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Sketching on Location: Three Dimensional Figures

Renowned drawing instructor Glenn Vilppu continues with his tenth "sketching on location" teaching installment. This month we delve into creating three dimensional forms with the use of light.

This is the tenth 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 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 "The Silhouette -- Positive and Negative Shape." The main purpose was the use of two-dimensional elements in a picture; contours being 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.

Let's Get Started

In the chapter on quick sketch, we discussed creating volume by drawing over and around the form seeing how lines are able to create a feeling of three dimensions. In the real world we live in, we see volume described not only by the surfaces of the forms which go around, but also by the light and the shadow that distinguish the sides of figures, or the planes, as we call them, artistically speaking. To create this same intense feeling of reality in our drawings, we need to be able to see our subjects as having tops, fronts, sides and bottoms. The simplicity of the box is the starting point for visualizing these planes. The use of the box for simplification is a traditional approach with a long history going back into the Renaissance and beyond. Luca Camiaso and Albert Durer are good examples of artists that used it to great advantage.

Look at the examples on the following pages to see the progression from the box to the developed sketch. Our next step will be to define these planes with values of tone that give the illusion of light falling on them. When we are working in the field, the direction of light is usually established for us. As we discovered in earlier chapters, we do not necessarily need to take the light that is given to us, but have the option of making it come from wherever we need to have it come from for our purposes. Although we aren't stuck with the direction of light given, we should try to be consistent in our light source.

When working in the field, I find using a simple watercolor wash the quickest and easiest way to create a sense of light that describes form. The tone can also be applied when you get home or at a later time. As you notice in the examples, pencil works equally well.


In the next chapter I will discuss using the wash more thoroughly. Compare the drawings above to see how the wash helped to show the volume of the figures.

Continue on to see more examples.


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.