Lesson 5: Applying Construction to Animals

4:31 AM, Wednesday April 13th 2022

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This was a tough one. I think one reason is that animals are very familiar subjects and when they look off, they really look off. It was also a challenge to see the basic masses of head torso pelvis behind the surface detail. As I progressed it started to get easier. I feel like some of the pictures came out ok and I was able to meet the lesson requirements and others not so much. I have my own ideas about what I got wrong or right. I will be curious if your critique matches. Animals are very interesting to draw, so I am sure I will be continuing to use this lesson as I go forward. There were so many animals in the picture archive that looked like they would be fun to draw. As always, I really value your critique, so thanks in advance.

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8:20 PM, Friday April 15th 2022

Jumping right in with your organic intersections, your work here is done quite well. You're doing a good job of piling them up in a manner that conveys a strong, believable sense of gravity being applied to each form, causing them to slump and sag over one another. You've also demonstrated a well developing grasp of how the shadows are cast upon other surfaces, how they wrap around those surfaces, etc. instead of clinging to the individual forms casting them. All in all, good work - just be sure to draw through all of the ellipses you freehand (like those on the tips of the sausages) two full times before lifting your pen.

Continuing onto your animal constructions, there's a lot you're doing well here, as well as a number of places where I can offer some advice to help you make better use of the techniques and processes we've explored here.

I think when it comes down to core construction, and generally thinking about how the object you're drawing exists in three dimensions rather than two, you've got a lot of signs that these areas are developing well for you. What stood out in this regard was this baby squirrel which definitely conveys a strong sense of depth.

I can also see that you have certainly pushed yourself to work more in 3D space, defining more complete, self-enclosed forms, rather than working with one-off marks on the flat page. There are a few cases where you still cut into the silhouettes of your forms - for example, that same squirrel's feet, where you defined the larger structure then constructed within it, rather than treating it like a solid structure and building on top of it - but all in all you've definitely shown concerted efforts being made there.

The first point I want to address is the use of additional masses. I can clearly see that you're putting consideration into how you're designing the silhouettes of these forms, but this can definitely be improved upon. One thing that helps with the shape here is to think about how the mass would behave when existing first in the void of empty space, on its own. It all comes down to the silhouette of the mass - here, with nothing else to touch it, our mass would exist like a soft ball of meat or clay, made up only of outward curves. A simple circle for a silhouette.

Then, as it presses against an existing structure, the silhouette starts to get more complex. It forms inward curves wherever it makes contact, responding directly to the forms that are present. The silhouette is never random, of course - always changing in response to clear, defined structure. You can see this demonstrated in this diagram, and in action here on one of your giraffes. Note how every inward curve is positioned specifically, with intent, and that whenever we hit a sharp corner, we construct the overall mass's silhouette one stroke at a time, but still thinking about how the whole is meant to relate to the forms it's attaching to in 3D space.

This also applies to the legs, where our use of additional masses doesn't need to be limited to just establishing the bumps that show up along the silhouette. Establishing the forms in between allows us to arrange our masses in a way that is more specifically grounded, like pieces of a puzzle that fit together. In order to achieve that, we need to think about the masses that exist internally, within the silhouette of the resulting object, alongside those that actually impact the silhouette in some fashion.

The second thing I wanted to take a moment to discuss is head construction. Lesson 5 has a lot of different strategies for constructing heads, between the various demos. Given how the course has developed, and how I'm finding new, more effective ways for students to tackle certain problems. So not all the approaches shown are equal, but they do have their uses. As it stands, as explained at the top of the tiger demo page (here), the current approach that is the most generally useful, as well as the most meaningful in terms of these drawings all being exercises in spatial reasoning, is what you'll find here on the informal demos page.

There are a few key points to this approach:

  • The specific shape of the eyesockets - the specific pentagonal shape allows for a nice wedge in which the muzzle can fit in between the sockets, as well as a flat edge across which we can lay the forehead area.

  • This approach focuses heavily on everything fitting together - no arbitrary gaps or floating elements. This allows us to ensure all of the different pieces feel grounded against one another, like a three dimensional puzzle.

