Lesson 5: Applying Construction to Animals

7:46 PM, Tuesday June 21st 2022

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Quick context: the first few were me attempting to follow along with the videos, which is why they're way below my average. It wasn't until after I just did the first cat image that someone on the discord pointed out that I should use the informal demos instead, hence the laughably gigantic jump in quality by the second cat image. I was mostly following the Donkey informal demo, which is why a few of them have the backlegs as shilouettes; it took me a few drawings to realize that most of mine looked better without that.

I don't want to trivialize this lesson's challenge by calling it fun, but it was satisfying to get to this stage; when I stopped drawing for fun as a kid, it was over frustration at not being able to draw animals properly. Plus, they're naturally something I need to get comfortable with before I can draw humanoids, which is the other thing I mainly want to draw. While my line quality is still quite shameful (even since starting 20 minute warmup sessions) and the fact I still can't wrap forms around each other is embaressing, this is the first lesson where I've really felt like I'm starting to become someone who can draw what they want, even if that's still years away.

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11:46 PM, Tuesday June 21st 2022

I am glad to hear that you feel satisfied in getting this far. It is certainly an achievement, and something to be proud of. As to the issues you're running into - the point about wrapping forms around one another is something I actually some pretty concrete advice on, which will be the major focus of this critique. I can tell you now, there will be revisions - but I think that I can definitely help you push yourself in the right direction.

Starting with your organic forms with contour lines, these are coming along pretty well. There is definitely room for improvement, but the two main points that are important to me - having the forms slump and sag over one another in a realistic fashion that reflects the effects of gravity, and considering the way in which the shadows themselves are cast upon surfaces that are not flat, but rather rounded and turning, are things that you are clearly thinking a great deal about, and it shows.

For now I have just one thing to call out - on your first page, the way you're drawing your shadows has them coming out quite cleanly, but this does get a lot messier on the second page. If you're not already, it's important that you outline your shadows with your usual pen first, allowing you to design them intentionally, then fill them in more carefully with a thicker pen or a brush pen. Don't jump right in drawing them with the brush pen. If this is the process that you are following, then just take more care along the edges, as that second page does tend to have much messier edges on the shadows than the first page.

Now, in regards to your animal constructions, we're going to talk about three main areas:

  • Your use of additional masses

  • Head construction

  • And a little about fur/hair.

For the additional masses, the main problem here is that the way in which you're drawing them is very... for lack of a better word, blobby. This is a result of them being made up primarily of outward curves. As we build up our constructions, there are basically two tools we have to use in order to define how the forms we add relate to the existing structure in 3D space, and which tool we use depends on the nature of that relationship. If the new form is interpenetrating the existing structure (like how we fit the sausages together when laying down the base structure of the legs), we use contour lines in a similar fashion to the form intersections in Lesson 2. Those contour lines define the joint between them, as though we were welding together pieces of metal, with the contour line demarking the weld line itself.

If however we have a mass that is wrapping around the existing structure, then everything is achieved through the design of the silhouette itself. 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. 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.

As shown in the diagram, we use inward curves and sharp corners - both forms of complexity (whereas outward curves and soft/rounded transitions are much simpler) to convey that something is pressing up against the mass. This is why yours feel flat - all you're using are outward curves, so rather than having forms that are engaging with one another in 3D space, they feel more like flat shapes being pasted on top of one another.

Furthermore, as soon as a mass is added to your construction, it becomes part of the existing structure. So for example, here these masses are overlapping one another in two dimensions, but in 3D space it's as if they're entirely ignoring one another. As soon as one has been added, the next needs to account for it and wrap around it as well, wherever they make contact.

This also means that additional contour lines - like the ones we see here aren't terribly useful - although that one's not on you, I know the current intro video (which is quite old now) shows a similar use of contour lines. I've discovered through doing critiques more recently that adding contour lines in this way is unhelpful, but moreover they can actually convince the student that they're able to "fix" a mass after it's been drawn, leading them to put less focus into the design of that mass's silhouette. But alas, the silhouette holds all the cards, and requires all of our focus.

