Drawing Class – Week 5

Week five of drawing class was something of a smorgasbord, as Pia tried valiantly to fit the basics of drawing into a term with only nine class meetings.

Ellipses. What is an ellipse? Pia asked me and got a somewhat-garbled analytic geometry version of the definition, but only because I couldn’t remember the conic section version of the definition off the top of my head. That wasn’t what she wanted, though, so she asked another student, who also turned out to be an engineer, and who gave her an even more mathematical definition. Ha! In the end Pia had to tell us the artist’s definition: an ellipse is a circle seen in perspective.

That’s a little bit surprising, actually. Go ahead, look at some photos of circular things. Better yet, try to sketch some circular things the way you think they ought to look when seen from funny angles. You’ll find that either your drawings look curiously distorted in a way you can’t quite put your finger on, or else all those circles, no matter how funny the viewing angle, end up as perfect ellipses. Cool!

Unfortunately, knowing that doesn’t make drawing the ellipses easy. We filled up a page with freehand ellipses, and they mostly look terrible.


Then we learned to wrap the ellipse in a rectangle. That at least keeps the proportions right and make it pretty easy to put the apexes in the right places. For practice we put circles (ellipses) on the top and bottom of a cube.


Then Pia set out some round bowls, vases, and bottles so we could put a few more ellipses to work. I ended up drawing the Goldschläger bottle I brought in.


Next up, shading. With charcoal we tried to turn a circle into a sphere. We didn’t have an actual sphere to look at, other than Pia’s example of a shaded drawing of a theoretical sphere.


The lighter shadow on the underside of the sphere is supposed to be reflected light from the white tabletop.

I used a lighter palette of tonal ranges than most of the others. This was pretty consistent for the rest of the course.

Now that we’d admitted that shades of gray exist, the next thing was to learn a new way to make grays: by crosshatching. We used a “Fine” point Sharpie marking pen, which isn’t very. We started by creating a set of sample patches of various darknesses, and then tried to shade another sphere, followed by a cube. We didn’t have time to finish this in class, so it ended up being the first part of our homework assignment.


Homework 5, Drawing 1. Grade: Check+. Pia’s comment: Very good.

As you can see, the hatching I used on the sphere ended up having very little to do with the hatching I proposed on the sample patches. Doing the sample patches first meant they were my most naive guess at how to crosshatch.

I tried to use curved strokes to crosshatch the sphere, to emphasize its roundness. Pia was worried it might end up looking like a hairball, but I think I avoided that problem (mostly) by using many lighter strokes. The “Fine” Sharpie wants to make bold black lines, but if you wield it lightly you can get smaller lines with lighter ink coverage. Maybe that’s cheating on a crosshatching assignment.

I probably would have tried to do some light crosshatching on the top surface of the cube, but the assignment said to leave it paper white. The eye fills in the rest of the cube. Or does it?

The other part of the homework assignment went back to the ellipses. We were to set up a nice composition using at least five round vessels of various heights and sizes, including a transparent glass partially filled with water with a knife in it. Contour lines only, no shading yet.


Homework 5, Drawing 2. Grade: A. Pia’s comment: Gorgeous! again!

I learned that not everything is an ellipse, because not everything is a circle. In two places, the varying weight of the glass walls distorts the shape. The top surface of the liquid in the wine glass isn’t round, because of the shape of the wine glass. The base of the wine glass is round, of course, but it’s grossly distorted as seen through the glass walls of the tumbler.


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