the “ideal”).  In illustration, we can call this “stylization“.

Here are some more drawings that are finely rendered, yet still offer a small degree of artistic interpretation.

Cath Riley's work.

The rendering is as realistic as it can be, but the composition here leans to the abstract in the sense that we are not exactly sure what we are seeing.   We tend to accept some of this form as an abstract shape (we recognize the hands, of course).  We know it is flesh, but not sure what part of the anatomy.

More Cath Riley work.

They are harmless enough, usually hands gripping the soft flesh of a leg.  Because of the tight cropping, the forms become more abstract.  The influence of the artist’s choice and decision is an important part of this design.

In this one, the rendering is still very realistic, but the hair has been styled to surround the face and make a subtle design statement.  This could also be styled in the photograph, but does represent to influence of the artist.

Realistic rendering and design.

This work is more of a fantasy image.  Very realistically handled, but beginning to assume a feel of something aside form straight photo-realism.

Unknown artist.

Okay, enough of this stuff.  It’s pretty amazing, but what if we don’t wish to render in such a way?  What if we CAN”T render with such realism?  To whatever extent we do not wish to approach our drawing with such detail, we can infuse our work with a sense of design and original ideas that will more than make up for the difference in draftsmanship.  When we exaggerate, simplify, and redesign reality, or make up something completely imaginary, we can call this stylization.  Truth be known, it may actually be easier for most of us to earn a living by not doing the type of work that we see above.  That is, if we can create marvelously delightful, original, and adorable images like we will look at below, we will probably find an easier voice in the marketplace.  Let’s move from the hyper-realism to strength in design and originality.

Brian Cook weird animal.

While the actual lines faithfully depict a ram and flamingos, the idea of combining them together makes for a unique image.

Artist: Hoon.

Likewise, the above image by Hoon, is drawn with great skill, but does not leave it to skill alone.  The concept is full of interesting and innovative ideas.

Rebeca Puebla

Again, this piece by Rebeca Puebla takes a lot of skill to draw and paint, but also has a very unique and interesting mood and style.

Kazuki Takamatsu

I’m not exactly sure what these images are by Japanese artist Kazuki Takamatsu, but I know I’ve never seen anything like them before.

Now I will just load a whole bunch of images.  I won’t say much.  Just look at them, and study them.  Notice how they use strong design and imaginative ideas to create images that are wonderful, fun and very very marketable.  Many of these do not require the super human skills of realistic rendering that we started out with, but they are just as valid and worthy.  Each artist has to find hie/her own voice through the style and techniques they develop.  What they all have in common however, is that they must be appealing and interesting to the viewer.  Each in their own way.  Enjoy.

Adolie Day.

Adolie Day

Adolie Day

Alison Jay

Unknown artist

Unk. artist.

Book by Benjamin Lacombe. I believe the illustrations are his also.

Blue Emu and Rain forrest.

By Cindy and Mindy.

Cathy Delanssay

Cathy Delanssay

Cheer girl.

What a fun horse.

Great design and great draftsmanship.

Vector art tiger. Real clean and cute design.

Another Vector illustration. Great design.

Cartoon style.

A dragon by our own Don Seegmiller.

Another Don Seegmiller.

How fun is this? Great color.

Children's picture books have great and imaginative style don't they?

Look at how they use the space.

Look at how they use the space.

Who would have thought that a green girl could be so appealing? It's in the design.

It take all styles for fun and diversity.

Gian Lucamatia (I think). If someone asks for creepy, we need to be able to give 'em creepy.

I believe an artist from the UK.

Very simple design work.


This takes very clean draftsmanship, and strong graphic design as well.

Fun and funny.

Great style for narrative illustration.

Cute licensing art by Ivanova.

Very intense rendering combined with wildly imaginative ideas, our neighbor, James Christensen.

Hey Trent, check this out!

Karin Coma. Or Karincoma.

Fashion designs by Kathryn Elyse. Very stylized handling of the figures and clothing.

Laila Hills, one of my favorites.

Another Laila Hills.

This is fabulous. Larsen.

Laura Laine. Look at how ingenious the bird/feather thing is.

A very elegant and beautiful face mostly achieved with graphic design.

Marsha Carrington.

Mary Engelbreit is the most successful licensing artist around.

Another Mary Engelbreit.


Moby Franke.

Artist, Nic.
This is actually a sew felt piece. Good design can be accomplished in non-drawing type mediums as well.
Patrice Barton.
Patrice Barton.

pbcb studios.

Created in computer, 3-D, but how cute is the design?

More pirate ship. pay attention to how trends move. Pirates, dinosaurs, and such things.

From Pixar's visual development.

From Pixar's visual development.

From one of my co-workers at DIsney, Teddy Newton.

Simply cute.

Rachelle Anne Miler.

Rachelle Anne Miler.

Some at-ti-tude here. The red headed stepchild, by Lynn Alpert.



Super stuff.


Stefano Morri (thank you Denise)

Stefano Morri.

Stephanie Fizer.

This guy looks a little odd to me. What do you think?

One of my favorites, Svein Nyhus.

Svein Nyhus.

Svein Nyhus (Norwegian).

From Thumbelina (the book).

Tricia Tusa.


Really beautiful, simple composition.

A weird family in comic book style.

Our own Will Terry.

Yoko Furusho.

I hope you enjoyed these.  I don’t claim to like all of them equally, but they show a wide variety of stylization and design.

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