So, as you build up your masses, consider these kinds of intentional shapes. You can see what I mean as I've drawn here on another student's work. Note:

  • The very specific use of sharp corners right along the edge where we wrap around the existing structure, leading right into inward curves to wrap around it.

  • Also, note that I'm not just adding masses where they impact the silhouette of the structure - I'm also thinking about the pieces "inbetween", as these help to define the way in which all of these forms are going to fit together, making them feel more grounded and solid.

Just for the sake of giving you more examples, here's another similar demonstration I provided for another student. Note how the forms pile on top of one another. Also, to be clear - you don't have to draw the entirety of the mass's silhouette in one go. You can draw it section by section, and you should stop and lift your pen when you hit a sharp corner, since the trajectory change sharply (as per the principles of markmaking from Lesson 1).

Onto the next point - 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.

And lastly, let's talk for just a few moments about fur. Admittedely the way you're approaching fur right now is simply too quick - you're executing your marks without enough thought and planning. This is common, because students have a tendency to attack the problems that require a lot of lines more quickly, giving each individual mark less time. This is actually something we discuss back in Lesson 1's ghosted planes exercise, in its 'purpose' section. Of course, when you think about it, this is obviously incorrect. We do not allocate time based on how much time we have in a given sitting, and how many different marks it must be spread out across. We allocate time based on the complexity of the subject matter, and if that demands that we must spread it out across multiple sittings and days, then that is precisely what we must do in order to uphold our end of the bargain. That is, the fact that students have the singular responsibility to give themselves as much time as they work through these exercises to construct each form, draw each shape, and execute each mark to the best of their individual ability.

Fur, especially when we build it up along the edge of the construction's silhouette, is all about creating a more seamless extension of that silhouette. That generally means ensuring that our strokes rise off the silhouette of the existing form, and that we don't leave any needless gaps between our lines. As we can see here your marks are haphazard - they cross back over the silhouette freely, they leave ample gaps, and they generally feel more like a bunch of arbitrary lines rather than a cohesive, solid construction.

Now, we do have some leeway - while I'll generally design a intentional tufts (like those shown along the silhouette here), I do put in the odd lone stroke that isn't part of a tuft, so it's not necessarily a hard rule. Each of these are however intentional, and your big shortcoming here is that you're relying on a lot of randomness. You're not designing, you're just kind of hoping for the best.

This is not an uncommon mistake, and I'm going to provide you with one last demonstration I made from another student's work. I took their original drawing which was similarly haphazard and scribbly, and eliminated the vast majority of the fur marks, replacing them with my own here.

As you can see, mine still reads as being "furry", but what I'm not trying to do is copy my reference perfectly. That's never the goal in this course. Rather, the reference gives us something to then convey to the viewer - as though we're allowed to see the source material, but we have to describe it to them through visual means. Giving the impression that an animal has fur does not require nearly as many marks. Now, if it did, we would still be required to give each and every one as much time as it would require - but I imagine it'll be far less harrowing to put down the bare minimum to get the point across, which is all that's really needed here.

With that, I'll assign some revisions below, so you can work towards applying what I've shared here.

Next Steps:

Please submit 5 more page sof animal constructions.

For each of these, I want you to adhere to the following restrictions/requirements:

  • Do not work on more than one construction in a given day. If a construction takes multiple days, you should absolutely spread it out, but if you happen to be putting the finishing touches on a construction on one day, you should not start the next one until the following day.

  • Note down on each page each of the dates you worked on the drawing, along with a rough estimate of how much time was spent on it. I'm actually not particularly concerned about you not giving them enough time - while the fur is the main area where you allow yourself to rush and get sloppy, the construction itself is simply a matter of approach. Still, I've found that requiring this of students in their revisions helps them focus more on putting as much time in as they need, while also helping me to understand just where their time is being invested.

