Lesson 5: Applying Construction to Animals

6:16 PM, Monday January 3rd 2022

Lesson 5 - Album on Imgur

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I haven't had much time to draw in the past few months so I'm not sure if my skills have worsened since my last submission.

Regarding fur and feathers, I noticed my clumps look more like weird growths rather than clumps of hair or feathers. What causes that?

How do I decide where in the image I want my viewer to look, and thus where to put the most detail?

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1:12 AM, Thursday January 6th 2022

Generally speaking, when students are forced to take time away from doing the course regularly, it is still fairly important they try to keep up with their warmup exercises, if nothing else, so they can continue to maintain the understanding and awareness of what they've already gone through. It is certainly possible for one to get rusty after a few months away, so be mindful of that.

As to your last question (I'll touch on the fur/feathers thing a bit later), that is a question relating more to composition. That's not something we deal with in this course, but I have previously written a lesson that goes more in-depth into composition in the context of larger illustrations. It's from a version of Drawabox long since past, but you can find a PDF of it here.

Anyway, jumping right in with your organic intersections, you're doing a good job of drawing the forms themselves such that they slump and sag over one another under the force of gravity, though I have a couple things for you to keep your eye on:

  • I do recommend that you include some line weight to help clarify how your forms overlap one another. That'll help you bridge between your lighter linework and the especially heavy use of cast shadows (neither of which is a problem, the line weight would just help bring it all together).

  • Make sure you're always keeping a single consistent light source in mind. Not only does this mean that each form should be casting its own shadow (including the bottom one, casting a shadow onto the ground plane), it also means that we need to make sure our shadows are being cast in the same direction. On your second page, you've got some shadows being cast to the left, and some to the right.

Given that the demonstrations from this lesson are from a variety of different points in the course's development (with some being several years old), this inevitably has led to some inconsistencies between the principles we've focused on more recently (like the importance of not altering the silhouettes of the forms you've already constructed). Of course those demonstrations still have value to them, which is why they haven't been outright removed, though I am working gradually towards revising the material and bringing it all to roughly the same general standard. To that point, I'm going to focus my critique on the drawings you did apart from the demonstrations.

I've found it best to do my critiques for this lesson by addressing individual categories one at a time, so let's get started:

Base Construction

Overall your base construction (the establishing of the initial masses, and the torso) is coming along pretty well, though there are a few quick issues I want to call out:

  • Make sure that you're mindful of your proportions, with the ribcage occupying 1/2 the torso, and the pelvis occupying 1/4, leaving only another 1/4 as a gap between them. Sometimes - for example with this dog you end up varying these proportions. Try your best to keep them consistent.

  • Also, you do have a tendency to draw those initial masses quite faintly. Try to draw every structural element with the same level of pressure/line thickness, as we do not want to end up with the false impression that the earlier steps are not as solid and three dimensional as the rest. This can cause us to cut back into those silhouettes in the way we discussed in my previous critique, and can hinder our impression of what we're constructing in a variety of other ways.

  • When you decide that a contour line will help - for example, the one you often put in the middle of your torso sausage - make sure that you take your time in executing them, and employ the ghosting method to ensure that they're drawn as well as you can manage. Those like in the one in the middle of this moose's body are not executed to the best of your ability, and appear somewhat rushed.

  • I did notice some places where you opted to create a much straighter torso sausage, then built up masses both on the back and on the belly. While this is not incorrect, and sometimes is necessary, on examples like this moose it's better to incorporate more of a sag on the original torso sausage (as explained here) and then build upon its back to add any missing bulk, as this works more in line with gravity. The less we have to add that works against gravity, the better.

Use of Additional Masses

When we build our construction, we do so by introducing new, complete, solid forms, and establishing how they relate to the existing structure in 3D space. This can be done in two ways - either by having our new form interpenetrate that existing structure, and then defining that intersectional relationship with a contour line (like in the form intersections exercise from Lesson 2). Alternatively, it can be done in the approach used for these additional masses - these forms actually wrap around the existing structure, and so we rely heavily on the actual way in which we design the new mass's silhouette. We keep that silhouette as simple as possible, and any complexity we end up with is always specifically geared towards establishing that relationship between it and the existing structure.

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.

If we look at this moose drawing, I noticed that there were some notable issues in how you were designing the silhouettes of your additional masses here. I can see some thought going to how these masses wrap around one another, but as shown here there is definitely a lot of additional complexity present that undermines their solidity, making them appear more flat. To that point, I added some notes to the moose drawing, noting how the complex hump can be broken into separate forms, how defining the mass at the shoulder (which is usually composed of muscle groups that are larger and help the animal walk around) gives us something to wrap around, helping everything feel more integrated and solid. There are also some other notes I've written on your drawing that you should read through as well.

I also marked out quick corrections on this buffalo, specifically touching on that mass along its chest, as this is also an area where your silhouettes are not designed in such a way that they actually "cling" to the existing structure, instead causing them to feel like flat shapes pasted on top.