  • We have to be mindful of how the marks we make are cuts along the curving surface of the cranial ball - working in individual strokes like this (rather than, say, drawing the eyesocket with an ellipse) helps a lot in reinforcing this idea of engaging with a 3D structure.

Try your best to employ this method when doing constructional drawing exercises using animals in the future, as closely as you can. Sometimes it seems like it's not a good fit for certain heads, but with a bit of finagling it can still apply pretty well. To demonstrate this for another student, I found the most banana-headed rhinoceros I could, and threw together this demo.

The last major thing I wanted to talk about is how you're handling detailing when you get into things like fur. Back in my critique of your Lesson 3 work, we talked about the idea of decoration (where we just try and find reasons to put down more marks in order to make our drawing more complex and visually pleasing), and the idea of texture (which focuses on actually conveying to the viewer only the information they need to know to fill in the rest themselves, and to understand what it'd feel like to run their fingers over the given object's surface). In some of your drawings here - mainly the squirrels and foxes - you appear to kind of lose track of the distinction between decoration and texture. As a result, end up putting down way more marks than you strictly need to, but also spending far less time in thinking through the design of each individual stroke.

To illustrate this point, I tried to go over the drawing to basically remove as much of your fur as I could, then put in a few minimal tufts along the silhouette. Each tuft is more purposefully designed, and constructed more as cohesive shapes, rather than individual strokes. Note how little is actually necessary to convey the idea of "furry". From there, the viewer's brain takes over the rest.

When it comes to texture, a good rule of thumb is that less is more - don't try to capture every bit of detail that is present in your reference, but rather use it as a source of information, and consider how you can best convey that information to the viewer.

Now, those are the major issues I wanted to address, but there are a few quick points I wanted to add:

  • Generally you're doing a good job of using the sausage method, but there are areas where you get a little careless with whether or not you're actually sticking to the characteristics of simple sausages. For example, looking at the same fox, when the segments get shorter, they tend to get more egg or ellipse shaped.

  • When constructing your animals' feet, thinking about "boxy" forms helps a lot. We can do this by introducing sharp corners to the silhouette of these forms in order to imply the presence of internal edges/distinct 3D faces, but without actually drawing those edges. Here's an example on another student's work, which shows us starting with a simple boxy form, then attaching smaller boxy forms to build up the toes.

  • Similarly to the issue with how you built up your squirrel's feet (laying down a larger form then cutting into it), we can say the same about how you've approached the wings on this hybrid. Instead, try and think of the initial structure you lay down for the wings as being solid forms, and then layer the feathers on top of it, as shown here. This allows us to further avoid cutting into the silhouettes of our forms. Also, remember that we're not concerned with animal anatomy beyond what we can actually see in our references - so when building those wings, don't built them up as a skeleton first - build masses for what you see, starting from big and simple, and gradually whittling down into smaller and more complex.

As a whole I do think you're moving in the right direction, but I am going to assign some minimal revisions below so you can demonstrate your understanding of the points I've raised here.

Next Steps:

Please submit 3 additional pages of animal constructions.

When finished, reply to this critique with your revisions.
1:12 AM, Wednesday April 20th 2022

Here are the three animal pages:


I knew that the fox fur was wrong. I tried to improve the squirrel drawings after going over the raccoon with fur demo. I did another picture of a squirrel and hope that I got a little closer this time. When I did wing on the hybrid, I was looking at the complicated leaf demo for inspiration. I redid a bird with wings so that I could try again. This time I followed your example. Still a little lost on the cast shadows. I think I am getting stuck on the word shadow which seems inadequate to describe what you are after. Maybe it's just me.

And now the elephant in the room. Oh and I did an elephant. But actually I have been meaning to ask a question but wanted to wait until I was further along in the lessons to ask. It's about those pretty pictures we have been avoiding. I wholly approve of what you are teaching and how you are teaching it. I'm all in. But, at some point, the goal is pretty pictures for most of the people coming to Drawabox. I am wondering if at some point you will post a lesson or article on "And now what". How do you transition from the exercises here to a more finished drawing? I don't think the 50% rule is enought to get a person there. It probably wouldn't be a lesson (unless it's lesson 0.2) but maybe an article. When you did the drawing of faces that you tore up in your demo, you didn't use construction lines. So how do you get there? I have thoughts about it, but I am more interested in yours.

