Lesson 4: Applying Construction to Insects and Arachnids

1:34 PM, Saturday October 3rd 2020

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Hello Critiquer,

Overall, I was not sure if I should be following the rules in the article https://johnmuirlaws.com/draw-insects-understanding-drawing-legs-part-2/ . As I followed the rules in the exercises, I was led to believe I should draw what I see. I could be wrong here as you said to use multiple sources of reference. Please let me know the correct path. Also, do you have any tips on preventing a sharp point on my 0.5 fine liner pen? I draw on hp printer paper using a tilted angle and I go through a fine liner every 2 - 3 days. I have been trying to draw more lightly and now my pen lasts a little longer. Any advice would be appreciated.

Thanks in advance for the critique and advice,


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6:43 PM, Monday October 5th 2020

To answer your question, when I say to use multiple pieces of reference images, I'm referring to the actual images from which we're drawing. Don't mix-and-match different sources of instruction, as this will result in you not applying what is being taught in this lesson effectively, and can distract you from the core principles you're meant to be learning here.

As for your pen issues, I've actually never run into a situation where a fineliner point has gotten sharp. Since you're using basic printer paper, that doesn't suggest you're using anything that would produce additional friction that would wear away the point. That leaves only two possibilities - what kind of pen are you using (specific brand/model) and how hard are you pressing when you draw? As you mentioned drawing lighter did help, but your phrasing suggests that while it helped it may still be an issue. Definitely make sure you don't press too hard on your pen while drawing, as that can definitely damage the tips and hinder the flow of ink.

Moving onto the lesson, let's start by looking at the organic forms with contour lines. Here you're running into a bit of an issue that actually comes up frequently when drawing contour lines throughout your insect constructions. I'm largely getting the impression that you're not necessarily thinking about what each contour line you're drawing asserts about your sausage forms, and how they're sitting in space. What draws me most to this conclusion is the fact that you've essentially drawn the same sausage over and over, with the same arrangement of contour lines. There's no significant variety here, which suggests that you're just repeating an action with the intent of getting through the exercise, rather than actually learning from it.

Secondly, the contour curves themselves are a little off, in ways that subtly suggest that you may not be drawing these marks from your shoulder. They tend to have a wider turn towards one end, and a much sharper turn towards the other, rather than being more equal on either end. I see this quite a bit in the contour lines you've added to your insects, along with a number of places where your contour lines don't hook around at the edge at all, and end up reading as very shallow and flat as explained here.

Lastly, as I mentioned before each sausage you've drawn here is essentially the same - you've arranged the contour lines such that they tell the viewer that both ends of the sausages are facing the viewer. That said, you only placed a contour ellipse on the tip of one end (generally if we can see both tips, we should have a contour ellipse on both ends, as shown here).

Moving onto your insect constructions, the first and most significant issue is that you're drawing each individual insect quite small. I understand why - you're really keen on drawing loads of insects and packing each page full of them. The sentiment is appreciated, but it is extremely important that for every drawing you do, you actively them as much room as they require from you. Purposely cramming them into a small fraction of a given page is actually going to work against you by limiting your brain's ability to think through spatial problems, and also by making it that much easier for you to slip back to drawing from your elbow and wrist, instead of engaging your whole arm while making your marks.

Long story short, draw bigger. For the first drawing you put on a page, give it as much of the room as it's going to need. If once you're done you look at the page and can see that you have enough room to add another drawing, go ahead and add one - but if you don't, it's entirely okay to leave it as a page with just a single drawing.

The next thing I want to point out is that in quite a few of your drawings, you tend to add loads of contour lines, in situations where they don't necessarily contribute anything meaningful to your drawings. For example, in all the drawings on this page, each insect's abdomen is given two or three contour lines, but in most cases these are not really required. The thing about these contour lines is that while the first one you add may have a meaningful impact, making a form feel three dimensional, the second will be far less impactful, and the third will be even less so. It's critical that whenever you draw any mark, you think about what specific job you want it to accomplish, how to best go about drawing that mark so it can contribute in that way as well as possible, and whether or not another mark is already doing that job.

Generally when students use contour lines like this, it suggests that they're not actually thinking about why they're drawing them, they just feel that they're "supposed to", and so that's what they do. What you're being taught throughout this course is a series of tools, but it is up to you to decide how and where to use them most effectively. Don't ever do anything blindly, without considering why.