When finished, reply to this critique with your revisions.
10:23 PM, Friday July 8th 2022


Apologies for the wall of text, but I just have to communicate everything that I'm about to.

I've been rereading your feedback and the lesson's informal tutorials practically once a day, on top of frequently rewatching older videos for my (roughly) 20 minutes of warm-up pages before I start each exercise. I've also been drawing more personal stuff lately, meaning I've been following the 50% rule more than ever since starting Drawabox. All this is to say that I have no excuse for how I still haven't improved, nor why I still can't figure any of this out.

Upon posting the Owl, a well-meaning person on the discord said something to the effect of "this is a good start, now all you have to do is learn how to make your additional masses make sense, and how to draw fur!", and I had to tell them "Those things are what I've been focusing on." Almost every time I've gotten advice on the discord (and occasionally in your own feedback) I'm told to try something I'm already doing (but hasn't been helping me improve), and that it'll help me improve, which is demoralizing beyond words. I've tried thumbnails, planning the deconstruction by tracing over the image digitally, drawing (smaller) doodles of different reference images of the animal to warm up... I've been constantly trying every suggestion and possible angle of attack, and none of it helps me.

The only piece of feedback I've managed to integrate is carving pentagonal eye sockets, but even those are extremely sloppy.

The main issue (I think?) is that I simply have no idea of how to add additonal forms. I understand how to wrap them around a simple joint on a leg, but I have no idea how you're supposed to decide where they should go and how to layer them on a frame in a way that makes sense. I can't find an answer to it anywhere, which usually means that it's something that's supposed to come intuitively to me, but can't.

My infuriation with my own incompetence in this lesson is threefold;

One, I'm certain that I'm overcomplicating a very simple lesson, and that being able to follow it properly would take way less time and effort, while yielding much better results.

Two, I can't stand the fact that I'm two years into a professional-level drawing course and have made less progress than most beginner artists do in just as much time, without any courses - and infinitely less progress than everyone else doing the same course, as evidenced by the discord.

Three, this is easily the most important lesson for me, as 'living creatures that look belivable in 3D space' is the one thing I always want to draw more than anything else, as I expect everyone else sees it as the most important thing to learn. Not being able to do this simply means that I don't have a creative outlet. (Still no progress on getting any professional help, had a recent phonecall with my Doctor who admitted that we've already explored every mental health service he has access to, and all of them have turned me away due to not having anyone who could help me/was willing to help me.)

I'm not going to give up on Drawabox (giving up on this course would be giving up on being able to draw, and giving up on being able to draw would be giving up on my life altogether), but I just want to apologize for spending this much of my energy and time on this course and (presently, we could turn it around) proving the ethos of the thing (that anyone can learn to draw using it) null and void. I know it reflects just as badly on the course itself, and by extension you and everyone else following it or who has completed it.

Redoing the entire lesson from scratch is the only logical next step, but I... genuinely have no idea how I'm supposed to fix the things that I haven't improved on, simply grinding away at doing another 20 images won't help: I need some kind of breakthrough in how I understand this lesson, and I have absolutely no idea what it could be. As upset as I've gotten in this message, the fact that this is the most important lesson for me means I'll gladly spend another two years on it, if that's what it'll take for me to learn how to do it. While I'm already bummed out that I've spent way longer on it than anyone else doing this course and with the least to show for it, if I have to, I'll have to.

12:20 AM, Saturday July 9th 2022

Normally I have cut-offs for when I deal with critiques or revisions depending on when they come in. I work Monday, Wednesday, Friday, with the cut-off being midnight that morning in my timezone, and so for Friday, your revision came in well after the cut-off, and I've just finished about 10 critiques so I am admittedly exhausted. But your wall of text there is important, and I think this is best not left for Monday. Really, I just don't want you to stew in this more than you have - at least not without me adding ingredients to the pot.

