Hints & Tips: Plein Air
Learning to Draw
9 principles of drawing you must know.
Occasionally someone will say to me, “I can’t draw a stick figure.” The intended meaning is that they have no artistic talent. This may be true or not, but the real reason is most likely they don’t have the desire to learn or have not been instructed properly. The principles of linear drawing can all be taught in a logical way, just like balancing a checkbook or adding up a column of numbers. In other words, it’s akin to learning any other skill, like playing a musical instrument, horseback riding or Karate; they are all teachable skills. To be sure, not everyone who tries is going to be a concert pianist, black belt or even a great horseback rider, but the rudiments can be learned by anyone who wants to put in the time. I hate to take the mystery out of the process, but drawing, in and of itself is pure mechanics, not art. The ability to read and write does not make one a great orator or writer. In the same way, art is made by those who have a “vision” that goes into the creation of art; our toolbox of skills is merely the vehicle to get us there.
The ability to create accurate drawings is a must item in any artist’s toolbox. The following nine principles will aid you in achieving competent drawings, which are the basis of any good representational painting. Keep in mind that shading, as well as other ways to create the illusion of light, form and detail in a drawing, has been purposely left out in order to focus on accuracy and placement of line. This is in no way a complete explanation of the topic and further study on the various principles is highly recommended to anyone wishing to further their skills in drawing.
- Measurement – This is the most important consideration, which runs throughout all of the other principles; when in doubt, measure using the handle of a brush and your thumb to check distances between two points.
- Arc – These are whole or partial circular shapes on the subject and their relative sizes. Artist and illustrator Joe Mugnaini, has written a book on the idea that drawing can be broken down to a series of arcs and angles. Though the idea is simple, it has far-reaching possibilities for a way of looking at the drawing process. An example of this could be a figure where the arc is the top of the shoulder and an angle is the position of the upper arm. Many examples can be found in the landscape as well. Look for arcs and angles next time you are drawing.
- Angles – Angles can be vertical, horizontal or diagonal. Using the brush handle to gauge a form’s tilt is an excellent way to help you arrive at correct angles in your drawing. The beauty of this way of working in the initial stages is that you don’t have to include all of the minor undulations and contours of the form you are depicting. You simply represent the major angles and directional changes of the form in order to place it accurately on the canvas or paper; embellishments can be added later. Remember to check one angle against others on your subject; these constant comparisons are what make for accurate depiction.
- Plumb Lines – The term is taken from the “plumb bob” in carpentry. These are vertical lines that are positioned up and down and used to align various points in a drawing on a vertical path. The plumb line also acts as a standard, used to “level or square” horizontal lines. Additionally, you can use the sides of the paper or canvas to align things on the drawing. In the studio, a T Square may be helpful to get your first correct plumb lines and horizontal lines on a large canvas.
- Level – In the same way that plumb lines are used to align vertical points on the drawing, level lines can also be used to line things up horizontally. Keep in mind that these lines can be real physical marks on the canvas or just mental notes.
- Mapping – The initial plotting out of important points on the subject. It’s the general placement of key drawing elements using dots, dashes and lines.
- Positive and Negative Shapes – These shapes help the artist to see relationship through a process of estimation as a way to enhance accurate drawing. Negative shapes are generally thought to be background shapes in and around various objects, which are your positive shapes. An example of this might be the space between two trees or the shape that is created in the crook of an arm when a person has their hands on their hips. There are many other possible examples. Artists need to use both positive and negative shapes because they are equally important in getting accurate drawings. The next time you are trying to figure out if your drawing of a positive shape is accurate, look at the negative space around the form; you may be in for a surprise!
- Triangulation – Like positive and negative shapes, triangulation helps the artist see proportions based on three specific points on the subject that the artist would like to gauge. Using lightly rendered lines that connect these three points the artist can then set up a triangle to judge relative proportion and distance between these points. Triangulation is just another way to step outside the visual box and see things differently to arrive at drawing accuracy, and can be used in the same way as checking for negative shapes.
- Perspective – The illusion of linear space in landscape, cityscape or seascape from a certain position. Knowing where the horizon line is, along with understanding the principle of vanishing points helps in determining the perspective of various objects and their relative angles. Remember, the word perspective means, “what you are seeing from where you are standing, sitting or lying down in relation to your subject.” If you are looking down on your subject your perspective lines will be different than if you are seeing the subject looking up at it. If you are looking straight across at the subject or to the left or right of it, your perspective lines will change again. Remember, the horizon line always stays at eye level. The study of perspective is something that all artists should take the time to explore.
