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December 2000
The Illusion of Depth

One of the Purple Ink members asked me if I would share some tips on how to add depth to both writings and drawings. Last month was devoted to writing. This month, I'll demonstrate a few techniques that I use to make my drawings and sketches look more realistic.

Let me start by saying that I am by no means a professional artist. I am not even a serious art student. I have taken a couple of art classes, but I was never one for doing homework. I do not think that my drawings are polished, nor do I want them to be. My personal goal is to satisfactorily capture the essence of the objects that I see around me. If what I have drawn is identifiable, then I am happy. If I want to draw a puppy, and the image that I have drawn is the basic shape and form of a puppy, then I am happy. The only thing that I want to be serious about is expressing myself creatively on paper.

These tips are aimed at people who want to sketch and draw, but who don't want to make a big deal out of it. My intended audience consists of those who believe that technical perfection is not worth the sacrifice of fun and spontaneity. If you keep primarily a written journal but want to add some visual snippets to your pages, this is for you. So, without further ado, here are a few techniques that I use to draw my pictures. I do basically the same things whether I am drawing by sight or from my imagination.

First things first...

Figure out whether you work best on a large or a small scale.
I draw best when I only have to cover a small area. I can work quickly, and there is less effort needed to do the shading and layering that make a drawing look more 3-dimensional. You may be exactly the opposite. You might prefer the freedom to make big sweeping strokes and do lots of blending. There are advantages to both ways, and you'll be doing yourself a favor to figure out which way is more comfortable for you.

The camera sketch below is no more than about 2 inches across.


Start with objects that are familiar to you.
Until you find your own rhythm, practice drawing the ordinary things that you encounter every day - the things you know like the back of your own hand. When you are trying to get a feel for perspective and shading, it helps if your mind's eye already knows what the object "looks like". You will spend less time trying to get the lines right and have more time to spend achieving the level of depth that you want.


To create the illusion...

For a simple, outline illustration, use bold lines to emphasize certain parts of an image.
Even when you are in a hurry or don't want to spend a lot of time on a sketch, you can still hint at perspective and depth. The bolder lines provide focal points, and the lighter lines recede. In the sketch below, you can at least tell which leaf "arm" is in front and that the "crown" overlaps the "head".

flower people

Begin with a light touch.
As you develop your sketch, you want to be able to add more shading and more color as needed.

pink flower

In general, shade from dark to light, beginning just inside the outline of the object, moving in.
This has the effect of "rounding" the object, the idea being that you are looking at it head on. Put another way, areas that are reflecting light have no shading or little shading. The further away an area is from the light source, the darker it will appear.

coffee pot

To show that one object is in front of another, shade from dark to light.
Put your pencil just outside the outline of the object in front, and begin shading away from it. The goal is to create a shadow effect.

When coloring, start with a light color, then add shadow and depth with a darker version of the same color.

In the sketch below, I started with the pear and worked my way backwards. I shaded the pear from dark to light, working from the outside edge inward until I was satisfied with it. Then I moved on to the next piece. I drew the basic outline of the apple and shaded away from the pear, from dark to light. I continued the process with each object, shading both inside of the outline and outside of the outline where appropriate. For the leaves at the bottom, I added shadow highlights with a black pencil.

wooden fruit

When sketching with watercolor pencils, use regular colored pencils to add more depth.
I drew the pretzels below first with a light brown watercolor pencil. I dabbed water onto the drawing to give it a watercolor look, and let it dry. Then, I used a brown colored pencil to add a few contours.


I hope these ideas help you with your own drawing and sketching. For more information on how to get started with a creative journal, visit the Beginners page. If you'd like to see a particular topic covered on this web page, let me know.

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© 2000 Dawn R. Vinson. All Rights Reserved.