So here's the thing. There are some... misconceptions in your statements that I'd definitely like to explain, but just so you don't lose hope as I clarify those points, I do have some responses to your actual work that hopefully will help target the issues you've identified, or at least give you some more direction on that front. You also won't be given a full redo, just some more revisions as we work through the main concerns.

I can't stand the fact that I'm two years into a professional-level drawing course and have made less progress than most beginner artists do in just as much time, without any courses

Setting aside the fact that no two people progress at the same pace, and no two people can be easily compared to one another because you have no real idea of what experience the "beginners" you look at may have, Drawabox is not a professional level drawing course. While you have generously supported us at the highest tier for a long time, I would hate for you to have the wrong impression here.

I am a self-taught instructor. I started teaching this stuff only as an attempt to share what I'd learned - which was more sharing the fact that certain concepts exist, rather than to actually explain how they work. But, over the course of years and explaining these things to the best of my very flawed ability, I did get better at it. I rewrote, reassessed, revisited the tactics I employed, and I still continue to do so. Drawabox is an imperfect resource, and that is reflected in every aspect of how we function - from the incredibly price of entry/participation for critique, to the fact that all of the material is free.

I have no credentials in teaching, and I have not even really attended art school. I attended what is effectively a night school - with excellent instructors, sure, and I learned a ton while I was there - but as an illustrator. Not as an instructor. So, to put it simply, you should not put Drawabox on a pedestal, nor should you think that what you get here is the best you can get anywhere. It's probably by far the best value proposition for the things we do cover, but that does not mean that there are not vastly more experienced instructors out there. If I fail you, that's on me. And I am entirely capable of it.

Of course we cannot deny the fact that you do have more trouble with this than others who come through here, but learning/teaching is a cooperative game. One teacher may not be able to provide a given student with all they need to reach their goals - but another may be able to help them towards that far more effectively.

this is easily the most important lesson for me, as 'living creatures that look belivable in 3D space' is the one thing I always want to draw more than anything else

Technically every lesson from 3-5 has the exact same focus. The subject matter merely serves to give us a different lens through which to look at that problem, and here that focus is on the "drawing things that look believably 3D". Whether they're animals, plants, insects, etc. is not something we're actually teaching here. Even if you look at the kinds of courses that are offered at New Masters Academy (there's a list of them on the first page of Lesson 5 for those who want to learn more about animals specifically), they go into so much more depth about what animals are, and all the things that are specific to them.

Again - I would be unreasonable to wholly discount what you were saying, because there is merit there. But it speaks to Drawabox as a whole, because that focus on spatial reasoning, on drawing things that are believably 3D, is something we tackle right from Lesson 1 all the way to the end of Lesson 7. We just take swings at it from many different angles. That also means that what you achieve here in this lesson is not the totality of what you will achieve in this regard. Even the things we explore in Lessons 6 and 7, which look at hard surfaced subject matter, work overtime to develop your spatial reasoning skills, just from a very different angle of attack.

Now, looking at your actual work, I think you are very correct in terms of identifying the core things you're struggling with, and while I usually bop people on the nose for offering self critique, you are right on the money here. You do not understand how to go about drawing the part of a form's silhouette to make it appear as though it is wrapping around that existing structure in a believable fashion.

In other words, you do not know how to draw this line that I've highlighted in red. You have drawn something there, but if I had to guess, I'd say you weren't sure what to focus on, or what should be considered when making that decision, and so you just drew an arbitrary line.

If that's not the case - if you based that line on something specific, then I would certainly like to know what it was, but I do suspect that I'm right. It happens often - when we're faced with something we don't grasp, that our brain refuses to contend with, it shuts down and we just put something down. But that's not a useful response. Sure, it gets the thing done, but it's not a conscious decision or choice being made.

Instead, when you run into this kind of a situation, do not put down a mark. Take a step back, and assess the situation. Take stock of what the different elements you're dealing with. Ultimately, if you put a mark down, if you make a choice, that choice doesn't need to be correct - but it does need to be specific. The result of intent, even if that intent is wrong. It is better to be wrong in a specific fashion, than it is to be correct by a fluke. It's the specificity of the incorrect choice that makes it something we can actually deal with.

