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Sketching on Location: Atmosphere

Renowned drawing instructor Glenn Vilppu continues with his eleventh "sketching on location" teaching installment. This month we delve into one of the trickiest realms -- creating the illusion of atmosphere.

This is the eleventh in a 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 as material in my regular drawing classes. As such the lessons can be part of a regular course or used by individual students as a practical learning guide. If you have not seen the previous lessons starting in the June 2000 issue of Animation World Magazine, it is recommended that you do. The lessons are progressive and expand on basic ideas. It is suggested that you start from the beginning for a better understanding of my approach. If you really want to start at the beginning open with the lessons based on the Vilppu Drawing Manual.

In the last lesson we discussed "Three Dimensional Figures." The main purpose was the use of tone to create the illusion of 3D form, this was one of the corner stones of the Renaissance and a useful tool in expression and as a strong picture making tool.

All drawings in this article are by and © Glenn Vilppu.

All drawings in this article are by and © Glenn Vilppu.

Adding the Unseen

Atmosphere, the air around us, is one of the more difficult concepts to understand. Even though the air that we breathe and are surrounded with is transparent, we still need to use it as an element that can be manipulated and made to serve our purposes. The transparent wash is my preferred medium to work with.

The simplest tool I have found to use while sketching is the fountain pen, with brush and water. I have even used coffee and wine on occasion for a wash.

The fountain pen is my favorite because the ink used will bleed when water is applied to it. When using pens with waterproof ink, an extra color wash is needed, and traditional watercolor, or sometimes even coffee as I mentioned, will work.

Many of the drawings in the previous chapter were done with just my pen, brush and clear water.

The first method we are looking at is the application of wash to separate forms. Look at the diagrams and examples; notice that the wash is not restricted to the form but is a general tone which comes in between and separates the forms. This is probably the most difficult hurdle for many students to overcome; that is, there is difficulty putting tones or lines where they don't see them. Combining this technique with the use of tone discussed in the previous lesson is a very effective way of working.

In the second approach we will use the tone as a compositional element to enhance the action of the figures. This approach can be combined with the previous one. Take your cue from the action of the figure itself. The tone is used to amplify the basic action of the figure and clarify the direction of the movements. It also can work as a complement to the action. Look at the examples on the following page to see which approach was used in each drawing. vilppu03a.gif


In these landscapes and some of the other illustrations, the atmosphere is depicted as a fog separating forms. The white of the paper represents the air between the elements.

In this drawing using ballpoint pen, the line is used in the same way as the wash going between and around forms.

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.

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.