4D Constructing Volumes: Feedback

December 9, 2014 at 8:30 pm

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As I expected, there was a lot of discussion this week, particularly in regard to using pencil for setup. This is what we will be looking at in Lesson 5 (due out tomorrow) so I am going to restrict my comments to issues related to Constructing Volumes.
Week 4

General Comments

  • First, once again there are a lot of amazing book and chair sketches. It is not easy to get the angles of the books totally accurate and it is even harder to draw chairs! But you all have tackled the big challenge very well.
  • The outdoor prompts will always be harder than the indoors exercise that I demonstrate. The idea is to give you a chance to apply the concept to something more complex, and unique to where you live. But the principles are the same. My advice, if you are finding the outdoor prompts hard, is to to try something as simple as possible to start with or a similar object to the outdoor prompt at home first. Drawing a chair (or two!) at home is good training for cafe sketching.640_AddingSubtracting Volumes
  • There is actually no need to use pencil setup for this ‘constructing volumes’ approach. It is primarily a way of visual thinking, a way of seeing through an object so that you can connect the parts. For the book exercise, it would be quite easy to do this without any guidelines so you might like to try it and see how you go.

Subtractive volumes
Sometimes it is easier to think of a big volume and carve out smaller parts.
You can also see this in the lighthouse example

Feedback Macquarie Lighthouse Volumes
I am carving out of the main box, two smaller boxes for the indent. In a similar way, I like to think of windows as carved out volumes from the main wall of a building so I get a sense of depth. Other elements – such as the cornices or window sills are added onto this main volume.

640_More ellipse tips

Ellipse tips
A few people queried my comment that an ellipse is symmetrical about both axes. Rather than try to explain this with words, I hope this diagram explains what I am talking about. It is a little technical (I spent a day doing research on this subject!) but the end result was an easy solution for drawing round objects without doing a lot of set out lines. This is a perfect example of how you can approach something by abstracting shapes or constructing volumes, and how the two can work together to help you see better.

640_Understanding Volumes Light and DarkMapping Light and Dark with Volumes
There are a lot of ways that we can combine the three ways of visual thinking. Having an understanding of volumes will help us map the light and dark better. We can just draw the shapes but if the light is dull (or flat) or the object is dark or reflective it might be hard to see the shadows. We can paint this flat light just as it is but the sketch could look flat so it would help to darken the shadows a little. Understanding how shadows will be cast for certain volumes will help you do this.

Drawing books and chairs
If your books look as if they are falling off the table, check your angles and see if you have drawn them too steep. Angles are often not as steep as we expect them to be. A very handy tip is to think about the angle in relation to hands of a clock. It was great to read that a few people found drawing the negative shape around the books easier. Negative shapes are great for helping you see edges better!

640_Drawing Chairs things to watch out forTwo things to look out for when drawing chairs:
1.  check the height of the seat (it is easy to draw this a lot higher than it really is) and
2. make sure all the legs align.
A little measuring (what we will look at in Lesson 5) will help especially for the seat height… stay tuned!

A few questions from my demo

White writing
I use a white gel pen and try to make sure that my paint is on thick and totally dry before applying the white text. Here is a great review of various pens.

Softening edges
I went over my initial brush strokes with a damp brush – this is best done while the paint is still wet but some paint can be lifted off after it is dry – it is preferrable to do this when the paint is still wet. For my demo the paint was still damp when I softened the edges (after the camera was switched off) and I also added a little water soluble graphite over the top.

Using watercolour pencils for setup and the effect on watercolour paint over
If you are going to use a lot of pencil marks, then
1. Don’t add watercolour paint over the top as you will get too much interference from the pencil. Perhaps, it is better to leave it as a coloured line study.
2. Graphite might be the better option.
I was able to get away with it on my sketch because the brown ochre is light, a warm colour (so it doesn’t lead to muddy colours) and I was putting darker colours over the top.

What details to include and what to leave out?
I think this mainly comes from experience – gaining an eye for the right amount of detail (after many occasions of over-doing it!). However, the way I approach my simplification is more structured. Using the ‘overall-major divisions-details’ approach. We will looking at this in more detail in the second half of the course.

Before you put on the shadowing, did you let the paint dry?
In Lesson 3, I waited for the paint to fully dry, but for this week’s demo some of the blue and the black areas were not fully dry when I added the shadows. This worked fine as the colours (local and shadow) were quite similar. I often work ‘wet in wet’ but don’t recommend that for people just starting with watercolour – it is better to wait for it to dry so you can control the results. When you get more familiar with your paint you can have ‘wet in wet’ fun, but the secret is to work fast and confidently. I am sure we will look at this further during the course!

Mixing Grey with Cerulean Blue

640_Week 4 Cer Blue grey
Here are few more grey mixes using Winsor and Newton Cerulean Blue  and Burnt Sienna – if it is a little green add a touch of rose or red.
The bottom swatch is comparing it with Daniel Smith Cerulean Blue Chromium and Transparent Red Oxide – it is not as green.


I have plans for next year to start reviewing the best books in my collection on my blog. So I don’t want to give you a long list of books without explaining why I recommend them! The one book that I do recommend is ‘Keys to Drawing’ by Bert Dobson – there is so much in that book!

What I am teaching in this course is the system of working that I have extracted from studying my own sketchbooks and from the way I have worked on location over the last 8 years. Coming from an architectural background has given me a different approach to art  – not only was I trained to see and handle volumes primarily, but I have a strong conceptual tendency. Everything that I am teaching can be found in many art books but my goal is to put these concepts together in a way that reflects my method of spontaneous on-location sketching. Being out in a distracting environment is very different from studio based learning.

I am very much indebted to the architectural thinking of Francis Ching (‘Form, Space, Order’) and am very interested in applying more architectural principles to sketching. His ‘Design Drawing’ book is excellent – 1/3 of the book refers to sketching, the rest to architectural drawings (plans, sections, elevations, perspective., projections etc).

Due to popular demand, here is my favourite  shelf of books – posted vertical so you can read the titles. I take NO responsibility for your Amazon bill this month!
Book case

PDF Handout

Download PDF Handout: SkN Foundations 04 Feedback


A few housekeeping items

If everyone includes the lesson number eg “Lesson 3” in the title or the description of their work in the Flickr group then it will be quite easy for people to search for work from a specific lesson. You can search the group at the top right hand corner.

Search groupC

There has also been a request for information about the sketchbooks/paper (and sizes) you are using. So if it is easy for you to add details in the description of your sketch, others in the group will appreciate it.

I have just updated the PDF handouts for week 3 and 4 so that the file names are all consistent – there is no change to the content only the file name. They can be re-downloaded here and here.

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