Let's Sketch on Location

Renowned drawing instructor Glenn Vilppu begins a new series of articles that discuss sketching on location.


This is the first in a new series of bi-monthly articles about sketching on location. The articles are based on my Sketching on Location Manual.The manual was developed as a series of lessons that I use on my guided sketching tours of Europe, and that I use as material in my regular drawing classes. As such the lessons can be part of a regular course or can be used by individual students as a practical learning guide.

These lessons are meant not only for the beginner. More advanced students and possibly professionals will also find useful tips, new approaches and reminders of old ones neglected.

Each lesson in this Sketching on Location Manual is a practical approach that will help you get more enjoyment out of your sketching, improve your skills, and give you more of an understanding and appreciation of artists of the past. The lessons are not only "how-to instruction," but are actually a series of visual tools that help you organize what you see in ways that create drawings that are interesting to look at and express your feelings for the subject at hand.

You will see a variety of materials and techniques used. There is no one correct way to sketch, as there is no one correct kind of individual. There are no rules, just many tools that can be used in as many ways as there are artists using them.

These eleven lessons are organized so that each lesson builds upon the skills of the previous one.

Initially, these lessons were developed for the students that accompany me on my sketching tours and regular classes of eleven or twelve weeks that I teach. Now I also have in mind the many students around the world that have the Vilppu Drawing Manual and have asked not only for material related to sketching figures, but landscapes as well.

As a professional artist the approaches that I develop in this series of lessons are the same as those that I use in drawing from imagination, the first lesson being the exception. The rough quick indications, the use of ink and wash, the contrasting of textures, and all of the other elements that I discuss are methods that have been used by artists for centuries.

Point to Point

Point to point is one of the most fundamental developmental and useful skills for sketching anything, be it a still life or the interior of an airplane.

The main skill you are developing is being able to reduce what you are looking at to a simple two-dimensional image that can be drawn. In doing this, you sharpen your perceptive skills by having to judge angles and lengths two dimensionally from three-dimensional objects.

Since this is the first lesson, and much of what follows is based upon it, I will give several different examples explaining and demonstrating the approach.

I am presenting this approach in the context of making a sketch where you are trying to capture a specific subject before you. The experienced artist may approach his subject using the exact same method, incorporating concepts of design and composition. The selection of what elements to put in or leave out becomes the element of individual expression. In later lessons you will also make these considerations, but now I wish to concentrate on the point to point method.

On a sketching tour the first place you generally find yourself is at the airport, in planes, trains and coffee shops.

Step One

Pick a specific point of what you are looking at. In this first example I am starting with the ear of the passenger in front of me. In drawing your object there are several levels that you can approach the drawing from. You could draw the total ear as a simple shape or you could start with just a line showing a fragment of the ear. Regardless of which degree of detail you decide upon, the approach is the same.


Look at your subject as if it were a photograph that you were tracing. You need to see each line that connects to your original line. Look carefully at line two to see its relationship to line one. In teaching students who have never drawn before, I sometimes ask them to look through clear plastic sheets, and with grease pencils, draw on them as if they were tracing a photograph. In chapter nine of the Vilppu Drawing Manual, I give a basic historical discussion of the process related to drawing the posed figure.


In the drawing above I started with the ear of the seated figure on the left. The numbered drawings on the right and next page show the steps that I went through in doing this drawing while we were waiting for the plane to depart at the Rome airport on one of my sketch tours. The important point in this approach to sketching is that you pay careful attention to the angles of your lines and their attachment to the previous ones. Continuously compare each line by either holding up your pencil horizontally and vertically, or use a convenient line of comparison in the subject itself to help you see the angles you are drawing.

The drawing may look complex, but the process is simple.

Some More Tools

Below is a simple check off list that will help to remind you of the points you should be looking for. In time, these points become second nature as you draw, in the same way as driving a car becomes a normal process.

(In chapter nine of the Vilppu Drawing Manual there is a more complete discussion of the use of these reminders.)

All of the following drawings were done using the basic approach of this chapter.

While doing these drawings, I never knew how much time I had to do them. People, cars and any number of unforeseen situations arise, from curious observers standing in front of you to see what you are doing, cars moving or simply lack of time for drawing. I try to approach the drawing with the attitude that the point that I start with is what I'm after and any additions I can make to it are frosting on the cake. Getting the scale of objects is a critical element in the drawing, so it is always important to keep looking at the lines you draw comparing any object in relation to the objects that it is touching two dimensionally.


In the drawings on this page, the point to point method that we have been using has been changed; as I was drawing, I extended each line as I went, so that I got a more general feeling for the whole. In doing this, my main concern was to try and understand the flow of the rhythm that Michelangelo had gotten in his sculpture. I was trying to capture the feeling of the sculpture rather than a pictorial duplication of a group of figures. In a sense, it was like a gesture drawing with my subject holding still.


In looking at these drawings, keep in mind that they were done while standing in a crowd.

Glenn Vilppu teaches figure drawing at the American Animation Institute, the Masters program of the UCLA Animation Dept., Walt Disney Feature Animation and Warner Bros. Feature Animation, and has been sent to teach artists at Disney TV studios in Japan, Canada and the Philippines. Vilppu has also worked in the animation industry for 18 years as a layout, storyboard and presentation artist. His drawing manual and video tapes are being used worldwide as course materials for animation students.

Glenn Vilppu first wrote for Animation World Magazine in the June 1997 issue, "Never Underestimate the Power of Life Drawing." His drawing manuals and video tapes may be purchased in the Animation World Store.