Lesson 2: Contour Lines, Texture and Construction
These first two lessons have mostly focused on techniques we can employ to make specific marks, to build solid forms, and to reinforce and better understand how those forms sit in space. As we come to the end of the basics however, I want to introduce the technique that will be at the core of the next several lessons, along with a couple of exercises to get you started.
To put it simply, constructional drawing is a process used when drawing an object that involves breaking that object down into its simplest components, usually simple forms, then reconstructing those components on the page. With that simple, solid structure and scaffolding present on our page, we build over it, increasing its complexity in successive passes, and eventually reproducing the object.
The process is as follows:
Observe your subject, whether it's from life or a photograph. Don't focus on the detail, instead try and strip it away in your mind and identify the basic forms that exist. First look for geometric forms, like boxes, cylinders, etc. Next look for organic forms - sausages, ball-like masses, etc (these are still relatively simple). Last of all, look for flat forms - think about the ribbon/arrows from lesson 2, which are flat, but twist and turn in 3D space.
Identify your subject's basic construction. Think about how all of the components in the previous step relate to each other in 3D space. Think about where they connect to one another, how they intersect, and generally how they come together to create the structure of your object.
Rebuild this construction on the page. In the first two lessons and the box/cylinder challenge, we look at how to draw the basic building blocks, and how to rotate them arbitrarily in 3D space. Using this knowledge, construct what you've identified in the previous step in your drawing. Remember that you're not drawing the object right now, you're drawing a construction. Ignore detail, ignore complexity, just focus on that simple construction.
In successive passes, build up the level of complexity. You have a basic construction down - this serves as the foundation for more forms and more complexity. Any additional forms you add to your drawing must be supported by what is already there. I like to think of it like a building. You don't immediately jump in and pile up your bricks til you reach the sky, you build a foundation, then the load-bearing supports, then you create a scaffolding, and so on. Each one is a new pass where more information is added to the drawing. Make sure that before you move onto the next pass, that what you have on the page feels solid and three dimensional. Don't move forward with things that feel flat and flimsy.
Observation vs construction
Often when I see students discussing different approaches to drawing, observational drawing and constructional drawing are presented as a sort of dichotomy - two techniques that are mutually exclusive. This really isn't true. Constructional drawing inherently incorporates observation, as we cannot know which simple forms to start with unless we observe our subject matter carefully. Observational drawing can be done without construction, but if you ask me, that is an approach that is fundamentally incorrect.
Construction is all about understanding how an object exists in 3D space as a part of the drawing process. If you are doing this - even if not as explicitly as we do here - you are employing an element of construction.
If, however, you are working only in two dimensions - for example, drawing from a photo reference (photographs are by nature two dimensional) and reproducing it in your drawing directly without considering the fact that the photo represents a three dimensional scene, then there is no component of construction and in all likelihood your drawing will appear flat and unconvincing. Yes, you may eventually become an exceptional photocopier, but we do have machines for that already, and the applications for that skill set are fairly limited these days.
This is why if you have learned any observational drawing in the past, you may have heard discussion over whether or not it is okay to use photo references, or if only drawing "from life" (with the actual object in front of you) is valuable. In my experience, this is because it is considerably more difficult for a beginner to look at an actual three dimensional object without some degree of understanding or consideration for how it sits in 3D space. You're effectively forced to somehow process that 3D object into your 2D drawing.
I have generally found that when employing constructional techniques, like those taught here, it doesn't matter as much whether you draw them from life or not. There are still benefits to drawing an object from life, and if you have the means or the opportunity you absolutely should do so, but these techniques do help significantly reduce the pitfalls that come from working with 2D references.
A technique for learning
I do want to make one thing very clear - while constructional drawing is an extremely effective technique for drawing, we are using it primarily as a learning tool. I want to address this because a lot of students see the drawings resulting from your lessons and the first thing that pops into their mind is, "Well that's got too many lines!"
It absolutely does! But don't think for a second that because you want your drawings to be cleaner, that you should modify the approach in order to either try and hide your strokes (by making them fainter), or skip over lines that may be important, but that you feel you can do without. You absolutely should not. The goal for all of the constructional drawing lessons is not to produce pretty drawings you can pin on your fridge or display at a gallery (although constructional drawing does result in a rather pleasing aesthetic in my opinion, that's an irrelevant side-effect).
These extra lines serve a purpose - they're there to help you continue to develop your understanding of 3D space, of how to build up your constructions from the simple to the complex, and to help reinforce your own belief that you are creating solid three dimensional objects in a 3D world - not drawing lines on a page.
Eventually you will internalize this understanding. They're not training wheels that you'll need to take off at some point, they're simply exercises that will inherently improve your spatial reasoning as a whole. This is also why it's important to continue drawing for the fun of it alongside your exercises - that is, drawing without the intention of growing and learning. It gives you the opportunity to see how your approaches and general understanding develops, while applying it naturally to the areas of your interest.
Homework and exercises
Every Drawabox lesson consists of lecture content and exercises that are assigned as homework. It's best to complete this homework before moving onto the next section. As this lesson consists of three sections (thinking in 3D, texture, construction), it is best that you only submit your work for review when you've completed all three.
We're not getting into actual constructional drawing yet. These exercises are going to focus on your ability to combine different forms in 3D space, which is the last step before actual construction. The main difference here is that we're not trying to build up to a specific result.
The homework assignment for this section is as follows:
4 filled pages of the Form Intersections exercise. The first page should consist only of boxes.
2 filled pages of the Organic Intersections exercise
All the assigned work for this section should be done in ink, using fineliners/felt tip pens as described here.
How to Draw by Scott Robertson
When it comes to technical drawing, there's no one better than Scott Robertson. I regularly use this book as a reference when eyeballing my perspective just won't cut it anymore. Need to figure out exactly how to rotate an object in 3D space? How to project a shape in perspective? Look no further.