A few final thoughts . . . These ideas are the result of time-tested methods that have been passed down through the ages by gifted artists/teachers who are willing to share their knowledge. My only contribution is that I have organized this list of principles into a form that makes sense to me, and I hope to others as well.
(In addition to Joe Mugnaini, who explored the arc and the angle, another artists I would like to give credit for explaining, but not inventing, several of these time-tested ideas is John Howard Sanden, whose book Painting the Head in Oil does a good job of explaining the concept of angles, mapping, plumb lines, along with negative and positive shapes. To these two, as well as numerous other instructors I have had the pleasure of working with or reading their thoughts over the years, I am deeply indebted).
Art Professional Profile: Salt Lake City
New Visual Arts Program Manager at the SLC Arts Council
When Kim Duffin passed away in 2012, after serving as the Assistant Director of the Salt Lake Arts Council for 25 years, everyone knew his shoes would be hard to fill. In fact, the Arts Council has had to find two people to do it. As we announced in the March 2013 edition, Kelsey Moon has assumed the title of Assistant Director and with it some of Duffin’s responsibilities, but as of May it is Kandace Steadman who will be greeting you at the Finch Lane gallery receptions “I’ve taken over most of Kim’s responsibilities, besides the grants for the Arts Council which are handled by the Assistant Director Kelsey Moon,” says Steadman whose new title is Visual Arts Program Manager. “I could never be the new Kim though.”
Steadman comes to this position with years of experience in Utah’s Art Community. Her involvement began with an Art History General Survey class her freshman year at BYU. “I fell in love with art and truly felt connected to it,” she says. This class inspired a metamorphosis of lifestyles, where Steadman decided to convert her major from interior design to her surfacing passion, Art History. After receiving a bachelors degree, she stayed at BYU to earn her masters in Educational Administration. This final piece of education went on to be the portal to linking her love of art and her preeminent ability to program.
After school, the Taylorsville native migrated east to Washington D.C., where she eventually took charge of the programming in the education department at the National Museum of Women in Arts. For eight years Steadman put together a series on women writers for the museum as her main focus, as well as putting together other series to expose visitors to artistic enthusiasm. “I even got to run a series on women chefs, where they were able to talk about their creative inspiration. It was so fun!”
In 2000, Steadman moved back to Utah and began working for the University of Utah in the College of Education. She decided to take advantage of her situation at the university and began a masters in Art History. She completed the degree in 2005, the same year she was appointed as Executive Director at the Museum of Utah Art and History. After five years at the MUAH, Steadman moved on to Salt Lake Community College, where she ran the community outreach programs for the Grand Theater. Her impressive job record is matched with a lifestyle full of marathon running, vegetable gardening, and canning.
The job opening at the Salt Lake Arts Council seemed perfectly aligned with where Steadman has been and what she wants to do. “I was intrigued by the job at the Salt Lake City Arts Council because I have always admired what the Finch Lane Gallery did—helping artists become more recognized in Salt Lake City. I think that’s what Kim Duffin did best—cultivating relationships with artists. I hope to carry on that tradition and make Finch Lane a place where artists want to exhibit and people want to visit.” Diving right in to her aspirations for her new job, she has already drawn up plans to give up-and-coming artists all the help she can give. “Working with Kelsey Moon, our Assistant Director, we plan to offer a series of artist workshops that will help artists become more prepared to apply for exhibitions, present themselves professionally, and manage their careers. Our first workshop is scheduled for September 21.”
Steadman plans to amalgamate all prior experience to improve and make creative strides forward with her new responsibilities, which include programming for the Finch Lane Gallery and the Park Gallery. She plans on taking advantage of the gap in plans for the new Park Gallery “There’s lots of different ways I would love to program the space. It would be nice to have the school groups we work with be able to have their kids exhibit their work. Maybe even exhibitions for the Twilight Series and Living Tradition Festival. I’d like to even make our gallery strolls more engaging through food or even music.” The possibilities seem endless as Steadman brainstorms in the sixth week of her new career.
On top working for the Arts Council, Steadman has come full circle and teaches a Survey of Arts History class at Westminster College. “I don’t know if the students will ever fall in love with the subject the way I did, but I can only hope they find the fascination I find in art that I see every day.”
Steadman’s fervor for the arts is radiated simply through her presence. She explains, “I have a-ha moments all the time through meeting people and just observing what’s around me. When I see artists' work I don’t know, that excites me. I really love what I do.” Her tendency to buy local work resulted in her home reflecting the passion for what she does in life. “There’s so much creativity. People are taking any kind of material and doing anything with it, and sometimes very successfully. I just really like to see what’s out there.”