Leg Construction

When it comes to your use of leg construction, you're doing a good job of adhering to the sausage method to establish your base leg structures in a manner that balances both solidity and flow. That said, as I noted in my critique of your Lesson 4 work, the sausage method serves as a starting point. A base structure upon which we can build up further, using those same kinds of additional masses. In my previous critique I provided a number of example diagrams demonstrating how such things could be built up, but it appears that here most of your legs appear to stick only to the basic sausages.

There were however a couple examples where you did try to venture beyond this basic starting point - the back legs of the dog on the bottom half of this page where you only added one-off lines to create flat shapes against the existing leg structure (another point I did address in your previous lesson's critique), rather than creating independent, complete 3D forms. Similarly on this moose's front leg's lower section you did something similar, while on the upper section of the leg, you did draw a complete form - but the silhouette was not designed in such a way that it wrapped around the existing structure.

I suspect that this might be a case of where, because of the passage of time since receiving that Lesson 4 critique in September, you forgot the specific points I raised. For this reason, it is very important that you revisit those old critiques to ensure you're applying their principles as you continue forwards.

Head Construction

I know that this is an area you've asked questions about before, and I pointed you to this specific head construction demo, explaining that it is the most current, strongest approach for the purposes of what we're doing in this course, and that when my lesson revisions are able to hit Lesson 5, I'll be emphasizing this much more and getting rid of the others. That isn't to say the other head demos don't have value to offer in the meantime, just that they're not as effective of an approach.

To that point, I can see you employing that approach in a variety of drawings, to varying degrees. I can see it being applied fairly well in your dog constructions, as well as in your buffalo, so I can see at least that you are applying it correctly. I'd like to see this applied as closely as you can in all your animal constructions going forward, of course.

There is also one other thing I can offer, when it comes to capturing the eyes themselves. Currently you're not really drawing the "eyeballs" - and if you are, you're mistakenly drawing them way too small. The eyeballs themselves are large, occupying more space than is strictly visible between the eyelids. So, start with a larger eyeball, then for each eyelid, you can construct a separate additional mass that wraps around that ball's surface, as shown here. This will help you focus more on how the forms relate to one another in space, instead of getting caught up in just drawing a stereotypical "eye" shape.

Observation and investment of time

Now, this last section is one I added as I felt it's especially pertinent to your work. As a whole, I do not feel that you invested as much time as was strictly necessary for each individual animal construction. A common issue I see from students, especially when they reach these considerably more involved, complex subject matter, is that they underestimate just how complex of a task these are, and as a result, do not give themselves as much time as they would strictly require to complete it to the best of their current ability.

A very common issue comes down to the assumption that some make, that they're supposed to finish a drawing before getting up from the session. This of course isn't based on anything mentioned in the lesson, but a lot of people don't seem to realize that you can always come back to the same drawing later. That it is the complexity of the task which determines how much time it's going to need - not a matter of how much time you have to offer it.

Looking at your work, one of the areas that suffers most is time invested into the extensive and frequent observation of your reference that is required to actually draw what is there. Your work suggests that you do look at it to a point, but that you also tend to rely a fair bit on what you remember seeing, rather than going back to your reference after each mark to refresh that memory and determine what next form, and the specific characteristics of that next form, you need to move over into your drawing.

When we rely too much on our memory, we end up throwing away a lot of important information, which makes our drawings appear overly simplified rather than believable and real. This is also an issue that can arise when the student devotes all their time to construction (which may well be the case for you, as you have clearly put a lot of effort into thinking through each constructional step) - instead of expanding the total amount of time that they're willing to give to the whole process, to accommodate more mindful construction and adequate observation.


To that point, before we finish up, I should talk about the issues with fur. While this isn't generally something I'm too concerned about for students (since the core focus is going to be on construction/observation), I can quickly address why your fur looks a bit strange. It simply comes down to the fact that you're drawing that fur in a repetitious, auto-pilot kind of fashion. If we look here at the underbelly of one of your bears, you've drawn a lot of very similar, very quick spikes. Rather than creating a singular cohesive silhouette, they just look like a smattering of lines that you drew quickly, instead of taking the time to design them more purposefully.

At the end of the day, as shown here, we need to take a lot of time in designing each little tuft of fur. To start, you can entirely ignore the internal fur and focus only on what occurs right at the silhouette itself. Here you need to focus on maintaining the continuous nature of the silhouette - everything, like with the leaves exercise from Lesson 3, rises off from the existing edge and returns to it. The internal stuff is not nearly as important, and you can add it - again with purpose, and mindful intent to what you're designing at all times - once you've established a solid sense of fur at the silhouette.

Fur, and texture in general, operates under the premise of "less is more". That is to say, taking a lot of time and drawing only a small handful of tufts is far better than spending a short period of time and drawing a ton. Generally speaking you don't actually need to try and replicate your reference image, with all of its densely packed visual information - instead, what is necessary to get the idea across to the viewer that this creature is furry is a far lower bar, as long as those marks are purposefully designed, and not drawn haphazardly. This, of course, takes time.


