Learning to Draft

In the tradition of the great master draftspeople, we’re continuing to explore the geometry of design. Leonardo Da Vinci (whose famous Vitruvian Man is featured above) left behind copious notebooks design experiments, blueprints for futuristic inventions and anatomically accurate sketches of the human figure down to the last proportion. Not only are classical design principles necessary for drawing powerful subjects, they are crucial for creating compelling compositions.

Many times I’ve seen this trick done where a teacher or author draws on top of a projected work of art, or transparent sheet in a book, tracing the compositional shapes to illustrate the point that all great painters use geometry in composition. A few weeks ago we spent an hour in the afternoon with our own sheets of acetate and dry erase markers reverse engineering compositions in art books and delighting in what we found. Unlocking artistic mysteries never gets old and once you start seeing these compositional elements you can’t stop.

Learning to see is a huge part of learning to draw or paint and much of this skill is honed in the act of drawing. This weekend I’ve been working on a project involving plane changes. I drew a base grid and on top of it I used eight sheets of yellow tracing paper to experiment with how the planes shift to show width, height and depth. Below is an animation of the different parts of the project.


The perspective at which I took the photos is pretty skewed, but imagine the first image is the grid for a perfect cube and you’ll still get the gist of the exercise. We are working toward drawing a sphere and learning to use value steps (from dark to light grey) to turn form and start working in three-dimensional drawings.