Continuing on, I noticed in a few places - though not many - a particular issue that really should be pointed out. Looking at the camel spider on this page, specifically its head, you started out with a very large ball form, and then you drew the actual head to be much smaller within it. What you essentially did was, you introduced a form into the world, and then asked the viewer to ignore the fact that it was there at all. This unfortunately doesn't work - the viewer now sees two contradicting pieces of information. Either there is a ball form here, or the smaller objects drawn inside of it.

As a rule, you absolutely must treat every form you add to a construction as being solid and real. Once drawn, you cannot choose to ignore something, or to act like it's not there. While you can cut back into a form you've drawn, this is something students often do incorrectly. Cutting back into a form involves drawing contour lines along its 3D surfaces in order to separate it into two distinct forms that feel solid and three dimensional on their own, then deciding one of those two forms to be 'negative/empty space' and the other to be 'positive space'. This works, because both are believably 3D without the other. What you can't do however is just cut across the 2D silhouette of a form as you did with this camel spider's head. I explain this in these notes. As mentioned there, 'subtractive' construction, when done correctly, is better suited to geometric construction (machinery and stuff like that), not organic construction (animals, insects, etc).

We can also see a similar mistake on the scorpion on this page, where you constructed its torso in a box, but didn't actually maintain any kind of a clear relationship between that box form and the next phase of construction - you just loosely drew inside of it. In the scorpion video demo, I actually also started with a box, but I drew my next lines along the surface of the box to separate it into two 3D forms, keeping the relationship between the two stages of construction very tight and specific.

Since we generally don't use subtractive construction for organic subject matter like insects, we'll generally work 'additively' - which means placing a solid 3D form in the world, and then attaching another form to it, defining how it relates to/connects to/intersects with the first. This involves using a special kind of contour line, which we explored in lesson 2's form intersections exercise. It defines the relationship between two forms in 3D space, and this makes it extremely effective and useful. In fact, in most of the cases where you overused regular contour lines, which I addressed above, you probably could have gotten away with just defining how the abdomen of those insects connects to the thorax, and added no other contour lines. It would have felt solid and three dimensional without them, because of that one connection being defined.

Looking at the rhinoceros beetle here, we can see an example of you not using additive construction correctly, specifically on its head. You started with a ball form, then drew a way more complex form that enveloped it, capturing both horns as well as the head. You basically made the initial head ball serve no purpose, replacing it with this entirely different form. That's not how this works. Instead, you draw your initial ball form, and then you add a simple form for each horn, and keep adding more forms on top to build out whatever complexity you're aiming to achieve. You can see this kind of approach in all of my demonstrations - for example, the louse demo, where each bit of complexity is added piece by piece.

Despite my stressing how wrong the rhinoceros beetle's head is, I do think that for the most part you've done a pretty decent job of trying to work additively across most of your other drawings, where you've definitely tried to build things up steadily, adding forms on top of forms. The main shortcoming is that you really need to focus first and foremost on each and every thing you add to a drawing being solid and three dimensional. No adding one-off lines, or half of a shape. For example, the murder hornet here has these little pincers on the ends of its legs, but you didn't draw them as actual forms. You drew them as shapes that were not fully enclosed - 2D, flat elements, whose very presence made the rest of your drawing feel much more flat. Part of this is because you were drawing really small, and so you were adding a very tiny feature to a drawing that was already restrictive in its scale. But more than that, and I'm repeating myself here, it comes down to having to be aware of the fact that every single thing you add to a drawing is a form, something solid and 3D, not just lines on a page.

You can read more about working additively in this demonstration, where we add little protrusions and serrations, and focus on how they exist in 3D space.

Now, one thing you did that I am quite pleased about is the fact that you've strived to use the [sausage method]() for constructing all of your legs. A lot of students actually neglect to do this, but you held to it with just about all of your legs, and that is great to see. That said, working at such a small scale did somewhat limit how well you could work with this, but drawing bigger I think you'd be able to push this much further. In the future, one additional thing you can do with the sausage forms is to actually build on top of them once they're in place. As shown here, here, this ant leg, and even here in the context of a dog's leg (because this technique is still to be used throughout the next lesson as well), you can see how we can lay down a sausage chain and then build up additional masses that wrap around it to add all the additional elements that are present in our insects' constructions.

Focusing on the ant leg, you can see how yours are much more similar to the top example - a good start, but not nearly finished. There is a lot more going on in our insects, and it appears you may be making the mistake of thinking that 'construction' means 'simple'. That's not the case. Construction can be pushed very far, and its focus is entirely on the idea that we are drawing forms, steadily getting smaller and more specific. None of this is texture and detail - it's just a matter of getting more specific.