As a whole, there are ways in which you're moving in the right direction - a number of them - but what's holding you back most is how much time you actually commit to each of these, and as a result, what you've submitted here is based on my own experience in doing thousands of critiques over the years, not the best of which you are currently capable.

So, I am going to assign some revisions where you can apply the points I've raised here to the best of your ability. Before you work on them however, I strongly insist that you go back over the feedback I've provided here, as well as the feedback for your Lesson 4 work (and any questions I may have answered in the interim - I remember you asked quite a few).

All of these critiques are dense, so I do not expect you to absorb them in their entirety in one go. You'll probably need to read them a few times, and then revisit them periodically as you work on your revisions (and beyond).

You'll find the revisions assigned below.

Next Steps:

Please submit the following:

  • 4 pages of animal constructions. For these, do not include any textural detail, and focus only on taking construction as far as it can reasonably go.

Take your time with these - I strongly advise you not to work on more than one animal drawing in a single day (to reduce the chances of you trying to rush and churn out several in one go), and that as needed, you allow yourself to split them across multiple days if you feel it's necessary.

When finished, reply to this critique with your revisions.
5:57 AM, Friday January 7th 2022
edited at 6:54 AM, Jan 7th 2022

I have 1 question regarding additional mass. In the moose drawing you highlighted I drew the hump based on how it looked in the reference, which gave it those inward curves. In the notes you added masses that have outward curves instead. If I need inward curves, how should I draw the mass needed? I think the issue I'm having is that masses frequently feel too complex to create with a morphed ball like in your example, but I'm not sure how to break it down further.

As an example one of the animals I'm going to draw for my revisions is a camel so I can practice this concept, how would go about drawing the humps for one so it curves correctly?

edited at 6:54 AM, Jan 7th 2022
7:15 PM, Friday January 7th 2022

So there's two elements to this-

  • Firstly, generally speaking we can still create inward curves in areas like that by breaking a single mass into several separate ones. Here's an example of what I mean. While it's not perfect (it's a somewhat bumpier inward curve), that leads us to the second point.

  • Always keep in mind that what we're learning here is not about actually drawing the things in our references perfectly. The core focus of this course is to develop your spatial reasoning skills, your capacity to understand how the things you draw on a 2D page exist as forms in three dimensions that interact with one another within that 3D space. Each drawing is a puzzle - we start with simple forms, and gradually build our way up through the introduction of new forms, and the establishment of those spatial relationships. If and when we deviate from our reference image, that's not really a big problem. We should of course be observing it as closely as possible, but mistakes happen, and there are also certain cases (like these inward curves) where focusing on what benefits the exercise is better than following the reference at all costs.

I hope that helps.

4:21 AM, Sunday January 9th 2022
edited at 4:22 AM, Jan 9th 2022

Here are the revisions I tried to go further with the constructions but I still have trouble figuring out how the additional masses should be shaped.

I'm also not sure if I spent enough time observing. I tried to look at my reference more often but found it easy to slip into my usual work flow without realizing.

Lastly regarding head construction, I didn't notice this while drawing my initial submission but I noticed this time I was having trouble applying the method listed in the demo section to animals with eyes on the sides of their head. Can you give me a quick demo of how you'd draw an animal head like that using the same principal?

edited at 4:22 AM, Jan 9th 2022
5:26 PM, Monday January 10th 2022

I can see that overall, your use of additional masses has improved a fair bit in most cases, though there still are some (like along the shark) where you're drawing the sides that touch the existing structure as outward curves, which does not create a relationship between them. Inward curves in this case, as you've used them elsewhere, do a much better job of "gripping" onto the existing structure.

As to the animals with their eyes on the side of their heads, [here's a demo]() (they're never quick). I noticed that when tackling the rhino, you went back to having the eye socket just floating loosely on the head structure, and you likely had difficulty less because of the eyes being on the side of the head, and more because the rhino's head is more elongated, making it difficult to just start the cranial ball on one end, and extend in a single direction. So, I found the most banana-headed rhino I could find, and based my demo on that.

Now, this is an area you still need to work on, but I'm not going to hold you back on its account. Just keep practicing the specific use of those techniques, and remember above all else that your goal here is not to copy the reference. If you're stuck between a choice of applying the technique and having it come out differently, vs. abandoning the technique and following the reference, follow the technique. Each drawing is at the end of the day just a puzzle, as you can see in the rhino head demo I made for you. We start with the same core elements, and we gradually build upon them through the addition of simple forms, defining their relationships with the existing structure and continually moving in the direction defined by our reference. We may not get to that specific goal itself, but we want to continually move in that direction, studying it closely to identify the specific nature of each new piece we wish to build out.

It's this process of solving the puzzle that allows our brain to practice, again and again, the act of manipulating forms and understanding the relationships between those forms, in 3D space.

Anyway, I'll go ahead and mark this lesson as complete.

Next Steps:

Move onto the 250 cylinder challenge, which is a prerequisite for lesson 6.

This critique marks this lesson as complete.
2:14 AM, Thursday January 13th 2022

Sorry for replying a little late but there's no link for the rhino head demo.

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