Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

October 28, 2018

Drawing accuracy, the basics

Filed under: Dorset,Drawing,How to do,Perspective,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 4:26 pm

When you have learnt something to a certain standard you often forget what gave you so much trouble when you first started learning. Parts of the process become too obvious to mention when trying to help another artist who is struggling with a tricky scene. Typically it takes me about 5 to 10 min to do my drawing out. The process is so ingrained that I find it quite hard to break down the steps I take.

I certainly take a different approach to drawing out a cityscape than I do for a landscape. So that is my first step. What needs drawing out and to what degree. A subject consisting of hills and trees requires less precision, but still requires an understanding of general characteristics. Such a subject is also more mutable so we can easily make alterations to improve our composition.

A townscape with people and cars requires more careful drawing because the bounds, between which people will feel things look wrong, are narrower. If our perspective is out then the viewer has the choice of either thinking the building is distorted, or the artist got it wrong… I’m afraid they will always go for the latter. Moving stuff around also becomes harder and really an idea of the rules of perspective is required to carry it off in many cases.

Most pictures have a focus. Where the eye will come to rest. Usually it is the key thing in the composition, a boat on a beach, a tree on a hill, a figure on a cliff. The very first thing to decide is how big and where on your canvas this thing should be.

Rule 1 is put the most important thing, the focus, in first. Take time to get it in a good place and decide how big it needs to be. I frequently try 10 or so different places before plumping for a final position, time is never wasted on this stage and don’t move on until you are satisfied.

Rule 2 is similar find what you feel the next most important thing is. Once decided you need to get it in the right relative position to the first object. An example is easier than words at this point!


Here we have both buildings and shrubbery. It is easy to see our focus, the eye is always going to end up on Corfe castle. So that is no 1, we get to the castle via the track so that is no 2.


So no 1 is our castle. I find the turning point of the track (no 2) by holding up my brush to determine the angle from my castle base (grey dotted line) I know it must be somewhere along this line. Next I estimate how much to the left of the castle the turn is and drop a vertical. Where the two lines cross will get the turn roughly in position. Holding our brush up and transferring the angles will get the rest of the track in. The skill to learn here is being able to transfer an angle from the scene before you to the canvas. To make the process easier try to get your canvas dead vertical and at eye level as this makes transferring angles a whole lot easier. If you have to have it lower make sure that it is exactly at right angles to your gaze. As a guide: if none of the edges of your board show any perspective tapering then you are about right.


The next line is the tree line (3). I have more leeway here and may want to adapt it to improve the composition. Also having the track and the castle in place makes it easier to draw in. No 4 is the hedge line and finally 5 is the foreground dark. For this scene that is all I would initially draw, perhaps 7min in total, 5min of which I would spend on the first two items. Which brings me to…

Rule 3 don’t over draw, put your time into the bits that will ring alarm bells in the viewer’s mind. People are usually the hardest to get right so time spent refining figures is never wasted. Cars, boats and buildings are also worth taking care with. Trees and shrubbery however are less crucial. Drawing details can be put off until later, indeed you might find many of them are not needed at all.

For a cityscape the process would be the same but there would just be more items and more angles would need to be checked. On the other hand there are lots of straight lines in such subjects which makes checking easy. Which brings me neatly to the final rule.

Rule 4 check and check again. Transfer an angle three or four times, don’t assume once will nail it!

You will often see people squinting at their brush held at arms length to work out relative sizes. If the person hasn’t dropped their head to put one eye down on to their shoulder then they don’t know how to use that method! It is in any case a very crude method, angles with verticals and horizontals is far more accurate and easier. However the holding the brush out and so forth looks really cool so I do it anyway to impress passers by.

A few drawings to finish, I am very behind with blogging due to trying to do too many things!

Poole, pen and ink

Here is one of Poole where I forgot rule 1! I didn’t settle on a firm focus… too late to add one now.


Poole, scalp en's Court, drawing, pen and ink

Another demonstration of rule 1 not being adhered to! The people were intended as the focus but I placed them dead centre… the best place would have been just coming through the arch… also not enough time spent on getting the figures believable. Pity really as the rest is good. It is Scalpen’s Court in Poole.

Shaftesbury, Dorset, Pen and Ink, drawing

Here finally I remembered my own rules! I have wanted to do this road in Shaftesbury for a while. The gable end of the pub with its chimney against the sky is a shoe in for no 1 and the road leading us in for no 2. Once in the rest of the picture is fairly easy to assemble. Pen and Ink.

Durdle Door, Coast, dorset, pen and ink, drawing

Not the easiest of pen and ink subjects, it is of course Durdle Door. I remember trying the arch in at least six or seven places before settling on its final position. Once in the Horizon was next, then the line of the beach. For the sea and sky I only draw soft lines as guides to directions of flow. These allow me to work fairly freely when hatching in the sea and sky. Pen and Ink.

Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Hovis, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing

The famous Gold Hill in Shaftesbury. Here our No 1 is easy if subtle, the Church tower needs to be in prime position. The curve of the steep road is a no brainer for No 2. It is the relationship between these two that sets the scene. With the road and church in I next did the roof and chimney line, with that in position I could find the gutter line and then extend down to separate the buildings. People are tempted to divide into buildings early on, but usually in this sort of circumstance that results in the building being stretched horizontally. Lastly I drew in the Abbey wall to the left.

To find the size of my church tower I held up the paper at arms length until it covered my desired composition then keeping my arm fixed and my head still I lowered the paper vertically until I could mark out the width and position on the top edge of the paper. While I was at it I noted the positions of the chimneys as well. Pen and Ink.

Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Dorset, Pen and Ink, Drawing

Here is the same street from the top… the classic “Hovis Hill” view. The little group of buildings at the bottom is my focus and the first thing I placed, but I then positioned the man’s head where the road passes from view so as to give it more weight. It also produces a pull between the distant turn and the nearer figure. This is just the sort of subject that foxes people as the many excruciatingly badly drawn versions you will find on Google will attest. If you are systematic though even this sort of scene with its extreme angles and unexpected relationships can be drawn out surprisingly rapidly.

I debated with myself about calling these tips “rules” so I will remind that rules are not there for every circumstance only as a general guide. I do find however that more paintings fail due to rule 1 being forgotten about in the excitement of getting going on a potential winner than any other cause.

That’s it oil paintings next blog, done the paintings I just need to pull my finger out with the blogging!

July 25, 2018

Sun Cast Shadows

Filed under: Drawing,How to do,Perspective,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Rob Adams @ 6:04 pm

This is a brief tutorial on the construction of shadows as they are cast from the sun. We all know how descriptive they are, the long shadow of a fence over a path, a telegraph pole over a road, spreading from the feet of people on the beach at the end of the day. Shadows in a painting tell the viewer more about the day than you might expect. A shadow crossing a road shows how high the verges are relative to the road, describing the shape of the land. We instinctively understand from shadows what time of day it is, even which season. If you understand how they are cast and how to get them correct you have quite a powerful tool in your painting box.

Here I want to deal briefly with the simplest of possible cases, but hopefully give you an idea of how the same methods might be used in more complex scenarios.

So our first example, a set of posts.

shadows, tutorial

The time is 1pm. See the changing angle of the shadows and how although in reality all the shadows are the same length in our perspective view they vary in thickness and length. Let’s move the clock on an hour.


Shadows, tutorial

Here we are at 2pm the sun is at it’s highest due to the magic of daylight saving summer time! People often imagine the shadows are splayed because the rays radiating from the sun, but this is not the case. The sun is 93million miles away so if we looked straight down from the top all the shadows would be the same length and parallel. So the effect of the shadows splaying is due to perspective and nothing else. On one more hour.


No surprises here at 3pm the shadows have swung round and lengthened again as the sun has dropped nearer the horizon. So let us look at 2pm again and look at how things got to where they are.

shadows, tutorial

A very tall skinny illustration since we have to get the sun in!

First the Red lines. If we drop a line vertically down to horizon we find it hits exactly at the point where the shadows converge at the horizon IE, the shadow’s Vanishing Point. If we had the shadows and no sun (as we might have in a reference photo) we could extend the shadow lines to the horizon and then project that point vertically up. We know the sun must be on that line… but where?

For that we need the Green lines. If we start from the sun again and fire a ray from the sun so that it skims the middle of the very top of the pole. Where that ray hits the ground marks the length of the shadow. Once again if we work backwards we can draw a line from the end of our shadow and through the middle of the top of the pole, extending it on we find it crosses our red line at exactly the sun’s position.

Shadow, tutorial

Here is a simplified version with  just a plank. As you see it also shows how the shadow gets wider in perspective as it gets nearer. Now a more complex example, a sculptor’s table with hammers upon it. First a quick video.

You can drag the slider and watch the shadows in motion. Once again here are a few times of day.

shadow, tutorial

Here is our table at 10am.

shadow, tutorial

…and at 12pm. Compare the two images and see how the various parts have moved. On 2 more hours.

shadow tutorial

Finally here we are at 2pm with the sun at its highest. Time for another tall skinny illustration with coloured lines!

shadow tutorial

Starting with the red lines. A line from one corner of the tabletop shadow then taken through the real corner and extended up crosses the same line drawn from another corner (any corner will do) at the point where the sun is. The blue lines show the splay of the shadow of the table legs and obey exactly the same rules as the posts did. The two vanishing points of the sides of the table top shadow are exactly the same as the vanishing points for the table top itself.

Similar rules govern how shadows from artificial lights are placed. If the ground is sloping or the posts at an angle then obviously the geometry gets more challenging. A more complex description is on the excellent Handprint site.

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