Lesson 2: Contour Lines, Texture and Construction
Thinking in 3D
If you haven't yet completed the 250 box challenge, make sure you tackle that first. Not only will it help further develop your grasp of how to construct forms freely rotated in 3D space, it will also help you develop the kind of discipline and patience that will serve you throughout this entire course.
Keep in mind that if you're on the 'official critique' track, you must get your 250 box challenge marked as complete before moving onto this lesson. And of course, be sure to balance it with the 50% rule from Lesson 0.
The great conspiracy
When we start out, we know exactly what we're doing when it comes to drawing. We're taking a pen, a pencil, a stylus or whatever else, and we're making marks on something very, very... flat. We're not fools - we know that's exactly what we're doing, and we're very much in on the great conspiracy.
What conspiracy? The one where we fool our audience into thinking everything we draw is in fact 3D. That's what perspective is all about, right? Tips and tricks to fool those idiots and rubes into believing in something that isn't real?
Telling a convincing lie
Unfortunately, we tend to be too smart for our own good. The fact that we understand that what we're drawing is just a series of marks on a flat page is something we communicate to the viewer through subtle properties of the actual marks we put down. To put it simply - we're subconsciously convincing the viewer that none of this is real.
The trick is more about learning to lie effectively. That's what these drawings are - they're illusions created to trick the viewer into believing in something that isn't actually there. The best way to tell a lie isn't to be extra clever, but rather to be a fool. When we believe in the lie we're selling, everything we say and do will reinforce the lie, whether we're conscious of it or not. It's this wealth of information all pointing to the impossible, and the fact that it all does it in a cohesive, consistent manner, that makes this impossible thing believable.
Aside from the basic technical skills covered in lesson 1, that's ultimately what Drawabox is about. It's about taking students who are all too aware of what they're doing and gradually teaching them to believe in fairy tales. It's not something that just happens, it's not a truth that'll sink in the moment you're told - because there's no truth to it at all. It's all a lie.
So when you move through the exercises in this lesson and those moving forward (especially those where we're drawing actual objects like plants, insects, animals, vehicles, etc.) we're not learning to draw those objects. We're using them as a theme for exercises targeted at making you understand how everything you draw is three dimensional, solid, tangible and real. This is much more fundamental than learning how to draw a tiger or a porsche.
Exploring a 3D space
The first thing we need to get used to is the idea that the space we're drawing in is no longer defined by the flat piece of paper. This page is instead a window, one that looks out onto a vast three dimensional world that continues on even where you cannot see it. When you look out a window of a building, you know full well that what you're able to see is not the entirety of what exists out there. Think of the page as being the same.
What we need to familiarize ourselves with is the concept of the third dimension - that of depth - and the idea that objects are not only going to be to the left and to the right, or above and below. They will also be farther away from us, as well as closer. Perspective comes into play here, with the simplified rules such as objects that are closer appearing larger, and those farther away appearing smaller. There's also foreshortening - those that are very close will have more dramatic foreshortening, and those farther away will themselves flatten out with foreshortening that is shallower and more gradual.
Now that we've discussed exploring the entirety of the three dimensions available to us, let's look at the objects that can exist within space - more specifically, their surfaces.
Contour lines are the marks that run along the surface of an object. In doing so, they provide our eyes and brain with valuable information describing just how those surfaces themselves flow through space.
For example, let's imagine that inside of our 3D world, there exists a piece of paper, and on that piece of paper, there has been made a single straight line down its length. The paper is flat and straight, so the line still reads as visually being straight. But what if we were to take that piece of paper and rolled it up?
Now that line as we see it would be curved, wrapping faithfully around the cylinder we've created and describing to us the transformation that piece of paper has undertaken, from being flat to cylindrical. That is what a contour line does.
Not only does it provide the viewer's brain with additional information to help understand what it is looking at, but it also helps us as we're drawing to better understand how these forms and surfaces exist in three dimensional space. That ultimately comes back to helping us believe in the lie we're trying to create.
This also means that every single mark that exists on a surface can also work against us. We are in full control of which marks go where, so we could absolutely draw a line that appears straight on the surface of a cylinder, and it would immediately ruin the illusion by making the cylinder read as flat.
Homework and exercises
Every Drawabox lesson consists of lecture content and exercises that are assigned as homework. It's best to complete this homework before moving onto the next section. As this lesson consists of three sections (thinking in 3D, texture, construction), it is best that you only submit your work for review when you've completed all three.
The homework assignment for this section is as follows:
2 filled pages of the Organic Arrows exercise
2 filled pages of the Organic Forms with Contour Lines exercise (1 page of contour ellipses, 1 page of contour curves)
All the assigned work for this section should be done in ink, using fineliners/felt tip pens as described here.
Staedtler Pigment Liners
These are what I use when doing these exercises. They usually run somewhere in the middle of the price/quality range, and are often sold in sets of different line weights - remember that for the Drawabox lessons, we only really use the 0.5s, so try and find sets that sell only one size.
Alternatively, if at all possible, going to an art supply store and buying the pens in person is often better because they'll generally sell them individually and allow you to test them out before you buy (to weed out any duds).