Wednesday 5/30: Units, Angles, Grids, and More Chairs

Today was focused on angles, measurements, and imposing a grid on an image. Systematizing drawing like this really works for my understanding—it’s just like graphing! I’m an economics geek. Staring at graphs until I understand them is most of what I do.

Professor Ruby showed us an interesting Powerpoint on composition before we began drawing today. I’d had some instruction in composition before this, but it had focused on ways to make a piece visually interesting in whatever way the teacher had wanted to highlight, and less on the basics of how to place the subject on the page so that it would fill the available space as well as possible. With all the trouble I had later with truly seeing the proportions of my subject, the reminder to confirm that I was measuring at the widest and tallest points of my subject from my perspective was very helpful.
A poster on composition in the studio
Professor Ruby pointed out that the third line you draw determines the scale of the entire drawing. Thinking geometrically, this seems obvious—you’re defining the length of a line segment at that point—but I’d never really thought about it before. I’ve often started fretting about the scale of a drawing much further into the process, but now I realize that I should start planning the scale of my drawings earlier.

We also began learning the string technique, which will get its own post. The string technique is basically a formalized way to use a string to measure units and angles in order to see and draw them more clearly. It’s similar to (and a little easier than) what I was trying to do by measuring with my fingers on my initial drawing. You hold an end of a string in each hand at arm’s length with elbows locked, and close one eye. You can then rotate the string to match the angles of your subject and compare them with what you’ve drawn. You can also pinch out a length of string that is the same length as a part of your subject, and compare it to other parts of your subject. If you can find parts that are equal (or multiples of each other’s size), it helps in maintaining the proportions of the subject in your drawing, even though your drawing is scaled. The string technique helped me to start thinking in terms of proportions, instead of absolute measurements.

My drawing partway through classThis was the first day we spent formally drawing in the studio. This project is another chair, drawn with vine charcoal. It’s interesting to me how much a difference in materials and location affects how I draw and how I approach a project. Drawing my own chair with pencil (not even a nice pencil from an art store) on printer paper while sitting on my living room floor, it’s hard to take my work very seriously. As I mentioned in my first post, I felt a little silly devising my own methods of measurement in my initial drawings, but put me in a studio and hand me a piece of charcoal, and the string technique seems like the most natural thing in the world. I like taking these projects seriously—it’s  much more relaxing to stop judging myself and my abilities for a while. To me, it’s like the difference between going into an office dressed like all the other interns and dressing like a real employee. Yes, I own a disturbing number of bureaucracy-friendly suits for a 22 year-old, but it keeps the impostor syndrome at bay.

When I first started drawing, I spent a lot of time confirming that, yes, the seat of the chair is horizontal from where I’m standing, and yes, the sides are mostly vertical. It was interesting for me to realize that from where I’m standing, the chair looks very wide relative to the length of the back of the chair, for example. I know that length is greater than the width of the seat of the chair, and it’s tempting to make my drawing reflect that, but that’s not showing what I see.

I stayed for about half an hour after class, correcting, over-correcting, and re-correcting the chair legs and checking and re-checking proportions. It was completely fascinating.


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