12:58 PM, Wednesday April 20th 2022

You're making progress here, but there are still quite a few things I called out in my feedback that you have either tried to address but are still running into issues with, or haven't addressed at all.

In terms of the things that you're trying to address, but aren't quite there yet:

  • You are making a concerted effort to work with more complete, fully enclosed forms for each additional mass, though you appear to be actively avoiding the use of any sharp corners in the silhouettes of those masses. What I explained previously was not that sharp corners and inward curves, which result in more complexity than their corresponding smooth/rounded/gradual corners and outward curves, are bad. Rather, that based on how our masses are meant to attach to the existing structure, there are places where we must use outward curves (like where the mass is not making contact with anything else), and there are places where we must use inward curves (like where the mass is making direct contact with another part of the existing structure). Similarly, we use sharp corners where we need to transition from a section not making contact to a section that is making contact, and smooth/gradual corners when we need to jump from one kind of a curve to another, but where there's no direct contact to provide us with that sharp, sudden transition. Right now, you're not using any sharp corners or inward curves, and so your additional masses feel more like individual shapes pasted on top of the drawing, rather than solid forms wrapping around a 3D structure. If you compare this elephant example with your example, specifically in the kinds of shapes I use for the additional masses, and also look back at the examples I gave you previously, that may help.

  • Your fur is still really overdone, and you're focusing a lot more on just putting down a ton of strokes than on the execution of each individual stroke. If we ignore the "internal" sections of fur (which I largely eliminated from your fox, because the internal stuff doesn't have nearly as much impact) and focus only on the fur that comes up at the silhouette of your forms, you're drawing these individual strokes that cut right past the silhouette's edge. If you look at my adjustment of your fox however, you'll notice that each stroke comes off the existing edge and returns to it, in an attempt to extend that silhouette as seamlessly as possible. This isn't something we'd do when dealing with normal construction, but this is precisely what we need to focus on when establishing a texture to a form's surface. Be precise and accurate with your marks, and invest the time that requires of you. Instead of putting down a couple hundred marks that aren't executed to the best of your ability, that aren't given as much time as you could to improve how directly they reflect your intent, put down a dozen or two that are given enough time for that.

As for things you didn't address:

  • In your wings, you still tried to use a sausage structure to build up the bones first - something I specifically told you not to do.

  • You also ended up using a lot of ellipses instead of sausages when building up that bone structure - you do this to a lesser extent here and there (I think you may well be trying to address this, but I'm not sure - it comes up in other places like your squirrel's upper arms).

  • You don't appear to have followed anything I mentioned about head construction

As a whole, you're not giving me the impression that you've really absorbed my previous feedback in its entirety. The first section of issues, that's normal - a student is not expected to be able to successfully apply everything after the first round of feedback. That's why I've gone into more detail with those. But I've kept the second list brief, because these points - especially the head construction, where I devoted an entire section to pointing you to a specific demonstration/approach, told you what to focus on, and so on - were ignored entirely.

I do not think this was your intention - but it does speak to carelessness, and that carelessness costs us both time.

So, I'm going to assign some further revisions below. Take your time with these, and take your time in reading (and rereading periodically) the feedback you've received already. The feedback I give is generally dense by its very nature, so do not expect to absorb it all in one read-through.

As to the other thing you mentioned about the course, Drawabox has a very limited focus, and its intent is not to give students a one-stop shop for everything. I do however include plenty of course recommendations throughout the course material (initially it was limited to the first page of Lesson 0 but as we rolled out our new partnership with New Masters Academy this month, I have expanded that considerably, which you may not yet have had the chance to see, though it has also required me to limit my recommendation of competing resources).

You are certainly right that the 50% rule is not enough to get a student there - and more importantly it's not intended to get them there. Its target is very different, to get students used to the idea of drawing things that don't turn out the way they want them to.

That said, there is no one track I can recommend to students. Everyone comes to Drawabox with their own goals, and each one is told to set those goals aside (at least within the context of the course), and that regardless of what it is they wish to pursue - be it illustration, concept art, figure and character drawing, painting, or whatever else - what we focus on here will help everything else go down more smoothly.

But every student is going to have a different path alongside, and after Drawabox, depending on what it is they wish to pursue.