At its core, we're really just dealing with the mass we're adding, and the torso sausage I've highlighted here. This sausage can be understood in a couple ways, with the main one we've dealt with thus far being with a series of contour lines, but perhaps for what we're doing here it's not the most useful way to think about this form.

Instead, we can also think about it in "boxier" terms. That doesn't mean we draw a box instead of a sausage, but rather we think about it in terms of there being top, side, front, etc. planes to the form, as shown here. This takes our rounded form, and starts breaking it into individual pieces. Now, instead of wrapping your mass around "big curving surface", you can consider each plane individually.

First we want our mass to wrap along the top, so as shown here we're effectively just drawing a contour line that runs along that surface. Then we come down along the side - extending it down, because this is where we're really "gripping" the torso. Think of it like giving a hug - you don't give a hug with just your hands sticking out from your chest, you wrap your whole arms around the person. Otherwise they might get away!

Then we come back along the top, although due to the orientation of the form, we can't actually see how the mass is wrapping along the top at the wolf's rear, so instead we're really just focusing on that outward curve along the top where nothing is pressing into the mass, as shown here.

But of course, most problems like this don't just involve one form - what happens if we block in a ball structure at the hip to start out the wolf's back leg? Well, then when our mass's silhouette hits that ball form, it stops and then runs along that form's edge, because they're pressing up against one another, as we see here. It's very formulaic, and it actually resembles the form intersections in a lot of ways. I think that's going to be our next avenue of attack to try and solidify this concept for you, but in a way that might be a little... hardcore.

I'm going to have you do some pages of the form intersections exercise from Lesson 2. While students are expected to do this for their warmups, it's always been with minimal focus on the intersections themselves until we hit around Lesson 6, at which point they get assigned again. But in your case, I think it might be best to tackle this once more, with a little additional help.

I want you to take a look at this diagram, which breaks down how we can think about the intersections - specifically the more complicated round-on-flat intersections, and then the even more complicated round-on-round intersections. Like the mass wrapping around the torso I broke down for you above, this diagram attempts to break thinking the intersection through in stages as well, and you may find that the kind of thinking this requires lines up between the two.

Before I call this feedback finished, there are a couple other things I want you to keep in mind:

  • You're not drawing through a lot of your ellipses (like the wolf's ribcage and pelvis)

  • You are putting way more marks down, sometimes chicken scratching, in other areas. This falls similarly into the issue of panicking and just putting marks down, rather than falling back to the principles from Lesson 1, where we use the ghosting method for every mark, thinking about its purpose, and how it needs to be executed, to the best of our ability. Commit to one stroke for every line, and do not allow yourself to act without being aware of each action taken.

Next Steps:

Please submit the following:

  • 4 pages of form intersections. Fill your pages with lots of forms, be sure to use the ghosting method for your markmaking. You can start in with one page of just boxes if you like, but the next 3 must include balls and boxes at the very least. You don't need to worry about cones/cylinders/etc.

  • 2 pages of animal constructions, similar to the wolf we focused on here. Do not worry about whether or not they are successful or correct, but do your best to apply what I've explained above and anything you may feel you gleaned from the form intersections.

Best of luck - and if this change of attack doesn't ultimately work for you, remember that I'm just some guy on the internet. My failures to help you do not mean that a more qualified instructor would not be able to do better for you.

When finished, reply to this critique with your revisions.
3:53 PM, Tuesday July 26th 2022


While I certainly regret having a breakdown when I typed that last response (and putting you in an unfortunate position to respond to it), I absolutely appreciate your response. My mental issues aren't magically fixed, but I've a healthier assessment of this course.

I can say confidently that these massively helped my grasp on how forms wrap around each other - still a lot of other issues in these and it's not perfect, but I can't be upset given I've finally made tangible progress after so long.

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