Category Archives: Tips/Tutorials

Seeing Like an Artist: Edges and Space

Originally posted 10/08:

Do you ever get frustrated when you’re trying to draw something you’re looking at, and just can’t get the shapes to look right? Here’s a lesson that’s guaranteed to help you draw the accurate shapes of things. It may be the easiest drawing lesson you’ll ever try, since you don’t even need a pencil or paper. All that’s needed is 2 minutes per day for one week during your lunch break or your walk to school.



Positive and Negative Space

Since the dawn of history, humans have instinctively viewed the world as positive and negative space. It’s how we see the dangerous brown shapes of a hungry lion (positive space) lurking in the tall green bushes (negative space), or the beautiful full moon (positive space) in a dark sky (negative space). Drawing is easier when you know how to use positive and negative space.

Start this lesson by looking at the clouds and sky in the picture shown above. The positive space is the white and gray areas that form the clouds. The negative space is the blue areas of the sky. Take time to study the picture. You’ll begin to see the imaginary outlines around the clouds, where the blue space meets the white and gray space. Draw the outlines and you will have accurate shapes of the clouds in the sky.

Another way we artists use the word space is when we divide our entire drawing into distinct parts. This is called composition. Our guide, LOOPI the Fantastic Line shows where the sky meets the ground in the picture. This is called the horizon line. Notice how the horizon line divides the space of the picture into two parts, the sky and ground. This makes the composition of a picture.

Getting Edgy

Okay, so you’re walking to school. Suddenly everything takes a turn on the wild side. A gigantic dinosaur walks up and offers to pose for you? Wow! Could you draw it? Being able to see positive and negative space and edges will make it way easier to draw a portrait of your 12-ton prehistoric buddy.

Outlines of a dinosaur showing positive and negative space: Notice how the outlines break up the space of the page, creating a composition.




Can you spot the negative space in the picture of the dinosaur? Typically, negative space is the background area surrounding the shape of the object or creature you’re looking at–in this case a very large dinosaur. So, the negative space is the blue area around the dinosaur. The positive space is the brownish color of the dinosaur. Notice how the light blue space and dark blue spaces make the edges of the dinosaur’s shadow. It’s easy to see where you would draw the outlines to form the shadow. Do you think the shadow is positive or negative space?

Looking at the edges is like touching the edges of the dinosaur. And touching the edges is like drawing them. You don’t believe me? Take a moment to look at the dinosaur picture. First, in your mind, separate the positive and negative spaces in the picture. Next, imagine running the fingers of your drawing hand around all of the rough, bony, outside edges of the dinosaur. Now, imagine drawing the outline of the dinosaur, slowly tracing around its entire body–don’t forget the area inside the huge, beak-shaped mouth. Something very interesting happens. You’ll notice that there’s not much difference between the effort it takes to see, to feel, and to draw all the edges of the dinosaur. Your brain is opening up to learning how to really draw!

Your drawings will improve dramatically after you’ve learned to see positive and negative space and edges. In the meantime, turn off your computer, open the door, and take a walk in the world of positive and negative space. It will be the first step towards seeing like an artist.

Sketchbook: Animal Instinct

Originally posted 1/09:
Animal sketching can be a fun challenge. The fun is in quickly capturing a likeness of your subject, and the challenge is in accomplishing your sketch with a minimal amount of lines, before your subject decides to change position.

In his 1925 book Animal Sketching, renowned sculptor and inventor of mobiles, Alexander Calder (1898-1975) included sketches and helpful insights, such as following the rhythm of your subject. “When an animal is in rapid motion, or moves so that you do not expect it to return to its original position, leave what you have drawn and start a new sketch. Use a large sheet of paper and make your sketches small. You must work quickly and it saves much time in changing with the animal’s movements. Do not trouble to have your drawings right side up or sequential. Keep rapidly transmitting your impressions of the animal’s movements, and enjoy what you are drawing.”

Calder then goes on to mention animal instincts. “In drawing animals we must have the feeling that they are doing something, no matter how simple the thing may be. In spite of our vast mental superiority, animals have minds and use them. In man, reason has taken the place of instinct to a great extent. Animals think with their bodies to a greater extent than man does. In anger or fright, ears flatten against the head, the hair along the spine rises. The dog at sight of food drools at the mouth, male birds courting display their feathers. There is no self-consciousness: animals are always intent upon the thing they are doing, and we must feel that they are as we sketch them.”

Ready to give it a try? Domestic pets will usually oblige in your household sketching safari by providing an endless stream of poses to fill your paper. Calder felt that cats make splendid models. “If a cat is asleep, make it completely, luxuriously asleep, the belly supported by the floor, legs limp, muscles sagging. If it is alertly awake, get the attitude; all the muscles tense, ears erect, eyes observant, tail poised to give the best balance for a sudden spring.”

Some animal sketches to check out: Derrick Jr. DreamWorks Feature Animation artist and sculptor David G. Derrick Jr. likes to get out of the house to do his animal sketching. David took his sketchbook with him while traveling in Kenya. His recently published book, African Diaries has wonderful sketches of wild zebras, lions, exotic birds, and a wide variety of other African animals. David’s website features galleries of his artwork.