As to "how did you get to drawing faces without construction" - well that comes back to the fact that Drawabox isn't teaching you an approach for drawing. Everything we do here is an exercise, and the purpose behind them is to train your instincts and rewire the way in which your brain perceives the things we draw, as they exist in 3D space. I'm not great at drawing faces without construction, and when I'm drawing anything of consequence, I still start with some amount of structure even if it's fairly loosely defined. But what allowed me to cross the distance from where you are now, to where I am, is developing my brain's understanding of 3D space. And that's also what sets someone like me apart from a master like Kim Jung Gi - his spatial reasoning and visual library are developed so much farther than mine.

The remaining question that I imagine one might ask of course, is what did I do to learn? Well, I took a big risk - I quit my job, moved across the continent, and attended Concept Design Academy for 6 months. There I studied with Peter Han (Dynamic Sketching, upon which I based Drawabox, though I stripped away all of that "pretty drawing" stuff and bolstered the 3D spatial reasoning elements farther, and gradually fit my course in as a sort of precursor to Dynamic Sketching, in order to help students make better use of it), and with Kevin Chen (Analytical Figure Drawing). I felt these two courses played quite well off one another, and I'd been looking for something comparable to recommend to students that approached figure drawing in a similarly analytical fashion.

I'd recommended things like Proko, Hampton, and Brent Eviston, but it actually was that sponsorship deal that exposed me to Steve Huston, who teaches in an extremely similar fashion to the way that I learned. So, as far as my own trajectory, what I'd recommend to students is that they take Dynamic Sketching (this is offered by a few different sources, from Peter Han himself, to CDA, to CGMA, all of which are quite pricey but include thorough feedback, to New Masters Academy which is vastly cheaper but has more limited options for feedback), and that they take figure drawing with Steve Huston (also available at NMA - the links for most of these are available on Page 1 of Lesson 0). Keep in mind however that there are so many paths one can take, and it all depends on what it is you're looking to do, which direction you want to go, whether you're looking to do this professionally or as a hobbyist, what your budget is, etc.

Anyway, I recommend that you flip back through the pages of the lessons - Lessons 3-7 mostly have NMA course recommendations which you can check out (they're in a little grey box to let them stand out without being obnoxiously ad-like), but since they were added recently you may not have seen them.

Next Steps:

Please submit 3 additional animal constructions. I want you to work on no more than one of these drawings per day - so if you finish one drawing in a given day, you should not start the next one until the following day.

And of course, it is the drawing that determines how much time it demands of you, so if you do not have the time to do that in a single sitting (which you may well not - these drawings can take quite a while), you should simply spread it out across multiple sittings or days as needed.

When finished, reply to this critique with your revisions.
3:56 PM, Wednesday April 20th 2022


Well let me first begin by saying I am not trying to ignore what you said or waste your time, but perhaps I am focusing on the wrong things. I did try to reduce the fur but clearly not enough. I feel like there is a grey area that I am crossing over once I finish construction when adding details. It's almost like "If I am not trying to make a finished picture, what's the point of any detail?" Except perhaps a shadow here or there. I will do another furry critter and see if I can get it right.

I did try to use your wing demo as my model, but it wasn't attached to a bird, so maybe I just missed that part of it. None of your bird demos have wings in flight, so I assumed that the feather which are flatter (which is why I first drew it using a leaf model) would attach to the skeletal part of the wing. Also, I do feel you can see the musculature of the wing in the photo, which is why I added it as a separate structure. I will try another bird and see if I can get that right.

As for the heads, I am clearly missing something there. I do feel lost when attaching parts to the cranial mass. I will follow the demo's again and try just some head studies as part of my resubmission. I attempted multiple squirrel heads before I got to even what you see there.

I think I see what you are saying now about the added masses. The lines do come to a sharper point on the sample. I have a different picture of an elephant and will attempt that one again.

I really thought I did better on this submission, but I will try to improve. It's hard to hear a critique at times, but necessary to grow. Thanks for the advice for continuing forward. I appreciate it.

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The Science of Deciding What You Should Draw

The Science of Deciding What You Should Draw

Right from when students hit the 50% rule early on in Lesson 0, they ask the same question - "What am I supposed to draw?"

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