That brings me to the last thing I really, really want to stress: observation. Overall I think you're relying in many of these drawings too much on what you remember seeing in your reference, not what's actually there. This leads you to oversimplify things. It's a common thing that happens when we employ constructional techniques, because we end up focusing so much on how the pieces fit together, that we forget to actually pay attention to our reference images to find out which pieces we should be working with in the first place.

Make sure that you look at your reference almost constantly, looking away from it only long enough to draw a specific, solid, 3D form in your drawing in a particular location, before looking back. Don't rely on memory, because your memory is not trained to be able to retain as much information as you need right now.

I've laid out a lot of shortcomings, and a few areas of strength. I expect this to be a lot of information for you to absorb, so you will need to read through this quite a few times in order really grasp everything I've mentioned. Please make sure you do - don't just go through it once and expect it all to sink in.

Once you feel confident in your understanding of what I've mentioned here, I've listed out a number of revisions I'd like you to complete below.

Next Steps:

Please submit the following:

  • 2 pages of organic forms with contour curves. I want these to include a lot of variety - simple sausages in different positions and orientations, some ends oriented towards the viewer, some oriented away, etc. Make sure you read through the instructions for this exercise again before doing the work, and take note of the fact that at the bottom of the page, there are example pages of how this exercise should look. Your first attempt no doubt looks entirely different from that.

  • 6 pages of insect constructions, using EACH page for just one drawing and ensuring that you take advantage of all the room available to you. Push each construction as far as it can reasonably go, and do not go into any texture. As shown in the ant leg I showed in my critique, you can push your constructions much farther than you did there. You may want to use particularly high-resolution reference images to help you with this, as lower-resolution ones often won't suffice to show you all the visual information you need.

When finished, reply to this critique with your revisions.
9:12 PM, Sunday October 11th 2020

Thank you very much for the detailed critique Mr. Irshad!

Here is the imgur link to my next steps: https://imgur.com/a/tevQAbW

To answer your reply above, the pen I am using is a 0.5 fineliner "Superior Needle Drawing Pen" I bought from the drawabox.com website. I have been attempting to draw as light as possible, and that seems to extend the life of my pens. I think what is making them sharp is the speed at which I draw a line. I try to go fast to avoid wobbly lines. I may be going to fast. I have been looking at my pen tip constantly, and I realized they tend to become sharp after I have done a page of "Tables of Ellipses" exercise as a daily practice. I have been making a great mental effort to draw lighter and I believe my pen is lasting longer now. Thanks for pointing out my lack of sausage variety issue. I made a similar mistake in previous exercises. And thank you for the advice on using an entire page for a single insect. I will take this advice and use it with future lessons. This helped me greatly, although I still mess up the proportions of my insects and arachnids. Please let me know if I am doing the leg sausage connection detail correctly. I see how I accidentally passed up this crucial construction and how it is important to the whole.

Thanks again,


8:22 PM, Monday October 12th 2020

That is honestly really strange, about your pens - I've been having my girlfriend go through the Drawabox lessons to do recordings for people to see how they should pace themselves, and she's exclusively been using the pens we sell to test their longevity and general wear/tear (except for during the box challenge where she tested a wider variety of pens), and we've never seen them get sharp. I did ask her about it though, and her theory is that maybe turning your pen may help it wear down more evenly. She does think that pressing too hard is likely at least part of the problem, as that'll wear down your pens faster, but she does have a habit of turning it as she just idly fidgets with her pen, which may have helped keep it more even.

For what it's worth, drawing quickly and confidently is definitely what you should be aiming for, as it helps create nice, fluid, tapered strokes.

Anyway, moving onto your work, your organic forms with contour lines are definitely better but there are a number of things I want to bring to your attention, so you can continue to work on them moving forwards. Here are some notes directly on top of the work, but I'll outline the major issues below as well:

  • You seem to be inconsistent in drawing contour ellipses on the tips of the sausages that are oriented towards the viewer. This isn't something you should skip.

  • When you DO draw the contour ellipses, you don't appear to be drawing them with a degree that matches the contour curve nearest to them, in some cases resulting in a sudden jump from a very narrow contour curve to a very wide contour ellipse in a short distance.

  • You still need to work on maintaining the characteristics of simple sausages more consistently. You match them pretty well in some occasions, but in others you stray pretty far.

  • You still appear to struggle a great deal when it comes to controlling the degree of your contour ellipses, and specifically in getting them to get wider as we slide away from the viewer. In a lot of cases you do reverse your contour curves' degrees correctly, but you tend to stick to the same overall degree.

  • Lastly, while you mention that you try to draw your marks quickly and confidently, there are signs that you may not be doing so correctly. Here's a diagram on the differences between marks drawn confidently vs. too slowly or with too much pressure. Note how confident, light execution results in nice tapering on both ends - you sometimes end up with tapering on one end at most, but not both. The opposite end often comes out looking quite heavy.

Moving onto your insect constructions, I focused on the ant drawing specifically with some notes written directly on the drawing.

  • You're getting better with the sausages, but it varies. There are still cases where they get wobbly/overly complex, so make sure you're drawing them from your shoulder. While you should still be applying the ghosting method and executing those lines with confidence, that doesn't necessarily mean drawing quickly - slowing down a little, as long as you're able to keep pushing forward and not hesitate, can help you regain a little control.

  • Defining the intersection between forms like your head/thorax/abdomen helps make them look like solid forms relating to one another in 3D space rather than as flat shapes on a page.

  • Keep working on the idea of wrapping forms around one another - especially when you get into the segmentation at the end of the insects' legs. Don't draw them as flat shapes - always draw an underlying structure and then focus on how the segmentation wraps around it in three dimensions.

  • Perhaps the biggest concern is that you're approaching these constructions in a very simplistic fashion which suggests that you may not be studying your reference as closely as possible. Construction is not about your end result being simple and general - a ball for the head, a ball for the thorax, etc. It's about building up in complexity in phases, still paying attention to all of the forms that are present in your reference but focusing first on the most simple and building on top of them to capture the more complex. As you can see, I put together a quick demonstration of how I'd construct an ant's head - where you drew an ellipse/ball and then slapped on some mandibles, I broke the head structure down into a series of phases, constantly looking back at my reference to identify the kinds of elements I need to capture. Admittedly I picked a random reference so the species isn't likely the same as yours, but yours is definitely far too simplified regardless of what kind of ant you're drawing, and it is likely that you didn't look at your reference enough to inform your choices.

Overall this is definitely an improvement, but I'm still not confident that you're really fully establishing the sense that you're building up forms in 3D space. I'm going to assign some additional work once again, below.

Next Steps:

Please submit the following:

  • 1 page of organic forms with contour lines.

  • Just 1 insect construction - but there's a catch. I want you to spread it out over the span of 3 days, and do your best to invest as much time as you possibly can. Most of that time should be spent on studying your reference, to identify precisely what you should be drawing. This might actually be quite difficult - finding ways to stretch out the time that you spend drawing, but that is precisely what I believe you need. I suspect that right now you aren't quite investing as much time into each and every drawing.

For the 1 insect construction, be sure to take pictures of your drawing at the end of each session.

When finished, reply to this critique with your revisions.
12:23 AM, Friday October 16th 2020

Hi Mr. Irshad,

First, thank you for the information regarding the pens and critique. I hope I did not come off as blaming you for my pens issue. That is not the case. I was looking at myself for why I was having these problems. Thank you for the advice! I believe it is helping extend the life of my fine liners. I think I was drawing way extremely fast and this was the root cause.

Here is my imgur link: https://imgur.com/a/zbpuAWS

I used the bottom ant in this image as reference: https://www.flickr.com/photos/roboelman/4758797615/in/album-72157624422897816/

In this image https://i.imgur.com/egbrpGW.png , you drew over a sausage and said "degree increases as we move away from viewer". The pole ellipse I originally placed was of a much wider degree (faced toward the viewer). Looking at the sausage you drew over again, I can see the sausage falling back into space. Why did you draw a smaller degree pole ellipse over my pole ellipse in that sausage.

Also, thank you for assinging me the work of taking the time to do a construction over the course of three days. This helped immensely and was a lot less stressful. At the end of today when I finished my construction, I saw just how badly I messed up. Oof, oof, oof. I think my bad recurring issue is drawing too small. Even though I made the ant take up a larger space on my page, it was not large enough when drawing the sausage legs.

The legs of my ant are wobbly now that I am looking at the final result. My apologies if I give off the impression that I was rushing through the homework when I first submitted the homework for lesson 4. I did rush the original submission. I have a bad habit of looking at homework in a way that says "You have to get this done as soon as possible". A bad habit I picked up in university. The course of three days helped me slow down and smell the roses... bug... The end result is more of a work in progress. I think if I would draw this ant again after all the work I put into it, I could draw a more meaningful construction.

Thanks again for the feedback,


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